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Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 11/1/07

Residents suing Highlands over bridge plans

TERRY GAUTHIER MUESSIG
KEYPORT BUREAU

DOT wants to replace span

HIGHLANDS - Residents of the borough, Sea Bright and Colts Neck have filed a lawsuit against the Borough of Highlands. The suit follows the borough's agreement with plans for the state Department of Transportation to replace the Route 36 Highlands-Sea Bright bridge.

The suit alleges that the borough recently swapped Green Acres property to make way for the DOT to replace the 75-year-old drawbridge with a 65-foot, fixed-span bridge. The suit also alleges the arrangements were illegal and the borough did not receive sufficient value for the waterfront property it traded with the DOT.

"This is another sleight-of-hand by the State of New Jersey to force this off the highway bridge shelf on a community that almost unanimously does not want it," said Stuart Lieberman of Lieberman and Blecher in Princeton, the attorney representing the 11 residents named in the suit.

The lawsuit was filed Oct. 22 in state Superior Court. The plaintiffs named are Shirley Myers-Olman, Mara Samuels, Rosemary Flannery, Michele Pezzullo, John Samuels, Laury Egan, Nick Evangelista and Eddy Sousa, all of Highlands; Pam Salmon of Colts Neck; and James A. Goldstein and Janice DeMarco, both of Sea Bright.

The 11 residents stated they derive considerable value from frequent use and enjoyment of the Route 36 bridge and the Green Acres park land that are at issue.

The basis for the suit was considered after the Borough Council passed a resolution at its Sept. 5 meeting. At that meeting, the council agreed to swap .23 acres of land on South Bay Avenue with land on Route 36 owned by the DOT.

The borough's property is land with a beach and is adjacent to the existing drawbridge. Portions of the land are needed for construction of the new bridge. The land owned by the borough was valued at $274,629.

The land owned by the state that is being swapped is a parcel near Miller Street situated on Route 36. The plaintiffs contend the Route 36 property does not have the same usefulness or the same market value as the waterfront property.

This is the second lawsuit filed by Highlands residents that pertains to the bridge project.

In June, members of Citizens for Rational Coastal Development, a grass-roots organization, filed a notice of appeal with the state against the DOT and state Department of Environmental Protection.

The group does not want a fixed-span bridge; it wants either another drawbridge or fixing of the existing bridge.

Some of the residents named in the more recent suit against the borough are members of Citizens for Rational Coastal Development.

As of Wednesday, the borough had not received official notice of the lawsuit, said Bruce Hilling, the borough administrator. Therefore, he could not comment, he said.