POINT PLEASANT BEACH - New Jersey's environmental protection commissioner is blasting plans to halt beach replenishment work on Long Beach Island until the spring.
Bob Martin criticized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday for allowing its contractor to move equipment from the southern end of the island to different parts of the country until April.
The Army Corps says the project should still be done by its May deadline. Similar work is underway in Monmouth County.
"By suspending its Long Beach Island work, this company will expose lives, homes, businesses and infrastructure to severe winter storms," Martin said. "Their decision shows a callous disregard for the people of New Jersey. I am calling on the Army Corps to step up to the plate and take strong action to ensure that all equipment remains on site, and that this work moves forward as quickly as possible to protect the barrier island."
Steve Rochette, a spokesman for the Army Corps, said earlier this month that the contractor, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, plans to use the equipment on other projects and return to Long Beach Island in April.
"Our expectation is that they will still complete the project by the completion date in May based on our contract," he said. "Our goal is to complete the project as soon as possible."
The equipment move comes as the owners of the popular Jenkinson's beach and boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach remain in talks to settle their lawsuit against federal, state and local officials. Jenkinson's is trying to block the Army Corps from building dunes on its property, one of several spots along the shore that don't want dunes.
The owner of the beach, Jenkinson's Pavillion, filed a notice with U.S. District Court on Tuesday saying that "the parties have not yet reached an agreement, but are actively engaged in settlement discussions," and asked to be allowed to delay a hearing that was tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.
Jenkinson's is one of several property owners along the coast that are suing to try to block the protective sand dune that Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, insists must be built along most of the state's 127-mile coastline. Margate is fighting the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in court, saying its wooden bulkheads are sufficient to protect against storm surges, and Bay Head homeowners are suing as well, saying they have spent millions of their own money on a rock wall behind their homes that should protect them without dunes.