BRIGANTINE — The Cove beach is a rare stretch of the Jersey Shore where visitors can drive their cars right up to the edge of the water. Having grown in popularity over the years, the beach has developed a reputation to some as a haven for noise, fights, excessive drinking and litter.
The Cove may be a victim of its own success. Its over-the-top reputation came to a head July 6 when a vehicle permit checker showed up to work to find a note with a bomb threat in their stand.
The note’s writer was upset that they might not be able to get a spot on the sand, said Mayor Andy Simpson.
Across the water from Atlantic City, boaters can anchor just offshore, and beachgoers don’t have to worry about a backbreaking schlep with their chairs and coolers. Some locals have complained of the beach’s atmosphere of excess over holiday weekends, and a video showing one area of the beach’s trash-filled aftermath July 4 went viral on Facebook, confirming some of those opinions.
The weekend’s events got the city’s attention, and change may be coming, at last.
“I’d say over the last three years we’ve seen the complaints increase,” said Councilman Vincent Sera, chairman of the city’s Beach Committee.
Excessive drinking is the chief complaint from people who live nearby, Sera said.
But overcrowding could be at the root of it all. About 5,800 vehicle permits were issued this year, Simpson said. In the past eight or so years, Sera said, the number has increased from about 4,000 a year to about 6,000.
And according to the city’s budgets over the past six years, revenue from permit sales has jumped from about $601,000 in 2012 to about $701,000 last year.
With “some of the complaints we’ve had (recently),” said Simpson, “I’m gonna be talking to my police chief, and we’re gonna make some changes down there.”
DWI checkpoints nearby could be one of the solutions, he said.
Sera said the city has already increased its police presence at The Cove on busy weekends. Officers wrote more than 300 tickets over July 4 weekend, he said.
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“We really only have an issue about 14 days out of the year,” Sera said. “It’s the Saturdays and the Sundays and a couple of the holiday weekends through the summer.”
A sign on the way in to The Cove lists a $100 fine for having alcohol on the beach.
“(The police) don’t like seeing it,” said Steve Fuhlbrick, 33, of Gloucester City, Camden County, who was at The Cove on Monday afternoon. “It’s always been kind of an unwritten rule. If it’s in a cup, they don’t bother you.”
Locals maintain The Cove is a great place to relax with friends, even though there is an element of hard partying that has gotten a little out of control over the past few weeks.
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“It almost been split into two different sections,” said Guy Zompa, who has been going there about 20 years. “The end towards the bridge seems to be a lot of young partygoing people.”
The end by the jetty is more family-oriented, Zompa said.
His family and about 10 others spent all day July 4 there, from about 6 a.m. to fireworks, he said, and had a great time.
But he estimated about 150 people who looked like college students were at the other end, and he heard police had to break up multiple fights.
Whatever the case, some beachgoers are seeing an increase. Simpson said 375 cars drove out to The Cove on July 6.
On Father’s Day, Zompa was walking with his 10-year-old daughter and she sliced her foot on a broken bottle.
“When we leave, we clean up after ourselves,” Zompa said.
Simpson, in a public letter, said there has been an increase in officers at the beach on holiday weekends this year. Tag checkers start their shifts early to ensure every car is checked, and the city’s Public Works department has increased trash cleanups.
“In preparation for next year, the manager is going to meet with the department heads to review what worked and what needs to be improved for the city’s 4th of July Action Plan,” Simpson wrote.
None of these concerns are particularly new, even if they’ve grown louder as of late.
Anne H. Phillips, president of the Brigantine Taxpayers Association, spent two years on the Beach Committee as a city councilwoman in the 1990s.
“It was a concern, even then,” she said.
The first step to addressing concerns at the Cove would be enforcing existing drinking laws, she said. Still, The Cove’s size complicates things.
“You have a physical problem, because you have a small area ... and you have a lot of activities going on,” Phillips said. “Sometimes you wonder how we have avoided accidents and somebody getting hurt.”
A video of the July 4 aftermath showed trash and chairs and boxes of empty cans strewn across the sand.
There was no sign of the litter Monday afternoon, as Fuhlbrick prepared to cast his line with Harry Duckinfield, 49, of Gloucester City, who has been fishing at The Cove for 20 years.
“That video was terrible. ... They left everything here. It was a disgrace,” Duckinfield said. “It’s usually (clean) all the time. The rule is you take what you brought.”
That rings true to Keith Ritson, 38, of Bayville, Ocean County, who shot the video. The garbage was isolated to “The Point,” the western tip of the beach, where friends told him hundreds of kids had gathered, and things got out of control.
He thinks it’s an isolated incident.
“It’s such a beautiful place, and a lot of people really enjoy it. A lot of families go down there, and it’s great for them,” Ritson said. “I’d hate to see it taken away from them because of the faults of a few.”
Staff Writer Michelle Brunetti Post contributed to this report.