The federal government has awarded a contract to build a hotly contested sand dune project to protect some New Jersey shore towns near Atlantic City that residents have been fighting for years.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told The Associated Press it awarded a contract Wednesday to Cranford, New Jersey-based Weeks Marine to perform the work in Margate, Longport and part of Ventnor. The $63.3 million contract also authorizes an additional $13 million for more sand if needed.
Ed Voight, a spokesman for the Army Corps, said construction should begin in January or February and be completed by October 2017. The work also includes money for the periodic replenishment of beaches in Atlantic City and Ventnor.
The town of Margate and several individual oceanfront residents say the wooden bulkheads already in place along the ocean coast provide enough storm protection. They say adding dunes will wreck ocean views, spoil the beach and possibly spread mosquito-borne disease including the Zika virus.
Six homeowners are suing the Army Corps and the state Department of Environmental Protection, contending among other things that the dunes would create a "public nuisance" by allowing puddles or ponding to occur behind the dunes that would allow water to stand there for days, providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes that could spread disease.
The case had been scheduled to be heard in U.S. District Court next week, but has been postponed until Dec. 13.
The lawyer for the Margate homeowners did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday, and the state and federal governments declined comment.
Margate has been the most tenacious of a handful of communities along the shore which continue to resist Gov. Chris Christie's plan to construct protective sand dunes along the state's entire 127-mile ocean coastline.
A group of oceanfront homeowners in Bay Head also is suing, claiming the rock wall they spent millions of dollars of their own money to build affords adequate storm protection, and voicing skepticism that future federal or state governments will continue to fund the project for the next 50 years. Periodic replenishment of beaches is an essential component of such storm protection work because natural erosion and annual storms wash away significant portions of the sand.
Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC