Mantoloking is preparing to use eminent domain to take control of small strips of land from oceanfront homeowners who are holding up a critically needed beach replenishment project.
The storm-decimated borough hired an attorney Tuesday to start condemnation proceedings against a handful of holdouts who won't sign easements that would allow federal officials to carry out the work. And it plans to publicly release the names of the holdouts within the next week if they don't change their minds and sign.
"A selfish and short-sighted group of people are going to cost this town a lot of money," said Councilman Steve Gillingham. "We're moving from the friendly persuasion approach we've been taking to some assertive legal action. The town will be releasing the names of this small, but difficult group."
The work is desperately needed in Mantoloking, which saw every one of its 521 homes damaged, with scores destroyed. It would pay compensation for any land taken.
Mayor George Nebel predicts only four or five residents will ultimately refuse to sign. He says the town has no choice if it wants to survive.
"We've got to get those," he said.
Nebel said Mantoloking has either signed easements or verbal commitments from 121 of 128 oceanfront homeowners.
The deadline for submitting completed easements is Friday.
Mantoloking was devastated by the Oct. 29 storm, which cut it in half, opening a new inlet between the ocean and Barnegat Bay. Filling in that breach and rebuilding Route 35 along the shore took a massive emergency construction project.
Only about 40 residents have been able to return to their homes; many more are awaiting demolition or face extensive repairs that will not be done anytime soon.
And the borough's defenses have been drastically weakened by Sandy and a series of winter storms since then. A second breach took place last month when a storm washed away a temporary dune and water flowed across the highway into the bay once again.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers insists that all oceanfront homeowners sign easements before it will start the work. Under the best case scenario, the work would begin later this year.
But because Mantoloking is so vulnerable, the borough is planning to install sand-filled fabric geotubes along its coast, to form the base of man-made dune systems and protect against any spring or summer storms.