BRADLEY BEACH, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP)Gov. Chris Christie had harsh words for oceanfront property owners in New Jersey who are refusing to let the government build protective dune systems between their homes and the water.

Speaking in Bradley Beach, where a dune restoration system using discarded Christmas trees is under way, Christie called such property owners “extremely selfish and shortsighted.”

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The governor said he’ll look into ways the state can legally require dune systems to be built.

Some homeowners won’t sign easements giving the government permission to build dunes on their property because they claim the dunes block their views of the ocean.

“What I care most about is that an aggressive dune system is built and maintained,” Christie said. “There shouldn’t be any debate about it. I hope that a group of homeowners doesn’t place the lives of an entire town at risk because they want a little bit better of a view.”

The governor’s comments came as shore towns, particularly in Ocean County, grapple with the question of private property rights versus the common good.

On Long Beach Island, a case involving an elderly couple in Harvey Cedars who sued over dune work in front of their $1.7 million house, arguing that it reduced their property value by harming the oceanfront view.

A court awarded them $375,000 in compensation, the borough appealed, and the case is headed for the state Supreme Court.

The debate had been under way for years, but took on new urgency after Sandy wrecked parts of the shore — particularly those without dune systems.

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John Weber, head of the Surfrider Foundation, said dunes should be made part of any beach replenishment project carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He encouraged local beach towns to build their own dune systems, as Bradley beach did.

Christmas trees are being used at numerous beaches to help reconstruct or bolster dune systems. The trees, placed at strategic angles, sometimes behind dune fencing, catch blowing sand and eventually become covered by it, forming the bases of new dune systems. A similar project will be carried out this weekend at Island Beach State Park.

Of course, dunes are not an iron-clad guarantee against damage. The Ortley Beach section of Toms River suffered some of the worst damage in the state, despite a dune system. Other Ocean County towns with dunes also suffered major damage.

But Christie said he favors expanding dune systems to areas where there are none now, to provide better protection against future storms.

Christie also promised that he would be focused on ensuring the lives of residents on the Jersey Shore get back to normal “as quickly as possible.”

“There’s nothing more important to the future of New Jersey than to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to get ourselves back to a new normal here in the state,” Christie said.

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