By Donald Wittkowski
The barrier of protective dunes that runs along Beach Road in Ocean City’s north end has no gaps in it – except for a curious opening in front of a tiny, shack-like restaurant located just steps from the ocean.
While these unobstructed views of the water may be pleasing to customers at the North End Beach Grill, a legal fight over the beachfront property may result in the gap finally being filled in.
The city is looking to acquire an easement in front of the restaurant through eminent domain, which would give it the ability to complete the dunes in this part of town from “tip to tip,” city spokesman Doug Bergen said.
“The gap in the dunes would be closed only in the event of successful acquisition of the easement rights,” Bergen said in a statement Tuesday.
Citing ongoing negotiations in the litigation, Bergen declined to comment about certain aspects of the court battle, including how much the city might be willing to pay for the easement. The grill owners could not be reached for comment.
The nearly uninterrupted line of dunes helps to protect the oceanview homes lining Beach Road in the northern end of town. Amid the cluster of luxury houses stands the North End Beach Grill, a low-slung white building perched amazingly close to the ocean.
Bergen said the grill’s owners didn’t want to have dunes built in front of the building, which explains the gap in the dune system there.
Although Bergen gave no indication that the city wants to acquire the restaurant itself, it is looking to use eminent domain to obtain the property easement for the dune project. Eminent domain gives government the power to seize private property for a public purpose.
Coincidentally, at the same time the city is in negotiations for the dune easement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to begin an $11.5 million project this month to rebuild the storm-battered beaches in the northern end of the island.
The project calls for adding 930,000 cubic yards of sand between Seaspray Road and 12th Street, an area that includes Beach Road. New sand will also help to restore the dunes near Fifth and 10th streets, Mayor Jay Gillian said in a summary of the project posted on the city’s website.
The work is expected to take about 50 days to complete, or by January 2018 at the latest, according to the construction timetable. A dredge anchored offshore will pump sand through a pipeline from the Great Egg Harbor Inlet onto the beach at Morningside Road.
Crews will first work north of the Morningside Road location to replenish the beaches. Then they will proceed south. A work area of approximately 1,000 feet will be closed to beachgoers as the project moves along, the city said.
Bergen, however, stressed that the beach replenishment project will not be affected by the negotiations with the North End Beach Grill.
“The beach project continues uninterrupted,” he said.
The city’s 50-year agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for beach replenishment in the north end never included dune construction or maintenance. Separately, that is the city’s responsibility, Bergen said.