TOMS RIVER - Town officials have sent out letters to easement holdouts in an effort to begin the eminent domain process needed to build protective dunes on the shoreline.

Twenty certified letters to property owners went out this week, giving property owners their last chance to grant Toms River easement rights for the federal dune project.

Many residents believe the need for a strong dune system is visible everywhere. "It's unfortunate that they have to give up something, I can understand that, but it just has to be," says Ortley Beach resident Kathy Rossi.

If the owners refuse to take the deal, the township says it will go in and take possession of the land.

The eminent domain process starts with real estate appraisers figuring out how much the property owners should be paid for their land. The township then puts that dollar amount in a court account to secure the rights to the land.

"Any dispute as to the value of the property could be decided two to three years later. That would not prevent us from going in and using the property for easement purposes," says Township Attorney Ken Fitzsimmons.

Fitzsimmons says the state Supreme Court ruling regarding an eminent domain case in Harvey Cedars should help their cause. A judge there threw out a $375,000 jury award to a couple saying that the value of the dune protection should have been considered and not just their loss of view. The matter was tossed back to a lower court.