By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
MARGATE – The Board of Commissioners Thursday, July 16 delayed for three weeks voting on a resolution setting wording for a Nov. 3 referendum to gauge the community’s interest in building a boardwalk in Margate.
Resolution 135-2020 was tabled after discussions about how the city came up with the wording, which asks voters to determine if the city should spend “in excess of $285,000” to determine the feasibility and costs of building a boardwalk. An interpretive statement estimated the cost of the boardwalk as “in excess of $25 million.”
The feasibility study would include investigating the title for land where the boardwalk would be built, design, engineering and permitting, according to the interpretive statement.
Solicitor John Scott Abbott said title work would be needed for parts of the beach not owned by the municipality. The cost estimates do not include any litigation that could be brought by as many as a dozen beachfront property owners who have riparian rights.
During the public comment period prior to the commissioners voting on agenda items, resident Stefanie Zucker Bloch read a statement from Margate Boardwalk Committee Chairman Gregg A. Lichtenstein alleging the board was offering the public a “poison pill – a choice so distasteful, it will be immediately rejected by the voters.”
In the statement, Lichtenstein said if the commission was committed to “an open and unbiased” referendum, it would not recite a dollar figure before a feasibility study to determine costs is completed. He also objected to using the phrase “in excess of” before the costs of the feasibility study and the boardwalk. He also called stating the costs presented “do not include potential litigation costs” as a “rhetorical trick” designed to create fear of the unknown and controllable costs.
Instead, Lichtenstein’s statement said the commissioners should be the ones to decide if the boardwalk should be built after voters indicate through the referendum that they are interested in seeing the boardwalk come to fruition.
“Let the people decide in a fair and impartial referendum. Or are you afraid of [what] the ‘people’ might tell you?” the statement read.
Lichtenstein suggested changing the language of the question to eliminate the price quoted for the boardwalk, eliminate the phrase “in excess of,” and remove any reference to the cost of potential litigation.
Commissioner John Amodeo read into the record an email Lichtenstein sent to the commissioners requesting they delay voting on the resolution until the Aug. 6 board meeting.
“…we believe our request is a reasonable one,” Lichtentstein said in the email.
The board gave the Boardwalk Committee until Tuesday, July 21 to provide substantive comments regarding their preferences for the referendum wording. The Boardwalk Committee and city representatives could possibly hold a meeting to discuss the issue further, Abbott said.
Lichtenstein said he preferred to have “a calm dialog” about their differences.
City engineer Ed Dennis of Remington and Vernick said he estimated the cost of the boardwalk at $30 million, however the proposed resolution stated it would be $25 million.
Dennis said he used the Boardwalk Committee’s $24 million estimate for a “Uniquely Margate” boardwalk and added 15% to account for soft costs, including engineering, permitting and inspections, and an additional 10% for contingencies, which is standard for most city contracts, bringing the estimated costs to slightly above $30 million. He said the Boardwalk Committee’s proposed estimates were “reasonably consistent” with the costs of other recently built boardwalks.
In its initial report, the Boardwalk Committee presented estimated costs for three versions of the boardwalk – $14 million for a “stripped down” version, $19 million for a Ventnor-style boardwalk, and $24 million for a “Uniquely Margate” version.
In a series of emails regarding the boardwalk issue, Dennis said the cost of a feasibility study would be $125,000 based on work to be performed, such as geotechnical investigation, topographic survey, conceptual sketches for the boardwalk and ramps and stairs, layout plan, report reviews, detailed construction cost estimate and meetings with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In a separate email, Abbott estimated feasibility costs at $250,000, including title work and state permitting costs.
“If some beach block people legally challenge either the permitting or title to the beach regarding placement of the boardwalk, in those instances the litigation costs could exceed $500,000. We could find ourselves in both state and federal court, similar to our battle with the Army Corps and DEP” over the sand dune issue.
Abbott said his estimates did not include the costs of any “partial condemnations” that may be needed for portions of the beach not owned by the municipality.
The board unanimously agreed to table the resolution until the Aug. 6 meeting. The commission has until Aug. 14 to provide the Board of Elections with wording for the referendum.
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