A group of oceanfront homeowners in Bay Head, including a national Republican fundraising powerhouse, is suing New Jersey to be exempted from a plan to build protective sand dunes along the state's entire 127-mile coastline.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Superior Court in Ocean County, accuses the state Department of Environmental Protection of exceeding its authority by using eminent domain condemnation proceedings to seize privately owned land for the dune project.
The nine plaintiffs include Lawrence Bathgate, who was the national Republican finance chairman under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and who raised money for both of George W. Bush's presidential campaigns. He has owned a home on the beach since 1972.
Bathgate said Bay Head homeowners just want to be left alone to protect their own homes, at their own expense.
"Why are we being forced to put our safety and our homes' futures in the hands of the government, without any promise of future replenishment or adequate maintenance, when we have demonstrated that we are capable of doing what is necessary to not only protect our properties but many of those throughout the town?"
The homeowners say a rock wall, which they spent millions of their own money to build and maintain, is a better solution than widened beaches and sand dunes.
But despite the rock wall, which had been covered in sand that washed away during Sandy, many oceanfront homes in Bay head sustained severe damage in the Oct. 29, 2012 storm, including ones directly behind the wall. Other homes sustained flooding from the bay on the opposite side of town.
The homeowners object to the government taking private land for a public purpose, and don't want to permanently sign away rights for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that is only authorized for 50 years.
"Historically, the government has been sporadic at best in replenishing beaches, and the Army Corps has admitted that the sand dune they want to build is likely to last less than five years," said Nina Ritter, one of the plaintiffs. "Yet the state is trying to acquire permanent, perpetual control over our properties that will prevent us from taking protective measures in the future."
The DEP did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Gov. Chris Christie has listed Bay Head among a handful of dune opponents he considers selfish.
Earlier this month, Christie encouraged people to knock on doors of homeowners in Bay Head and Point Pleasant Beach and ask why they haven't signed easements to permit the work.
Anthony Della Pelle, the lawyer for the homeowners, said his clients fear that state control of their beachfront land would prevent from being able to restore, replace, and enhance the dunes, and cover the rocks after the sand washes out to sea, which he said is inevitable.
A major nor'easter earlier this month exposed large portions of the rock wall by washing away the sand atop and in front of it.
"It's not hard to envision a battle over funding when the next storms wash away the sand replenished by the government this time," Della Pelle said. "The Bay Head homeowners do not want to be dependent on the government to protect their homes."