TRENTON -- Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced today that, in another important legal victory for the State’s coastal protection efforts, a jury has determined that a Harvey Cedars couple should receive $300 as compensation for an easement on their property needed to build a sand dune and beachfront protection project – significantly less than the $800,000 they were seeking.
Harvey Cedars residents Victor and Carolyn Groisser argued in this case that the easement itself was worth approximately $200,000, and that they also should be awarded more than $600,000 in damages. However, in returning its $300 compensation verdict on Friday, a Superior Court jury in Ocean County appeared to agree with the Borough of Harvey Cedars and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that the benefits of coastal protection outweighed the Grossiers’ claims for damages, and that on balance the easement itself was worth only $300.
“This represents an important legal win for the State’s beachfront protection efforts, for our vital natural resources along the coast, and for the citizens of New Jersey,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Last year, in its ruling in the Borough of Harvey Cedars v. Karan matter, the Supreme Court made plain that property owners should not expect and will not receive windfalls at the public expense.”
“A comprehensive, full coastal protection system of beaches and dunes built to Army Corps of Engineers’ specifications can protect property and save lives,’’ said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “This jury’s decision supports the State’s position that protecting homes and entire communities is more important than individual ocean views. As we continue our commitment to building a full coastal, post-Sandy protection system for New Jersey, this decision will help expedite that process and allow us to better protect our residents and visitors at the Shore.”
Since 2005, the Borough of Harvey Cedars has been working in concert with DEP to obtain easements needed for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a shore protection project. The project consists of a 22-foot-high dune and a 125-foot-beach berm, and construction was completed in 2010.
Although most property owners voluntarily donated easements in recognition of the storm risk reduction benefits they would obtain from the project, the Groissers did not. In April, 2009, the Borough filed a lawsuit to condemn the easement area. The case was tried and appealed, then remanded for a new trial after the Supreme Court’s decision in Harvey Cedars v. Karan.
In that case, the Supreme Court rejected the argument of Harvey Cedars property owners Harvey and Phyllis Karan – successful at the trial and Appellate levels -- that storm protection provided by the sand dune benefited the entire community, and therefore could not be considered an individualized, special benefit that boosted the value of the Karan’s home. Instead, the Court held that quantifiable storm protection benefits provided by sand dunes and beach replenishment must be factored into the fair compensation equation. The Supreme Court ruling overturned a $375,000 jury award to the Karans that had been upheld by the Appellate Division, and the couple soon afterward settled with the State for $1.
In the case of the Groissers, Superior Court Judge E. David Millard presided over a four-day remand trial in Ocean County last week under the new Karan standard. The jury returned its verdict late last Friday afternoon.
The Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Flood Hazard Risk Reduction Measures continues to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and municipalities up and down the coastline to obtain easements and construct shore protection projects subsequent to Superstorm Sandy.