ATLANTIC CITY – A Superior Court judge on Friday ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection and Margate to work together to develop solutions to drainage problems related to the ongoing dune construction project.
The order by Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez on Friday, came one day after U.S. District Court Judge Rene Marie Bumb in Camden granted a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers request to restart the dune building project.
Although he could not stop the project from proceeding, Mendez ordered the DEP to urge the Army Corps of Engineers to slow down the project to lessen health and safety issues in Margate during the height of the vacation season, or move the project elsewhere. Mendez also wants the state to encourage the Army Corps to “come to the table.”
Jurisdictional issues find Margate fighting the dunes project in both state and federal courts. Mendez said he is “hesitant to get into a competing situation between the courts.”
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Rather, “consistency, follow-through, and tweaking” the Army Corps’ plan is what is needed to solve the severe ponding of rain and stormwater between the newly built dune and the bulkhead.
City attorney John Scott Abbott told the judge that the city is unable to come up with a solution because it not a city project.
“They took (easements) from the city using eminent domain. They own the project,” Abbott said.
Margate resident Vincent Castronuovo, who is operating an e-mail chain to keep residents informed about the project, said he was disappointed dune building would be allowed to continue.
“He has no jurisdiction over the Army Corps and he could only tell the DEP to include them in the conversation?”
His wife, Joan, said expanding the dune will only compound the drainage problem.
“Stop until you figure out the solution. Put your heads together and bat it around until you figure out the problem, but don’t let it proceed,” she said.
Meanwhile, resident Alice Kalish said she still has concerns about handicapped access to the beach, which is being reduced from 22 locations to just four.
“That’s unacceptable,” she said.
The Army Corps filed suit in U.S. District Court to lift the temporary restraining order Mendez put in place Thursday, Aug. 3. On Thursday, Judge Renee Bumb modified the restraining order to allow the project to proceed, but with conditions, such as erecting fencing around ponding areas, pumping any standing water as soon as possible and testing the water for contaminants.
Margate attorney Jordan Rand said allowing the dune project to continue before the Army Corps knows how to fix the ponding problem is like “doing open heart surgery on Margate while the city is wide awake.”
Abbott defended the city’s drainage system, which the DEP called antiquated, he said.
“Our antiquated system works fine, and was approved by the DEP.”
Mendez said Bumb’s conditions were similar to what he would have expected to result from his court-ordered negotiation sessions.
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“Please help us,” Rand pleaded. “We have nowhere else to go. It’s August and many more people will be here.”
Rand said the project has created an “unmanageable hazard.”
“The notion that expanding the hazard area from ½ mile a 1 mile hazard doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Although Mendez does not have jurisdiction over the federal agency, he does have jurisdiction over the DEP, which he ordered to continue to meet with Margate at least once a week, incorporate Bumb’s recommendations, and encourage the Army Corps to slow down the project to lessen the impact on Margate. He will hold a conference call hearing sometime on Wednesday, Aug. 16 to determine their progress.
Ponding developed on the beach in Margate over a 10-block area where the dune was built following a heavy rainfall on July 29 and a lighter rainfall on Aug. 7. The Army Corps of Engineers, which designed the dune system, has pumped 24-36 inches of contaminated water into the ocean and as of Friday, the beaches were mostly dry. However, rain is forecasted for the weekend, and residents are concerned the water will soon be back.