The final decision on beach access rules still lies in the hands of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Raymond Cantor, the chief adviser to DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said at a forum at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Tuesday morning.
“We still set the standards, but if a municipality can provide a better way, we’ll work with them,” he said after opening the forum by stating he was there to address the “misinformation” concerning the new rules. “Our goal is to provide better access in more appropriate locations.”
Residents from up and down the shore filed into the Townsend Residential Life Center at the college Tuesday morning, coming from Long Beach Island, Stone Harbor, Avalon and Cape May. All had various concerns, but chief among them was too much power being given to municipalities when it comes to
Cantor served as an official for the meeting. He was there to hear the public's comments and deliver them to the DEP for response. All comments were recorded by a court clerk.
“It’s inappropriate for someone who is supposed to act as an impartial officer to characterize these things as misinformation,” American Littoral Society of New Jersey Executive Director Tim Dillingham said. “It won’t increase or protect public access.
“They can spin the rules however they want; it’s going to reduce access.”
Some are concerned that even though the DEP claims final say over all beach access matters, that means it will simply approve whatever the municipalities bring before it.
Beach access concerns more than just direct access to the beach. It also puts restrictions on parking and restroom access, among other issues.
In 2007, the administration of Gov. Jon Corzine attempted to fix the rules governing beach access so that the DEP’s rules were in line with already existing case law. The result was 24/7 access to beaches and beach replenishment money was directly tied to beach access.
The Borough of Avalon filed a lawsuit, which resulted in a court ruling that repealed the 24/7 access law and said replenishment money can’t be tied to beach access.
“What they’re doing goes far beyond what the court ruling spoke to,” Dillingham said. “For example, if the Department of Transportation builds a new bridge, they’re not required to provide fishing access under the new rules, but that has nothing to do with the court’s decision.”
“We didn’t have to do all the things we did, but what we’re proposing is the right approach,” Cantor said.
Avalon Borough Business Administrator Andrew Bednarek was in attendance, and he supported the DEP’s proposal.
“I applaud the DEP for imposing these rules,” Bednarek said. “The court found that tying beach replenishment money to beach access wasn’t fare and equitable. The judge ruled that the rules were vague. I just want to see what the plan will look like. I’m concerned about the expense to the municipalities.”
Stone Harbor Councilman Al Carusi was in attendance and also welcomed DEP’s efforts, but many advocacy groups didn’t.
Many were concerned about the impact on tourism.
“The tourism industry depends on getting to the coast,” Kate Millsaps said. “If you limit access to that, they’re going to go somewhere else.”
“A former governor said, ‘Come to the Jersey Shore,’ ” said Paul Harris, president of the Beach Buggy group. “What do we say now? Come to the Jersey Shore but you’re going to be denied access? I urge DEP to drop this idea.”
Other concerns included taking away access points and that not enough information was being provided by the DEP.
Thirty-six groups have banded together to ensure that the state isn’t undermining the Public Trust Doctrine, which states beach access is a fundamental right of all New Jersey residents, and not just those who own beachfront property.
“This is a step backwards because it allows towns to side with the homeowners against the regular people,” said Stockton junior Stanley Baguchinsky, who uses the beaches near his home in Long Beach Island. “Towns might not listen to what the public is saying. The power needs to stay with the DEP, and not be transferred over to the towns.”
“The people that don’t have money, this limits their access,” said Stockton senior Rachel Milliron, who calls South Plainfield home. “I have to drive around looking for parking, wasting gas, destroying the environment even more. It’s a vicious circle. What happens next?”
Two more public hearings will be held on the issue. The next forum is scheduled for Monday, May 23 at the Seaside Heights Municipal Court room. Another hearing has been added for June 2 at 7 p.m. at the Long Beach Township Municipal Building.
Comments sent directly to the DEP Commissioner are also welcome. The deadline for public comment is June 3. Cantor said all comments will be reviewed and answered before a decision is made. The decision is expected to come no later than next summer.