If you tried to visit Longport in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, you would have been stopped by cement barricades that sent you to the single open entry point of the town, where police officers stood checking documents to ensure that only residents could enter. Limiting access was a safety issue, as sand and debris littered roads.
These roadblocks also were meant to prevent looting. But it's unlikely police will be able to stop another form of looting that residents of coastal towns will now have to face.
Homeowners in those towns will now likely be hit with a one-two punch, as state lawmakers say, "Hey, we're sorry you got hit by the storm, but you're going to have to pay up."
While Gov. Chris Christie travelled to Washington this week to lobby federal lawmakers for funds to help municipalities hit by Sandy, there remains widespread recognition that the feds are not going to foot the entire bill, and municipalities will be stuck picking up the check.
Municipalities, of course, rely on property taxpayers. And those with properties in these towns likely will see significant tax increases, because while the state capped tax increases at 2 percent in 2010, the law has a natural disaster exemption that enables municipalities to pass tax increases that exceed that cap.
"It tells taxpayers in towns that were destroyed that they're probably going to have higher taxes - it's got to be paid for. Most people in these towns will recognize that if they believe the money is being spent reasonably and responsibly to rebuild their towns, they'll be happy to do it," Gov. Christie said.
But in a kick-'em-while-their-down maneuver, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, and state Senator Mike Doherty, R-Hunterdon, thought it might be a good idea to eliminate one source of revenue that these towns have - beach tag fees.
Note that neither of these fellas hails from a shore town.
Their logic is that if federal or state governments are funding beach replenishment, taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for access to beaches.
Umm, excuse me gentlemen, but don't tax dollars fund our highways? The state park system? And don't we still pay for tolls and campsites (between $20 and $175 per night)?
Sure, we all dislike beach tags, but the reality is that their costs are rarely prohibitive. Margate and Ventnor's joint beach tag is $7 for the season when purchased before Memorial Day, $15 thereafter, and $7 for the week. Ocean City's beach tags cost $25 for the season, $5 daily and $10 weekly.
Now, I get that in a perfect world, roads, campsites and beaches are free and access is available to everyone. But in a perfect world, shoobies wouldn't need to be rescued by lifeguards, wouldn't leave their sandwich wrappers and coffee cups on the beach for Public Works crews to clean up, wouldn't have heart attacks or trip down the Boardwalk stairs and require emergency medical services, wouldn't have rowdy parties that require police intervention and wouldn't drive while drunk, necessitating police checkpoints.
And we're talking about summer vacation at the Jersey Shore, which is only close to a perfect world.
Sweeney and Doherty have well-intentioned, though differing, motivations. Sweeney is coming from a liberal perspective aimed at protecting a working-class constituency. Doherty is a conservative who views most taxes as onerous and believes in a small government model.
However well-intentioned, the legislators clearly lack a fundamental understanding of shore economies - and the impact shore economies have on the state economy. It is in the state's best interest to support the tourism economy, which provides jobs and revenue to the state.
And municipal tax coffers are being supplemented by user fees, some of which are being paid by out-of-state residents.
Doherty is quoted as saying, "Considering the massive public resources that will be directed at rebuilding many New Jersey beaches, it only seems fair to ensure that everyone have the opportunity to enjoy free access to the beaches they will support and help rebuild with their tax dollars."
But the economic reality is that the cost of rebuilding after Sandy means much more than beach replenishment. It means rebuilding boardwalks and bathrooms, playgrounds and parks, lifeguard stands and lampposts, streets and sewer lines.
To me, it seems fair to ensure that property owners hard hit by Sandy are not stuck paying to rebuild all this so that Doherty and Sweeney can go to the beach for free.
Brigid Callahan Harrison, of Galloway Township, is a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University. This column originally appeared in The Record.