The Jersey Shore boating economy — including marinas, fishing, private docks, boat sales and rentals — was stronger before environmental regulations made much of it prohibitively expensive or outright impossible.

Now, some restrictions seen to be baseless or excessive are being removed, promising a new golden age for boating and related activities.

Waterways where boats are kept, docked or connect to channels need to be dredged occasionally to keep them functional. That was banned during the best five months for it in the offseason, when boats and tourists aren’t in the way. After encouragement from commercial fishing firms and marinas to review the basis for the ban — the protection of spawning winter flounder — Rutgers researchers found those fish don’t spawn in the waters of Atlantic and Cape May counties and the ban was lifted in 2015.

In January, state Sen. Jim Whelan told our editorial board that one of his priorities this year, his last as senator, would be to help restore the shore’s “boating culture.” In mid-February, his bill to remove another misguided dredging restriction passed the Senate 36-0. Bipartisan support for it includes sponsorship by Democrats and Republicans in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties.

The bill would allow marinas and water-dependent uses such as piers, ramps and docks to do the dredging needed to stay functional without complying with state Department of Environmental Protection shellfish habitat rules.

Protecting shellfish habitat is good, but it’s quite an overreach to consider the bay bottom under a marina or adjacent to a dock or boat ramp to be such habitat. Yet that’s exactly what existing regulation does by extending protections to any area that has or could potentially have some shellfish. Margate’s solicitor said the overly broad application of the rule “drives up the cost to the point it is impossible to dredge.”

The bill, now before the Assembly, wisely exempts boating-essential waters of marinas, docks and other water-dependent uses up to 10 years prior to enactment of the legislation. For some of those, the inability to dredge was a significant factor in ceasing to function or going out of business.

The Assembly should pass this measure and the governor should sign it. Then another big step is needed: DEP approval of its apparently successful new method of disposing of dredge materials.

Since 2014, the state has been running increasingly large tests of spraying suitable dredge materials onto marshes. This not only provides an environmentally sound placement for the materials, it helps address the problem of sinking and disappearing coastal lands. Preserving these wetlands supports wildlife of the land, sea and air, while reducing flood damage.

With these and perhaps a few other encouragements, the Jersey Shore soon could have a renewed and vibrant boating culture and economy.


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