An initiative from Gov. Chris Christie to work alongside local governments to enhance public access to beaches, bays and tidal waterways has been signed by state DEP Commissioner Bob Martin.
The latest Public Access Rule put forth by the state was two years in the making and applies to 231 municipalities across the state and along the entire coastline.
“The courts said that the previous plan was not acceptable, so we had to do something. We could go back and fight with the courts or we could do something that is workable,” Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Lawrence Ragonese said.
Previous top-down regulations left municipal governments out of the planning process, creating an unnecessarily adversarial relationship between the towns and the state, a DEP news release stated.
“This is not some kind of Pollyanna-Nirvana thinking. We need to be reasonable here,” Ragonese said.
The rule will establish a framework that permits the DEP to work one-on-one with municipalities to craft individual, local municipal public-access plans, instead of imposing one-size-fits-all mandates, Martin said in the release.
Opponents of the state’s rules for beach access include the New Jersey Sierra Club, which alleges that the rules continue to prevent beach access, side with special interest groups and continue to violate the Public Trust Doctrine, which guarantees the public's right to walk along the beach and swim in the ocean, a news release stated.
“Opponents want us to be there with enforcement officers and guarddogs and bark at the town, but we want do this the other way,” Ragonese said. “We don’t want this to be the DEP with the big hammer saying get those plans done. We want to say we’re your partners, you need to have good access and people need to get to the beaches and waterways,”
The DEP has received a large amount of positive feedback from across the state and the agency is working with 50 municipalities on beach access plans, Ragonese said. He added that the DEP anticipates 100 to 150 towns to have access plans in place by next summer.
“We’re trying to particularly work with towns that have been the focal point of controversy around beach-access problems,” he said.
Ragonese pointed to seaside municipalities such as Long Beach Township on Long Beach Island and Sea Bright, Monmouth County, that have had historical beach-access difficulties.
In April 2011, Long Beach Township submitted a preliminary proposal to the DEP for improving beach access in the municipality. The plan calls for adding 100 parking spaces at Bayview Park in the Brant Beach section of the township and a proposal at Bayview Park for a larger bathroom and indoor and outdoor showers and a snack bar.
Mayor Joseph Mancini said township officials are in the process of finishing their final plan that they will submit to the DEP by the end of the year.
“I think what we have will suffice as the new plans from the DEP. The plan has met both criteria as far as our taxpayers go, and the DEP has said they like it.”
Long Beach Township is likely to be one of the first 50 municipalities to come out with their plan, Ragonese said.
The township has had the most difficulty with beach access on its northern, exclusive end, where multi-million-dollar homes line the oceanfront and signs at driveways warn of no beach access.
In the northern Loveladies section, the township will have four access points for a two-mile span. The township spent $10,000 in May to add a beach-access footpath on Station Avenue in the Loveladies section.
The path was proposed to DEP in May and it will be included in the final plan at the end of the year.
“I don’t believe there is any controversy as far as Long Beach Township when it comes to beach access,” Mancini said.
The plan has to be adaptable to our original layout in Loveladies. One size doesn’t fit all and they have to look at every town,” he said.
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