Margate in uproar over 'Lake Christie,' may go to court to halt dune work

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An aerial view of Margate after heavy rains and dune construction produced ponding between the new dunes and the bulkhead.

MARGATE, N.J. – With residents in an uproar about worrying changes to their beloved beach, the Margate city commissioners will meet Wednesday to consider legal action to halt dune construction work ordered by Gov. Christie that the city says has exacerbated drainage and flooding problems on the beach rather than solving them.

“Fix our beach!” residents shouted over the weekend as water from heavy rains and dune construction pooled on the sand for days in a row. Residents claim the dune project — which they fought for years — has made their beaches unusable and created hazardous conditions from the stagnant water. The state says that the problem is temporary and that it will be pumping out the water over the dunes.

On Monday, residents continued to gather near the pooling water on the city’s north end — dubbed “Lake Christie” by frustrated Margatians — watching contractor Weeks Marine Inc.’s bulldozers dig out sand from behind where the dunes are being constructed. The pools of water stretching for blocks between the dunes and the bulkhead appeared to bear out at least for now the city’s worst fears as articulated by an engineer who testified last year in federal court.

His predictions were dismissed as “fantastical” by the judge, Renee Marie Bumb, who allowed the state Department of Environmental Protection to proceed against Margate’s wishes.

Chuck Dutill, a civil engineer and hydrologist, had testified that the dune project would create a 100-foot-wide pond of murky water between the dunes and the bulkhead that would run the length of Margate. He estimated that ground and storm water — along with mosquitoes, oil, grease, car parts, and pesticides — could accumulate to a depth of between 2.5 and 5 feet at high tide, and be even deeper and longer-lasting after a storm.

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Pooling water behind the dunes at Huntington Avenue in Margate. (AMY S. ROSENBERG / Staff)

On Monday, the state’s Division of Coastal Engineering met with the Army Corps of Engineers to come up with a plan to address the ponding, a state spokesman said.

Stephen Rochette, an Army Corps spokesman, said on Monday afternoon that the corps would be coordinating with the state to place pumps in the basin and pump the water over the dunes.

“We also are considering filling in some of the basins [between bulkheads and the toe of the dune] to an extent with sand, as well as building up elevated temporary walkways between the bulkhead and the toe of the dune,” he said in an email.

Rochette acknowledged that the sand isn’t filtering the water as efficiently as predicted.

“The basins were part of the plan to accommodate Margate’s storm water management system,” he said. “Because of the city’s existing drainage system, the project design had to leave an ample amount of space between the bulkhead and dune to accommodate storm water coming from the outlets in the bulkheads. The basins functioned as designed in terms of absorbing the storm water, but the water is not percolating as quickly as anticipated. It was an extraordinary rain event from the reports we’ve seen (5-plus inches in Atlantic City) and the areas were already saturated.”

“We submitted to this because the judge said we had to,” said Ken Davidson, standing at Huntington Avenue, where the water pooled in front of the city’s lifeguard headquarters. “I think everyone hoped they would come in and do it right. This isn’t right.”

Dan Gottlieb, a Margate resident who led a citizens’ group that successfully petitioned for two referendums against the dunes, said “any 7-year-old with a plastic shovel and bucket” would understand the problem that has been created.

“We always knew that in trying to ‘protect’ us, they would create problems that didn’t exist before they came in to ‘fix’ our beach,” Gottlieb wrote in a Facebook comment. “They exacerbated the issue when they excavated 4 feet of beautiful, dry, white sand between the bulkhead and the back of the dune to form the back of the dune! Guess what? They dug down to the waterline …  and now the water runoff from the street is landing on top of sea water that they created. Water doesn’t ‘percolate’ into water!”

Christie, who mocked Margate and called its residents selfish as he insisted on a dune system and beach replenishment project to run the length of the 127-mile state coastline, did not respond to a request for comment.