Barnegat Light resident Gerry Aaron has owned a house near the beach for 50 years and often frequents Long Beach Township’s public beaches. But she has rarely seen the beaches in the township’s Loveladies section, which have few access points, as well as signs warning not to trespass to get to the beach.
“People claim they have private rights to the beach. I don’t think that’s true,” she said. “I don’t see any reason why someone can’t get on the beach.”
Others see it differently.
Ellis Levina Pennsylvania resident with a summer home in the township, is concerned too much of the Long Beach Island town’s character — particularly a proposal to add more parking, bathrooms and a snack bar at Bayview Park — could be changed for the sake of beach access.
“Leave it as natural as you can,” he said. “I don’t think anything should be changed to make for a parking lot.”
The opposing viewpoints will be aired Thursday as the state Department of Environmental Protection holds its fourth and final public hearing on the contentious issue of how much access the public should have to New Jersey’s beaches. The hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Long Beach Municipal Court Room.
The DEP has proposed rules to require towns statewide to submit a beach-access plan for oceans, bays and tidal rivers. Every town would determine what beach access should be for their areas, pending state approval of the plans. DEP officials say they want to work with municipalities to ensure as many people as possible can access beaches.
Towns that do not submit a plan would be given lower priority from the DEP to provide state money for beach replenishment, though the state Legislature has final say on which towns get the money. The department could also withhold open space preservation money through Green Acres from towns that do not file a plan.
Proponents for more access say a beach is not enough on its own, that adequate parking, restrooms, public showers and other amenities are also essential for a good experience.
The department had initially required 24/7 access to beaches, as well as availability of a restroom and parking at specific intervals, but a state appellate court struck it down in a 2008 lawsuit filed by Avalon. The court ruled the state’s regulations were too restrictive.
The DEP is now developing a personalized model to determine what each town can provide instead of instituting broad requirements, said Raymond Cantor, chief adviser to DEP Commissioner Bob Martin.
“By being flexible and working with them, we think we can have more access,” he said. “When you have a cookie-cutter approach, people get defensive and push back.”
Cantor said Atlantic and Cape May counties typically have good access, but some towns in Ocean County have a lot of areas where the public is prohibited. One of the key municipalities where Cantor hopes there will be an improvement is Long Beach Township.
About three months ago, that municipality submitted a plan to the DEP that would increase access and add parking, food and bathroom amenities at Bayview Park.
Township Mayor Joseph Mancini said he has yet to hear back from the state, declining comment until he receives word.
Avalon Administrator Andrew Bednarek, who said his borough has full access along its four miles of beaches, said he thinks the new approach would work well.
“We have a good relationship with the DEP,” he said. “We applaud the department for imposing rules that keep with the current decision and abandoning the one-size-fits-all approach.”
Other local officials want to see how the state will view their plans.
“We’re waiting to see what the definitions are for access,” said Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther. “On July 4, there is no available parking in any shore town.”
All of the beachfront in Brigantine is available to residents and visitors, the mayor said. There are five beachfront parking lots and street parking, as well as permanent and temporary bathrooms along the coast, he said.
Sea Isle City Mayor Leonard Desiderio is not concerned about the state plan because, he said, the city already makes a strong effort.
“We want people to come and enjoy the beach in Sea Isle,” Desiderio said.
This summer, all beach entrances there will offer disabled access. Sea Isle City will install a polyester “Mobi Mat” at every entrance that will make it easier for people in wheelchairs, senior citizens, children and people with large bags to travel over the sand, he said.
Ralph Coscia said wheelchair compliance for beaches is often an overlooked problem.
The president of the Ocean County-based Citizens’ Rights to Access Beaches, which provides wheelchairs for people to use on beaches, said some municipalities have plans for people in wheelchairs, but many do not.
“There is a need for ADA compliance along the coastline,” he said. “It’s the only way to get some people to enjoy the beaches.”
Some people fear the DEP proposal would favor wealthier residents who want to keep their property near the shore off limits to the public.
“Towns will side with private homes. I hope it will be open for all people and not just people who pay to be on the beaches,” said Stanley Baguchinsky, a junior at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and co-director of the Stockton Action Volunteers for the Environment club. “The DEP has the power, and it’s a step back to give it to the towns. They will side with the homeowners because they have the money.”
Tim Dillingham, director of the American Littoral Society, said access to the beach and bays is a chronic problem throughout the state. He said families are forced to travel to more commercial beaches and resort towns because others are ill-equipped.
“This is happening in more affluent areas not built around tourism,” he said. “In order for access to be meaningful, you have to use it by everybody. It shouldn’t be a challenge to get to the beach.”
Dillingham’s problem with the DEP’s plan is the lack of concrete requirements. The proposal allows for “practical limitations,” which Dillingham classified as a loophole to not adequately provide access or amenities like parking.
Dillingham said he does not think towns will increase access or protect what’s already there.
“The problem with the way it’s proposed is there are very little requirements for what they hope to achieve,” he said. “If you don’t have access, you can claim practical limitations and not provide it. This is not necessarily going to change the status quo.”
After the public comment period concludes Thursday, the department will work to finalize its rules. The process could be done several months before the start of next year’s summer season, Cantor said.
The N.J. Department of Environmental Protection will hold its fourth and final hearing on a proposal for new procedures involving beach access at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Long Beach Municipal Court Room at 6805 Long Beach Blvd., Brant Beach. All attendees will have the opportunity to speak on the issue.
Written comments may be submitted to the department by June 3 to:
NJ Department of Environmental Protection
ATTN: DEP Docket No. 05-11-03
PO Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625
Contact Joel Landau: