Margate City Commission hoping to sit down with DEP over beach issue

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MARGATE – City commissioners are hoping to soften the state’s approach in forcing the city to accept its post-Sandy plans to build sand dunes along the entire New Jersey coastline. The Margate portion of the project is slated to begin in April.

At the request of Mayor Michael Becker, the Board of Commissioners agreed Thursday, Jan. 16 to hold off sending a letter to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin until the middle of next week.

Commissioner Maury Blumberg said he was ready to send the letter requesting that Martin attend a meeting here or in Trenton to discuss alternatives to building protective dunes on the beach, including building bulkheads bayside.

The citizens of Margate overwhelmingly passed a non-binding referendum on Nov. 5, 2013 rejecting the Army Corps of Engineers’ Absecon Island Storm Protection Project, which includes building dunes on the beach. Voters passed the referendum 1,502-792, and commissioners subsequently agreed to uphold their wishes.

“Two weeks ago, we sent a letter to the governor’s office relating to the dunes. We haven’t heard back from the governor’s office, because I think they are pretty busy… I think we should send another letter to the governor and remind them we really want to work with them, but that we certainly are not going to be steamrolled or bullied,” Blumberg said.

Becker said he was “philosophically in agreement,” but asked him to hold off sending the letter until Wednesday, Jan. 22. Although he refused to elaborate, Becker said, “I have a feeling something might happen before then.”

Becker said city has not been in direct communication with the governor’s office, but city officials have been spoken with Martin.

“He’s the one who has to agree to the meeting,” Becker said.

Daniel N. Gottlieb, co-executive director of Margate Citizens Questioning the Beach Project, pressed commissioners on what they expect to accomplish in a meeting with DEP officials.

Blumberg said he wanted to convince the governor’s office that the will of the people of Margate should be honored.

“I’d like to open a dialog and talk about alternatives we could explore that would not only protect our beach, but the bay, and alleviate flooding throughout the town,” Blumberg said. “The $20-odd million that they want to spend to build dunes and replenish the beach would be better spent if we looked at alternatives, building bulkheads, replacing dilapidated bulkheads in conjunction with some dunes we already have that can be fortified so they are not overly obtrusive.”

Most of the flooding during Hurricane Sandy came from the bay side, officials said. Margate has bulkheads at every street.

Becker rattled off a list of potential agenda items he would like to see on the table, including alternatives to building dunes, the legality of the referendum, outfall solutions, handicapped access, and avoiding a contract that could bind taxpayers for the future cost of maintaining dunes should state financing dry up.

“There’s a lot of things to talk about. Reasonable people sit down at the table and work out their differences,” Becker said.

Officials agreed with Gottlieb’s suggestion that a MCQBP representative should have a seat at the table.

“This is not one or the other, this impacts all of us,” Blumberg said.

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