Sen. Jim Whelan has changed his mind and is now opposed to a proposed bill to eliminate beach tag fees for shore towns who accept public beach replenishment funding.

Whelan, D-Atlantic, informed Senate president Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, and Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Hunterdon, Somerset, Warren, of the development in a letter Thursday. Sweeney and Doherty introduced legislation in December requiring any town that accepts state or federal aid for rebuilding its beaches to provide beach and restroom access for free.

Whelan said his initial reaction was to support the bill because he said he is philosophically opposed to beach tags. But after speaking with officials of local shore towns he realized how important the money generated from the beach tags are.

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“I wouldn’t say there was a tipping point per say, but I talked to a lot of people and the reality is so many of the shore towns have come to rely on them,” he said. “It’s not practical to say to them you’ve had this for 20-25 years and now we’re taking it away and you’re on your own.”

Whelan said in some instances outside the region, towns will use beach tags as a form of exclusivity — making the prices too high for some people to afford them. But that is not the case in South Jersey, he said.

Whelan said most local shore towns generate less than half the cost to operate the beaches, including cleanup and staff. In 2012 the towns of Brigantine, Ventnor, Margate and Longport raised about $1.3 million through beach tags but their operational cost was nearly $3.1 million, he said.

Whelan said he personally discussed his new position with Sweeney and said the Senate president is “open to discuss” the bill.

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