- Associated Press - Friday, October 2, 2015

SEA ISLE CITY, N.J. (AP) - Gov. Chris Christie is urging residents of the Jersey shore to confront property owners who have helped block a plan to erect protective sand dunes in areas that were hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy three years ago.

Speaking at a press conference Friday on the approach of Hurricane Joaquin - which now appears to be headed out to sea and away from the New Jersey coastline - Christie unleashed some of his harshest criticism to date of property owners whose refusal to sign easements has prevented dunes from being built in several spots.

The Republican presidential candidate singled out the residents of Margate, a shore town just south of Atlantic City, who have wrestled the dune plan to a halt in federal court.

“Margate: You are among the most selfish people in the state of New Jersey,” Christie said. “If this hurricane had come to shore, the lives it would have cost, I hope it would have been worth the vanity act.”

Margate Mayor Michael Becker said the city opposes building up dunes because, unlike most of the Jersey coast, Margate is protected by a sea wall. He said the bulkhead is effective, and the city would rather have more money to protect itself from bay flooding.

“We’re such a nice town that it’s a shame we got that kind of a comment,” he said.

Christie also urged residents upset that dunes have not yet been built in areas that were devastated by Sandy to confront the holdouts.

“I feel bad for people in Toms River, Ortley Beach and Brick who don’t have the project done yet,” the governor said. “Walk up the beach to Bay Head and Point Pleasant Beach and start knocking on doors and ask people why they’re not signing their easements. Knocking on doors in Bay Head and Point Pleasant Beach, maybe we’ll get some action.”

Christie has vowed to build protective sand dunes along the state’s 127-mile coastline, with or without the consent of property owners. Several hundred still have not signed easements to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the work, and the state has begun filing condemnation cases in court.

Robert Martin, the state’s environmental protection commissioner, said about a dozen cases have been filed so far in Ocean City and on Long Beach Island, with 30 to 40 ready to be filed in the coming weeks. Most of the next batch of cases involves properties in northern Ocean County, which includes the area Christie called out.

Jack Buonocore, an attorney representing dozens of property owners who have refused to sign easements, said they are enforcing private property rights.

“These deeds turn private property into public property,” he said, adding the state “is offering nothing for this taking of private property.”

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Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield contributed to this story.

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