BRIGANTINE — Hundreds of people concerned about losing the right to drive on the beach at the Brigantine North State Natural Area showed up at Tuesday night’s public meeting with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
They filled the auditorium in the Brigantine North Middle School and peppered DEP representatives with questions about changes the state is making now that it has taken over permitting for beach driving there from the city.
“I’ve been using the beach since 1953,” said one man who is a summer resident. “What is the current Brigantine … system not doing that you are proposing to do?”
Director of State Parks and Forestry Mark Texel said the DEP is trying to balance the needs of fishermen, wildlife and public safety. But he said the DEP needs to do more to protect the endangered and threatened species in the area, such as piping plovers, red knots and sea amaranth.
Others asked why the state is discriminating against people who don’t fish.
The state took over selling beach driving permits this year, after the city handled the permitting for decades. The state, which has owned the 2.5-mile-long undeveloped beach since 1967, is now selling Mobile Sport Fishing Permits that only allow those who are actively fishing to drive on the beach.
Texel said the DEP is considering allowing some number of permits be sold for people to use for other than fishing.
“We are talking within ourselves to see if we may be able to allow other types of passive recreation to drive and park, to paint a scenery and take photos,” said Robin Madden, manager in the office of the Assistant Commissioner for Natural and Historic Resources. “We do understand that need.”
City permits now will cover only driving on the beach at the south end, and those wishing to drive on the north end will have to also buy a state permit, which costs $50 for New Jersey residents and $75 for nonresidents.
Officials said the number of state permits will be limited to 500 at North Brigantine — and 140 have already been sold.
They can be purchased through Bass River State Forest. Applications are available at Njparksandforest.org.
Some in the audience said they have health problems that prevent them from walking far, and need to be able to drive out to the natural area to enjoy it.
Texel said the DEP always tries to work with people who have special needs, and told people with disabilities to leave their personal contact information.
Christine Pancoast, of Brigantine, said she is concerned about the trapping and poisoning of foxes at North Brigantine.
“What the hell are we doing? Why are we killing our foxes?” Pancoast asked.
A representative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said he works with the state to manage predators at North Brigantine, where predators account for about half of piping plover mortality. Control of the foxes was necessary, he said.
State data show four pairs of piping plovers nested in the Natural Area in 2017, fledging nine chicks.
But in the early 2000s, 17 pairs bred there.
The city has long closed the northern part of the Natural Area to vehicles during piping plover nesting season, at the request of the state, Mayor Phil Guenther has said.
The DEP plans to continue closing only the area north of the remains of an old Coast Guard station, unless piping plovers begin nesting farther south, DEP officials said. The closing will last from May 15 to Sept. 15.
According to the DEP, Brigantine North is part of the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island beach in the state, at 9.75 miles when added to Little Beach and Holgate, also part of Forsythe. Island Beach State Park is a similar size, at just under 10 miles, but unlike North Brigantine, has a road built through much of it.