‘LIVING SHORELINE’ SWAMPED BY LEGAL ISSUE

The foot of Prospect Avenue, where Red Bank plans to rebuild a deteriorated bulkhead, as seen last December. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Red Bank officials consider the idea of a “living shoreline” at the borough library a non-starter, and plan to seek grant money to replace a riverfront bulkhead there and at two other locations.

One day after borough officials described what they said is an insurmountable legal hurdle to the more eco-friendly solution favored by the American Littoral Society and other environmentalists, Administrator Stanley Sickels said the library property would get a new, impermeable bulkhead, as would an adjoining borough-owned parcel and one at the river end of Prospect Avenue.

“So you’re going to bulkhead the library, but you’re also going to bulkhead 94 West Front?” activist Cindy Burnham asked Sickels at Wednesday night’s council meeting, referring to a vacant borough-owned parcel that abuts the library site.

“We haven’t finalized plans, but I believe it would be prudent to do the library, 94 and Prospect Avenue all at once,” Sickels responded. “If we didn’t consider [a natural shoreline replacement] at the library, we wouldn’t consider it at 94.”

The legal hurdle, outlined by borough Attorney Dan O’Hern at Tuesday night’s Environmental Commission meeting, is a provision in the 1937 deed transferring the Sigmund Eisner estate to the borough: it required that the town maintain the bulkhead, or risk losing ownership of the property to Harvard University.

“Our attorney has determined that we are bound by the deed,” Sickels told redbankgreen.

Had officials considered asking a state Superior Court judge for an interpretation of the deed that might take into account contemporary environmental science, we asked.

“Our attorney advised us that the courts traditionally go by the word of the document, which memorializes the wishes” of benefactors, Sickels said.

At 94 West Front Street, Sickels said “it wouldn’t make sense to replace one bulkhead and not the other.”

As for Prospect Avenue, he said, riverfront homeowners on either side of the street have complained of erosion of their properties caused by the failure of the borough bulkhead.

Sickels said the town would seek state and other grant funding that could cover up to 75 percent of the estimated $500,000 cost of installing the three bulkheads. He said he hoped the job would go out to bid early next year.