Judge to N.J.: Ask Army Corps to 'slow down' in Margate

A runnier makes his way toward dredging pipes with “Keep Out” painted on them in Margate.

ATLANTIC CITY — Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez on Friday ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection to ask the Army Corps of Engineers to “slow down” its work in Margate while solutions are found to the chronic beach ponding that has angered and alarmed local and summer residents of the Shore town.

Meanwhile, the corps opened up a new front in Ventnor, where its work resulted in beach closures in the center of town, unsightly pipes running along the beaches, and the postponement of a Hobie Cat Regatta scheduled for Saturday on the busy Oxford Avenue beach.

But Ventnor officials, who did not fight the project as Margate’s did, said they were resigned to the inconvenience.

Camera icon Amy Rosenberg
Army Corps of Engineers work at the Oxford Avenue Beach in Ventnor.

Mendez, whose earlier order halting dune construction in Margate was overruled this week by a federal judge, urged the parties to cooperate in finding a solution and bemoaned the situation in which Margate must fight the case in state and federal court. Margate is appealing the federal court order.

“Go back and explore with the Army Corps and folks at the state about slowing down the project till there’s some solution in place,” Mendez told the DEP attorney, Kristina Miles, a deputy attorney general. “Then report back to the court on that.”

Mendez also ordered regular meetings and urged the parties to work for short and long term solutions. He also directed the DEP to make sure the Army Corps, over which Mendez does not have jurisdiction, abides by the federal court order mandating remedial measures to the ponding issue, such as fencing, pumping, and walkways.

Margate officials are seeking to have the project stopped, or at least delayed until after Labor Day. Attorney Jordan Rand told Mendez that allowing the project to continue further into Margate while drainage solutions were being worked on was like performing “open heart surgery on Margate while it’s wide awake.”

He noted that the Army Corps blamed the ponding in part on the “wet slurry sand” that is pumped onto the beach during construction, and that allowing further construction would exacerbate the problem. While the lakes that formed from storm water trapped between the new dunes and the bulkhead had been pumped dry, the forecast again called for rain this weekend.

Camera icon Wayne Parry
This July 31, 2017, photo shows beachgoers crossing over large ponds of water on the beach in Margate, N.J., days after heavy rains created large ponds of standing water on the beach. 

Miles told the judge the DEP had come up with a short term solution to the drainage issue that has been exacerbated by dune and beach replenishment, but she declined to share it.

Margate Mayor Michael Becker said he was not aware of what this plan consisted of. And he took issue with the declaration by the state on Thursday that Margate was relying on an antiquated drainage system. The state approved the drainage system, he said.

Mendez echoed U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb in stressing the competing interest of completing the project before hurricane season. And while Margate officials continue to say any hurricane damage in their town has been from the bay, and that bulkheads and their drain by trenching system have worked for a century, Mendez noted that the town had a close call with Hurricane Sandy.

“When Sandy hit, the sea wall worked fine,” Margate City Solicitor John Scott Abbott told Mendez, “and 95 percent of insurance claims were from the bay side.”

Answered Mendez: “Sandy hit 80 miles up the road.”

Mendez scheduled a conference next Wednesday to see if any progress had been made. The Army Corps is expected to resume work in Margate early next week. The parties are also due back in federal court Aug. 23.