Proposed Rule Changes Pits Beach Access Advocates Against Shore Towns

April 18, 2012 | Energy & Environment
The DEP began hearings Wednesday regarding new rules that would give greater say to municipalities.

The Department of Environmental Protection began holding hearings Wednesday about proposed rule changes to beach access in New Jersey. Officials in South Jersey towns have said the new rules would give them greater say about where the public can get on the beach, which has beach access advocates upset. They say giving the towns more autonomy will allow them to limit parking, access points and restrooms to discourage outsiders from enjoying the beaches. Tim Dillingham of the American Littoral Society and Sea Bright Councilman Read Murphy sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss the proposed changes.

Dillingham said his organization opposes the rule changes. He said the current rules require regular access for residents because taxpayer money is used to put sand on the beaches.

Sea Bright has battled both the state and lawsuits regarding beach access. Murphy said, “I think that was precipitated and generated by politics. Sea Bright has always been welcoming of public access.” He said there are nearly 10 public access spots with handicapped accessibility. The municipality spent $1.2 million on a piece of property for parking as well, Murphy said.

Dillingham said he had some doubts about the intentions of the new rules. “My membership — fishermen, surfers — want to be able to get to the places that may not be in the midst of the crowd,” he said. “The state, I think, is under a lot of political pressure from some of the towns — from Cape May, Long Beach Island and other places — to not really open up those areas which are now seen by some of the beachfront owners as being private beaches. So I’m not sure that their goal is to open it up to everybody.”

Murphy said Sea Bright tried to increase access in 1994 after getting sand replenishment, but hit roadblocks. “Typical state politics, the Department of Transportation turned around and said, ‘You can’t do it,'” he said. “I kind of agree. The state hinders more than they help.”

Dillingham said his group was part of a lawsuit because the state made an agreement with private beach clubs that they could have 15 feet of public access that was transit only, meaning people had to walk through the area and were not permitted to sit. He said there has been a good settlement that essentially splits the beach in half.

But Dillingham disagrees with the new rules. “I think the state is committed to go forward,” he said. “I think it’s the wrong thing for the public.”