- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

BAY HEAD, N.J. (AP) - Nine oceanfront homeowners in Bay Head are asking a judge to declare that the state has no legal right to seize parts of privately owned beaches for a protective dune project.

In court papers filed Friday, the homeowners say the Department of Environmental Protection cannot use eminent domain to acquire easements for the dune project in Bay Head. Their request only applies to properties in Bay Head, but if it is granted, it could affect similar battles being fought over the dune project elsewhere along the state’s 127-mile coast.

Governments use eminent domain to take private property for a public purpose after compensating the owners for it.

The plaintiffs include Lawrence Bathgate, who was the national Republican finance chairman under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He raised money for both of George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns and Jeb Bush’s campaign.

The state Attorney General’s Office, which is defending the case for the DEP, declined comment. A hearing on the request is expected to be held March 18.

Bay Head is one of several communities fighting back against the dune project. Some residents, including some of the plaintiffs, have paid millions of dollars for a rock wall that they claim protects them better than sand dunes.

Bathgate told The Associated Press in October that Bay Head homeowners just want to be left alone to protect their own homes, at their own expense.

In 2013, Gov. Chris Christie began pushing for a protective sand dune project nearly a year after Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of the Jersey shore. Many oceanfront residents signed easements for free or for a nominal fee, allowing the work to be done.

But others have vociferously opposed the plan and sued the state to block it, including the city of Margate, just south of Atlantic City, and home and private beach owners in Point Pleasant Beach.

The privately owned Jenkinson’s beach in Point Pleasant Beach also is suing the state and federal governments over the plan but has been engaged in settlement talks.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman wrote a court filing last month seeking an extension until March 11. He said “progress is being made and the parties are actively involved in discussions.”

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Follow Wayne Parry at https://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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