Last week, a state appellate court struck down rules that limited public access to beaches in New Jersey. The court determined that DEP was overreaching with its rules that governed how and where the public is allowed to get onto beaches and waterfronts in New Jersey. The Sierra Club applauds the court for this ruling. Now we urge the DEP to put in place new rules so the people of New Jersey have access to their waterfronts.

“These rules violated the Public Trust. They were so bad that they were struck down by the court. The beaches and waterfronts of New Jersey belong to all of us and these rules blocked us from these waterways. Now that the court struck down these rules, the DEP must act for beach access and put in place the 2007 rules by emergency rule,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars fixing these beaches after Hurricane Sandy. People should have access to the beaches that we own and pay for.”

Now that these rules have been struck down, there are no rules in place regarding beach access. The 2007 rules were better in that they allowed people access to beaches and waterfronts. We believe these should be reinstated by emergency action.

“Are no rules better than bad rules? Now we have a chance to have better ones. If the DEP doesn’t adopt the 2007 rules we would look to petition them for rulemaking to put them back or we would go to court to force standards based on the Public Trust Doctrine. The Governor could also sign an executive order putting rules in place to allow beach access. Until then, this could shut the door on the beaches that belong to all of us,” said Jeff Tittel. “These rules were an abuse of power and a sellout of the Public Trust Doctrine. The court standing up to Christie Administration is a victory, a slap at the DEP and a rebuff to the Governor. We now have a chance to fight for better rules for beach access. We must allow the public to have access to our beaches and waterways.”

The New Jersey Sierra Club believed that the now struck down rules were a violation of the Public Trust Doctrine. New Jersey Supreme Court Rules that all tidal waters belong to the people of New Jersey. Since the rules were so vague this will let the towns do whatever they please instead of providing the necessary access. The rules would have been open for political games and subject to abuse. They took the side of developers and special interest over giving the public access. In the past where there was not proper access developers can pay into a fund to provide for that access. This fund was eliminated, allowing developers to block access and not have to mitigate for the loss of that access.

“The 2007 rules were upheld in court but the Christie Administration rolled them back to take care of corporations and special interests. Christie got rid of the rules to take care of wealthy business, marinas, and people who own multimillion dollar ocean front homes wanted to block the rules so people couldn’t have access,” Tittel stated. “They were even worse for urban areas because not only could they not get access to beaches, but the waterfront in our cities were even harder for people to get access too. Now that the court has struck down the recent ones, we need to reinstate the 2007 ones that work for everyone.”

These rules would have limited access in urban areas more than anywhere else by being used to wall off our waterfront from the public. The rules did recognize the Hudson River Walkway only because that was won in a court case. This not only undermines access, but hurts urban revitalization because having access to the waterways is important in urban revitalization.  Urban waterway access is a successful redevelopment tool that will be denied to New Jersey’s cities under the proposed rule.  Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, and other cities across the country have focused revitalization efforts around abandoned waterfronts with tremendous success and now Jersey City, Trenton, Camden, Newark, and other New Jersey cities will be denied this opportunity.

“The rules actually gave the towns power to limit public access from a current quarter mile to now a half mile. Towns can also close existing access and concentrate them into one area like a beach that goes underwater or an area where there is not good parking. This gives towns the power to further limit public access and if the towns do not follow their public access plans there is no penalty,” said Jeff Tittel. “The court overturned these rules because they said that the DEP did not have the right to turn power over to the towns and there is no legal mechanism to fund the planning, no requirement to actually do the plans and no enforcement of beach access.”

Under these rules existing commercial and industrial buildings, sewer plants and other large facilities are exempted. When any of these facilities block public access, there should be a way to require access or help pay for access at another place. When industrial or commercial sites are redeveloped, access should be required.

“These rules would have blocked public access for the people of New Jersey and would undermine our tourism industry,” Tittel said. “The more and better access we have, the more people will visit our waterways, waterfront communities, and beaches.”

The rules allowed for bars on the beach in Atlantic City, but limit the right of day trippers to get access to the beaches or bays. They limit access in urban areas more than anywhere else by being used to wall off our waterfront from public. This not only undermines access, but hurts urban revitalization because having access to the waterways is important in urban revitalization.

“Now there are no rules in place so there is no beach access. The DEP got what they wanted by rolling back beach access and now that the rules have struck down there are no rules in place. We’re calling on the DEP to take emergency action to put back the 2007 rules. These rules were upheld by the court. The provided for a lot of access to our beaches and waterfront. They should do an emergency rule to bring these back, otherwise there’s no beach access at all,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.