It is the beach town that roared. Or at least filed suit.

And on Thursday, Gov. Christie's grand plan to build one continuous dune along the entire coast of New Jersey will be challenged in U.S. District Court by the City of Margate, whose voters have stubbornly opposed the dune in two referendums.

Last month, Margate's lawyers, including former U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews, made good on their threats and sued the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers to try to stop the awarding of a contract for construction on its beaches, which they said was imminent.

"Margate . . . brings this action to protect its beaches from this imminent and unlawful intrusion," their complaint states.

U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb in Camden granted a temporary restraining order Nov. 24 that prevented the Corps from awarding the contract for the entire $74 million Absecon Island dune and beach restoration project.

This has not made the state or the Corps happy.

The state filed a brief so long - 52 pages - the Attorney General's Office had to request special permission from the judge, saying the case was undermining its efforts to "properly protect its citizens from future catastrophes."

It said delaying the bid process by granting a preliminary injunction would jack up the price by millions, threaten the entire project, and jeopardize federal reimbursement of the $35 million in funding for the state's share. It said that if the judge granted the injunction, Margate should have to post a $35 million bond "and, in any event, no less than $5 million."

The Absecon Island project - involving Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate, and Longport - is part of a $3.6 billion federal Shore Protection Act covering several states after Hurricane Sandy.

"Because the Army Corps will not construct the project's protective measures in Longport without constructing them in Margate, a decision here will leave citizens and property even outside of Margate unprotected," wrote Assistant Attorney General David Apy. "Granting a preliminary injunction would risk grave public consequences."

Margate voters in November passed a referendum authorizing its mayor to take legal action, though the city had remained hopeful that a settlement that would leave Margate out of the dune could be reached.

The residents believe that their bulkhead system is sufficient to prevent future storm damage and that the dune will negatively affect their beach and create future costs. Many oppose the dune for aesthetic reasons, though most voters are not people who live in sight of the beach.

Because the city, unlike Longport, refused to turn over public easements on the beach (such as street ends), the state filed administrative orders to take possession of the land. Margate contends these orders are improper. The state said it needed to expedite the bid award, was permitted to do so under state law, and would compensate Margate.

(The state has issued conflicting statements on whether it "owns the beach" in Margate, with spokesmen for the DEP making that assertion - and implying they could take over beach operations - then retracting.)

A person knowledgeable about Margate's case said the city was "stunned" at the state's defending its right to take public easements by administrative order.

"We can accept the fact that some people think the dunes are the right thing," said the source, who did not want to be named but was authorized to speak for Margate. "What we can't accept is the State of New Jersey, because of an executive order, can say, 'Oh, by the way, we own your beach, we own your front yard, we just decided that we own it.' "

Christie's executive order to protect the beaches with a continuous sand dune post-Sandy has created some awkward political undercurrents for the governor, who is considering a run for president.

Margate activists have sought to frame their case as one of personal freedom and private-property rights against an overreaching government.

Writing in the National Journal, Margate native Tim Cavanaugh said the battle "casts serious doubt on the presidential hopeful's commitment to conservative principles."

And in Bay Head, Ocean County, where homeowners, if not the town, are resisting, Christie has run up against a top Republican fund-raiser, homeowner Lawrence Bathgate, who told the Associated Press the dune plan was "stupid."

Bathgate was the national Republican finance chairman under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

The parties are scheduled to be before Bumb at 9 a.m. Thursday.

arosenberg@phillynews.com

609-823-0453

@amysrosenberg