- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

BRICK, N.J. (AP) - The federal government has awarded a contract for one of the largest beach fill projects in the nation’s history for an area devastated by Superstorm Sandy.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday it awarded a $92 million contract to Weeks Marine of Cranford, New Jersey, to replenish beaches and build sand dunes along the northern section of Ocean County.

The full project eventually will cost $128 million once permission is obtained from landowners who oppose the project, or once the state seizes the land through court proceedings.

This is the last major section of Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to erect protective sand dunes along New Jersey’s entire 127-mile coastline.

But it also is the biggest hotbed of resistance to the project, including numerous holdouts in Bay Head and Point Pleasant Beach.

“We are very pleased that this crucial project is moving forward,” said Bob Martin, New Jersey’s environmental protection commissioner. “When completed, all of New Jersey’s coastal communities will be afforded the level of protection that comes with beach and dune systems that meet Army Corps’ engineering standards.”

The DEP said it still needs to obtain 141 easements from property owners in the area before the full project can be built. The state is trying to get homeowners to voluntarily sign permission for the work to take place, but is also moving in court to condemn and seize land from the most resistant holdouts.

Opponents include a group of homeowners in Bay Head who say the $5 million they have spent installing huge boulders between their homes and the ocean affords better protection than sand dunes. Those homeowners will get their day in court next week, hoping a state judge exempts them from the dune project, which they fear will not be fully funded for the decades over which it supposed to last.

And a popular privately owned beach and boardwalk company in Point Pleasant Beach also is suing the state and federal governments, trying to prevent dunes from being built on its beaches near the Manasquan Inlet.

The work is due to begin in the spring.

Lt. Col. Michael Bliss, commander of the Army Corps’ Philadelphia district, said the 14-mileproject will be one of the largest in the history of his agency.

But Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, predicted it will be a costly wash-out.

“Once again DEP is pumping more sand on the beach that will wash out during the next storm instead of actually making our coast more resilient,” he said.

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

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