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'It's Got To Stop': Margate Residents Battle Controversial Dune Project

MARGATE, NJ (CBS) -- This past weekend some Jersey shore towns suffered flooding from heavy rain, and in one Atlantic County town, the recent storms created an even bigger mess.

Margate has been losing its fight with the state over the construction of sand dunes, but now the town has another reason to complain: the rain has made the newly built dunes look like moats.

"It's unsafe, it's unsanitary, it's ugly," said Mayor Michael Becker.

He says it's a health issue with birds swimming and leaving waste in the stagnant water, making perfect breeding conditions for mosquitoes.

Margate Flooding
Photo Credit: Dave Engel

"The water is still there," Becker said.

Becker says people can't get to the beach, without walking through the ponding water, which in parts is a foot and a half deep.

"It's creating a hazard," he said.

Becker explains that the ongoing project which began early this month has deterred visitors, and is now impacting local business owners.

"They're complaining about the timing, they are complaining about the lack and loss of business," he said.

Margate's mayor says they will also be testing the water's bacteria levels this week.

"It wouldn't surprise me if the bacteria tests come back bad that we would have to take some sort of legal action," he added.

The dunes are meant to protect beach communities during devastating storms such as Hurricane Sandy, but those who live in Margate say they would prefer higher bulkheads or rock walls instead.

They say the dunes are also blocking stormwater from draining properly, creating basins in which children have been playing after weekend rain.

"There could be animal fecal matter, there could be oil, there could be pesticides, herbicides, garbage. And not to mention when there's standing water like that, bacteria grows," Patti Deroo said. "This was obviously going to happen because of the way Margate streets drain but nobody wanted to hear it. It's big government using a one-size-fits-all approach."

Becker adds that though courts have ruled against them in the past, city officials are considering hiring outside counsel to file an injunction to stop the project in Margate.

"It's ugly. It's inefficient. And it's gotta stop," Becker said.

But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is partly heading the $76 million project, is continuing its work, filling in the basins with sand and shoring up temporary walkways to help residents get to the beach.

A spokesman told Eyewitness News the Army Corps is aware of the drainage issue and said in part, "We are coordinating with the state and plan on putting in pumps in the basins and pump the water over the dunes."

But some neighbors worry that beyond potential health risks, the dune project will severely change the beach landscape, disrupt sea life, and cause tax hikes in order to maintain.

"There isn't one good thing about it," Deroo said. "This is going to be a money pit. It isn't going to work...Margate taxes have been relatively low. When they have to start maintain this mess, cleaning both sides, our taxes are going to shoot through the roof. There's no other option."

Ventnor and Longport are next on the schedule for the beach replenishment project.

Longport Mayor Nicholas Russo says he has faith in the governmental engineers and believes inconveniences from this project will be outweighed by the benefits.

There are two public meetings scheduled this week in Margate regarding this beach replenishment project. The first is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday morning at City Hall in Margate. The next is scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon by the Wawa on Washington Avenue, but officials say so many people are expected to attend that the location may be changed to accommodate the crowd.

KYW Newsradio's Kristen Johanson and CBS3's Anita Oh contributed to this report.

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