Following numerous rounds of public comment that took place within the past year, state officials on Monday formally proposed a slate of revised beach access rules that they say represents a compromise between a number of stakeholder groups.
The plan would still allow municipalities – rather than the state – to develop local beach access plans, though the municipalities would be required to include both day and night public access to the shoreline.
Municipalities would also be required to hold hearings on the access plans before they could be formally adopted and approved by the state.
Last year, the Department of Environmental Protection held numerous public hearings on a Christie administration initiative that would have put several aspects of beach access rulemaking power in the hands of local municipalities. Previously, such rules were made by the state.
Several groups, including beach access advocates and recreational anglers, feared that certain towns might use the authority to reduce access to beaches – for example, by closing beaches at night when anglers often gather to fish.
Many mayors and municipal officials argued, however, that top-down regulations from the state don't always make sense locally, and towns should be empowered to set access regulations.
At the same time, marina owners balked at a proposal left over from the Corzine administration that would have required them to provide public access to the shoreline through their private property at all times in order to receive a permit to improve or renovate their facilities.
That regulation, under the latest DEP revision, has been changed so marinas would be required to provide public access only when they decide to develop new or adjacent sites they own.
"Providing ample access to our ocean beaches, bays and rivers is a fundamental right for all residents of New Jersey, and the driving force behind these rules," said DEP Commissioner Robert Martin, in a prepared statement. "We heard the suggestions and concerns expressed by many of our residents during a very robust public comment period over the past year and have responded by making changes to the proposed rules, especially recognizing the needs of the fishing community in New Jersey."
At least a few organizations have already expressed concern over the revised rules, however.
Ralph Coscia, president of Citizens' Rights to Access Beaches, said, "The public overwhelmingly spoke out against DEP's proposed changes during last year's public comment sessions.
"The DEP heard our comments but, unfortunately, did not listen to the issues we presented. The latest amended rules fall short of addressing public access concerns... We urge the public to review the amended rules and to participate in the two public hearings and to provide written comments during the comment period."
Tim Dillingham, executive director of American Littoral Society, said, "The DEP heard the public opposition to the early proposal to turn over authority to the towns, who have often been hostile to public access to the shore.
"They made some minor changes, but didn’t fix the fundamental problems," Dillingham said. "Efforts to increase public access to the shore will still face an uphill fight, towns will be in charge, less access will be provided by coastal development and some towns will be empowered to be more exclusionary."
Public hearings will be held on the revised regulations April 18 in Avalon and Long Branch.
If the new regulations are adopted, officials said Monday, the DEP would dedicate Green Acres funding to assist municipalities in developing their access plans, which would have to be approved by the state after local public hearings.
Along with the regulation proposal, the DEP launched a website Monday which details waterfront access statewide.
In addition to the planned meetings, members of the public can submit comments through an online form the agency has set up.
Public Hearings on Proposed Beach Access Rules:
- April 18, 11 a.m. in Avalon, at the Avalon Municipal Court Meeting Room, 3100 Dune Drive, Avalon, N.J. 08202
- April 18, 5 p.m. in Long Branch, at the Long Branch Municipal Council Chambers, 344 Broadway, 2nd floor, Long Branch, N.J. 07740.
- Online comment submission form.