Shore town sees political revenge in dune destruction flap

New Jersey’s threat to make a shore town rip out a sea wall and other oceanfront structures feels like political retribution, North Wildwood officials say.

North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello, a Republican, said Tuesday it’s more than a coincidence that shortly after he criticized Democratic Governor Phil Murphy’s reopening of the shore economy amid the coronavirus outbreak, the state Department of Environmental Protection hit his town with numerous violations notices and threats of costly repair work.

North Wildwood officials say the sea wall was built without a required coastal construction permit — but with full knowledge of state officials — only after years of requests for storm protection were ignored by state and federal authorities, which the city says ultimately led to storms wrecking the dunes and wetlands.

In a statement Tuesday, Rosenello said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection missed deadlines and failed to build a beach protection project in the area for over six years, leading to serious erosion and destruction of dunes. He said the town had spent $10 million of its own money trucking in sand to repair the damage.

“North Wildwood has repeatedly asked the NJDEP to take emergency action to address the alarming destruction of natural and man-made resources on the oceanfront of the city,” Rosenello said, adding that the requests have been ignored by Murphy and the NJDEP.

In June, the DEP hit North Wildwood with numerous violation notices accusing it of illegally destroying dunes and wetlands, and threatening to make the town rip out structures it built and restore the area to its natural condition.

But the mayor said the city plans to investigate whether that was an act of political retribution on the part of the governor’s administration.

“It strikes me as beyond a coincidence that for six years I could not get even the courtesy of an e-mail reply from the commissioner or deputy commissioner in response to very real public safety concerns,” he said. “However, within a week of my public criticism of the Governor regarding his handling of the state economy, the NJDEP marshals the full resources of the commissioner’s office to issue (violation notices) for things as trivial as the installation of an American flagpole some 30 years ago.”

The state Attorney General’s Office declined comment Tuesday on behalf of the DEP, and the Army Corps declined comment as well. Representatives of the governor’s office had no immediate comment.

City officials acknowledge they built a steel sea wall without a required coastal construction permit. But it says it only did so after repeated delays in state and federal aid that allowed storms to wreck the dunes and wetlands.