022220_nws_mtbeach Red Knots on the beach

Shorebirds gather along the Delaware Bay each spring, fattening up on horseshoe crab eggs for the rest of a long migration. Naturalists told Middle Township Committee on Wednesday that new rules keeping vehicles off beaches will help protect birds as well as prevent damage to beaches.

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — The Township Committee on Monday introduced for the third time an ordinance banning most vehicles from the beaches along the Delaware Bay.

The ordinance was initially introduced Jan. 22, but that version was scrapped and a new version introduced Feb. 19, when the ordinance was set for a public hearing and final vote.

The second version carved out additional exceptions for driving on the beach. Municipal employees were always exempt for official business, as were representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but additional exemptions were made for other naturalists and those with aquaculture licenses, such as those with oyster beds along the beach.

“We’ve had so many problems with flawed ordinances, it’s worth the time to do it right,” Mayor Tim Donohue said after Monday’s meeting.

The latest version of the ordinance prohibits vehicle access to beaches along the Delaware Bay, as did earlier versions, but adds the phrase “and operation.” It bans operating a motor vehicle on the beach regardless of the point of access, while previous ordinances had listed the potential spots someone could drive onto the beach.

Those include Cooks Beach, Norburys Landing, Pierces Point, Reeds Beach and Sunset Beach.

The newest version of the ordinance retains the exceptions for township employees, those with aquaculture licenses and representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The final vote is now planned for April 6, following public comment. If approved, the new ordinance would be in place by the summer. It sets a $500 fine for the first violation and $1,000 for subsequent violations.

At previous meetings, Donohue said the ordinance came about because people driving onto township beaches were damaging the dunes and the beaches themselves, and would occasionally get stuck in the soft sand.

The beaches will remain open to pedestrians, although some sections are closed each spring for the protection of migrating birds that stop along the bay to feast on horseshoe crab eggs. If approved, the ordinance would keep most cars, trucks, ATVs, motorcycles and golf carts off the bay beaches in the township.

On Feb. 19, naturalists praised the ordinance, saying it would help protect the beaches and the migrating birds that rely on them. Several migrating shore birds stop at the beaches along the Delaware Bay each spring, including the red knot, which flies from South America to its breeding grounds in the Arctic each year, stopping along the bay in the township’s remote beaches to fatten up on horseshoe crab eggs to power the second half of their migration.

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