Long Branch, NJ – Coastal environmental groups today criticized developing changes under consideration by the DEP to New Jersey’s public access policies regarding the beaches and tidal waters of the state.  The DEP released for public consideration a draft of a proposed rule in August.

The groups claim the changes:

  • Weaken requirements that development along the shore provide for new public access
  • Delete requirements designed to promote public access in urban areas
  • Weaken the linkages between public tax dollars invested in shore protection and insuring that beaches are publicly accessible
  • Place significant responsibility for public access protection and development in the hands of local towns, who for many years have opposed efforts to increase access to long stretches of beachfront

“Fishermen, surfers and beach goers have fought long and hard for effective rules to protect their rights to access the beach and tidal waters. These developing policies and rules under consideration roll back many of those hard fought gains” said Tim Dillingham, Executive Director of the American Littoral Society. “There is a long history of many beach towns working against broad public access to the shore, and these proposals would give the fox authority over the hen house.  New Jersey needs strong state protection of public access rights because the beaches and tidal waters belong to the entire state, not just those lucky enough to live on the shore.”

The changes under consideration affect waterfronts on rivers and bays, many of which are industrialized in NJ.  Waterfront communities in Bergen, Hudson, Essex, Union and Middlesex Counties would all be impacted by these rules.

“These policies being considered by DEP would significantly roll back public access requirements for our urban and suburban waterfronts.  The proposed changes are merely intended to give business and industry a free pass on their responsibilities to provide public access to the waterfront under the Public Trust Doctrine,” said Debbie Mans, Baykeeper and Executive Director, NY/NJ Baykeeper.  “We must move forward in expanding, not restricting, waterfront access opportunities in our urban areas.  For too long many of these areas have been off-limits because of contamination or neglect and it is time to return them to the people of New Jersey.”

Much of the Jersey Shore is accessible, but towns remain where access is a problem.  The draft rules eliminate many state standards and allow towns to develop their own public access plans.

“It is imperative that the state provides adequate guidelines to enhance public access to our beaches and coastal waters, because towns have historically had confusing and inconsistent local regulations,” said Ralph Coscia President of Citizens’ Right to Access Beaches, CRAB.   “Furthermore, some towns leave great distances between access points and they have not recognized that basic amenities are part of beach access.”

The Surfrider Foundation has been sending messages to DEP Commissioner Martin as well as collecting postcards to the Governor asking not to change these rule and not to change the relationship between access and state beach replenishment funds.  Surfrider also conducted a poll to find out how NJ residents feel about these changes.

“We found that whether they live in West Trenton, West Caldwell or West Long Branch, most people think beach access is a reasonable expectation when their tax dollars help fund replenishment efforts in shore towns,” said Paul Shelly, a volunteer and Secretary of the Surfrider Foundation, Jersey Shore Chapter.