MARGATE – The Margate Board of Commissioners April 4 strongly opposed a law proposed by North Jersey legislators that would authorize the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to oversee public access to public trust lands, including the beach, ocean and tidal waters. The commissioners passed a resolution asking Gov. Phil Murphy to veto Assembly Bill 4221 until access issues can be debated to the satisfaction of coastal communities.
Ventnor and Longport commissioners said they would follow Margate’s lead and will also pass a similar resolution against the proposal at their next meetings.
At issue is whether South Jersey towns should be included in a law that is largely being introduced to get certain North Jersey towns to provide public access to what some beachfront property owners believe should be reserved for their exclusive use.
The bill requires the DEP to review permit applications, such as CAFRA development permits, to assess the amount of public access towns provide as a condition for receiving those permits. If the DEP does not approve, it could withhold beach maintenance permits as well.
“There’s no doubt the state makes millions of dollars on tourism, which supports the economies of all our towns,” Margate Administrator Richard Deaney said. “We have done a great job creating tourism over 100 years ago and we managed individually very well.”
Deaney said the DEP has no idea how to manage a beach and should not make rules that are not practical. The legislation has not been well thought-out, he said.
“The DEP really has no idea what it is to manage a beach. All of a sudden they are going to start making rules that are just not practical to getting ready and maintaining a beach on a year-round basis,” he said.
The resolution passed by the Margate commission states that circumstances for each municipality vary greatly and that municipalities should determine the best way to provide access.
The DEP is requiring municipalities to submit a Public Access Plan, outlining what the municipality is doing to ensure the general public has convenient access points to the shoreline. It would be up to the DEP to determine if there is enough access, and could require additional access points, parking and rest room facilities.
Margate planner Roger McLarnon said the legislation gives “extreme authority” to the DEP, which could “withhold permits or dangle them over our heads and hold everyone hostage,” he said.
Longport cancelled its Clean Ocean Action Beach Sweep scheduled for Saturday, April 13 because the DEP has not issued the borough a permanent beach maintenance permit, which allows municipalities to clean the beach and provide maintenance of the newly built sand dunes. Longport has already submitted its access plan but has only received a temporary emergency permit to start scraping dune crossovers of blowing sand.
Margate is in the process of having its plan written by city engineer Ed Dennis Jr. of Remington & Vernick.
Unlike some North Jersey towns, every municipality on Absecon Island provides the public with access to the beach at street ends. Although Ventnor allows parking on the beach blocks, Margate and Longport do not permit beach-block parking for public safety reasons, they say. However, Margate and Longport are seeking ways to increase handicapped access and parking spaces, and Margate is investigating off-site parking opportunities for the general public with shuttles to the beach.
Forty-eight municipalities across the state have submitted access plans, which are posted on the DEP’s website for public scrutiny, but only four have been approved.
The idea of providing public access to shorelines is not new. The Public Trust Doctrine is based on Roman law that declares that the oceans, seas, bays and rivers are common to mankind. It was extended to English law following the Revolution, when royal lands were deemed to be held in trust for the people.
The legislation states that public access includes boat ramps, fishing piers, pocket parks, public restrooms and public parking, and it would be up to the DEP to determine if the public access provided by the municipality is sufficient before any permits or funding are issued. It also extends protection to critical habitat, including endangered species.
According to borough engineer Richard Carter, the state wants Longport to set aside an area of the new engineered beach for piping plovers and other endangered species.
“Municipalities are best sensitive to their own particular geography, zoning laws, tourism objectives and service goals, which has resulted in beach tourism economic gains for the state of New Jersey in the billions of dollars annually, with millions of daily beach visits by the public each year,” the resolution states.
It could also adversely affect public and private ownership rights, which could result in costly litigation, the resolution states.
Margate sent its resolution to Sen. Chris Brown and Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, who all voted for the legislation. They did not respond to a request for comment.
Longport and Ventnor are scheduled to approve their resolutions at their next meetings.
For more information about New Jersey’s Public Access regulations, see http://www.nj.gov/dep/cmp/access/index.htm