By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
MARGATE – A DEP official on Thursday was sent packing back to Trenton with a strong message from the Margate Board of Commissioners.
“Not a penny for replenishment, guys,” Mayor Michael Becker told Kevin Dixon of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and Keith Watson of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Oct. 1.
Dixon attended the meeting to ask commissioners if they had any questions about a Local Cooperation Agreement sent to the city on Monday requesting the city pay its fair share of a beach renourishment project currently underway on Absecon Island.
Commissioner Maury Blumberg said the contractor conducting the replenishment has already placed pipes on the beach that will pump sand from a borrow site miles off the coastline to Margate’s engineered beach, but the city was not notified there would be a cost share and that the project was starting.
“I was alerted to this project by someone that read an online blog,” he said. “To my knowledge, there was no notification to Margate. None.”
The boilerplate agreement was sent to all municipalities on Absecon Island outlining the cost-sharing agreement between the federal government, state and municipalities.
The federal government provided 100% of the cost of erecting the dune from the Sandy Relief Act. This round would be the first renourishment in Margate since the dune was constructed in 2016.
The standard replenishment agreement calls for periodic nourishment of beaches over the next 50 years and has the federal government paying 65% of the cost, with the remaining 35% being split 75% for the state and 25% for the municipalities.
The total cost of replenishment for Margate for this first replenishment cycle is between $2.2 million and $3.6 million. Margate’s share would be somewhere between $197,999 and $318,749, depending on how much sand is needed to fill in degraded areas of the engineered beach.
Additionally, the state would provide credits of $93,876 for Margate building an additional ADA access crossover at Exeter Avenue, $15,000 for Margate to cut protruding bolts on the outfall pipe cages, and $11,500 to cover 100% of the cost for Margate to install public access steps and gates at the Margate Fishing Pier. With the credits, Margate’s share would be reduced to between $72,791 and $193,541.
“It comes down to about 8.75 cents on the dollar,” Dixon said.
But according to Solicitor John Scott Abbott, the city never signed an agreement to provide any future funding for renourishment projects when the city was forced to accept the dune project. In fact, a subsequent agreement to accept a stormwater drainage system installed after severe ponding following excavation and erection of the 14-foot dune has a clause that says Margate would not pay anything toward future beach replenishments, Abbott said.
Clause 13 of an Oct. 20, 2017 agreement between the DEP and city accepting the stormwater management system states: “Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to mandate or otherwise require Margate to implement or otherwise participate in any additional replenishment work or other dune project.”
“We have always taken it that we are not obligated under this agreement,” Abbott said.
Following Hurricane Sandy, Gov. Chris Christie signed an Executive Order permitting the Army Corps to build a protective dune system across the entire state. The city fought a years-long battle in Federal Court to stop the project, but a judge ruled the project could go forward. City officials would have rather seen its border-to-border bulkhead system raised to a higher flood elevation and funding made available to improve its bayside bulkheads.
Dixon said the goal of the new agreement is to “maintain the project to provide the highest level of protection” for property and infrastructure.
A portion of the existing beach is below the design template and needs to be filled, he said.
“I don’t want to spend any taxpayer monies for replenishment based on what we have gone through in the past,” Commissioner John Amodeo said.
Dixon said knowing that Margate is approaching the end of its budget season and may not have the needed funds appropriated in its capital budget, “I will work with you to deal with it in your next budget year. Or you tell me what you are capable of doing, and I’ll work with you on trying to make that happen,” he said.
City Administrator Richard Deaney said there is “no way any governing body could enter into an agreement without money being appropriated.”
The city has a thousand questions about the state’s request, he said.
“You have pipes sitting on the beach and we get notification it’s starting. We haven’t even been able to talk to our community about it and now you’re coming here looking for money. It makes no sense. How could we ever justify it to a community that voted…I know you have to ask for it, but you’re not going to get it,” Deaney said.
Margate voters overwhelmingly rejected the dune project in a referendum held in November 2013.
“We promised the people of Margate we were not obligated to spend a penny on it,” Becker said, suggesting that the DEP send Margate a check for costs incurred adding ADA access and cutting the bolts before proceeding with negotiations.
Blumberg said Dixon and Watson were “very brave and very bold” for coming to the board to ask for additional funds.
“For me, any agreement that I would sign for additional sand will have a $0 figure in it for the taxpayers of Margate,” he said.
He said if he asked taxpayers for one nickel, he would be run out of town.
“As long as I am sitting in this seat, I don’t see myself agreeing to pay any money for any more sand,” he said.
The commissioners also discussed a long-standing public safety issue with the protruding bolts on the cages holding the massive pipes that drain stormwater from the beach blocks to the ocean.
Amodeo said there were incidents this past summer where the waves pushed a surfer into the pipe near the pier and another surfer was cut on his forehead after being pushed into the pipe. The city has repeatedly asked the state or Army Corps to cut the protruding bolts.
Watson said the cage bolt design is standard and that other municipalities have not questioned it.
Nevertheless, the DEP has agreed to reimburse the cost for the city to cut the bolts, Dixon said.
Dixon apologized for not sending official notification the project would be starting and invited the city to participate in ongoing construction meetings.
If accepted, the proposed agreement states that if Margate fails to provide its share, it would be in breach of its obligations and the DEP could seek injunctive relief to force compliance.
“Margate’s beachfill is vital to the success of the entire project,” Watson said. “You are one of four towns that participate…and the protection of your neighbors does depend on you as well.”
Deaney said the city agrees with the results of the dune and drainage project.
“The only thing we object to is signing an agreement to pay any money,” Deaney said.
“I thought that the agreement we signed prevents us from participating in future replenishments,” Becker said. “At this point, not a penny for replenishment, guys.”
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