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LONGPORT – Anglers can still fish on the beach in Longport, but they are not welcome to bring their vehicles onto the beach. Following a lengthy public hearing Wednesday, Sept. 18 on a resolution put forth by Mayor Nicholas Russo to allow vehicles on the beach during the upcoming Atlantic County Surf Fishing Derby, Sept. 23 to Nov. 17, the resolution was withdrawn. No vehicles will be allowed on the beach in the off season.

Anglers who identified themselves as residents of other communities presented the benefits of tournament participation, but the residents wanted no part of it. Residents questioned going against Police Chief Frank Culmone’s recommendation to not allow vehicles on the beach, Russo’s assertion that Longport would be viewed as an “elitist” community, and costs associated with enforcement. Another resident questioned the safety of driving at the central and southern end where the beach narrows, and allowing vehicles on the beach could draw undesirables, posing a safety threat for expensive beachfront properties.

Thirty-year resident Larry Magid said he sees people fishing on the beach every day and has no issues with the derby or fishers drinking beer. However, he has seen vehicles speeding and he tripped in a large rut in the beach that was caused by a vehicle.

“I don’t want my tax money to go for anything but what it takes to run this township,” he said.

He also questioned where anglers would relieve themselves after drinking beer.

“I like the tournament, but there’s just no balance here,” he said.

Resident Doug Farrell, who swims daily in the ocean from May until October, said he didn’t hear anyone from Longport support the idea during the meeting.

“The season is over, but my season is not over. I still swim every day,” he said. “I don’t see anybody from Longport in here all for passage of the resolution. It’s mostly people from Margate or other parts of the state.”

Farrell said the commissioners should trust Culmone’s recommendation and be concerned about liability issues that could develop, as well as the borough’s carbon footprint.

Robin Scott, who owns and operates Ray Scott’s Dock in Margate and teaches children to fish, said Longport residents are not being inclusive of all the communities on Absecon Island.

“I’m hearing, my town and your town,” she said, noting that many of the volunteers who work in Longport, such as at the Longport Volunteer Fire Department, are out-of-towners, including herself as an ambulance driver.

“Many of the people that serve in this town that everybody seems to be protective of actually are volunteers from other communities,” she said. “I’m simply asking that we all share and share alike. This is a fishing derby, not a lifelong pursuit, it’s over in eight weeks.”

She said that Longport’s Wounded Warrior Week recipient, U.S. Navy Seal (Ret.) Joe Hahn would not be able to lug his four children, coolers and fishing equipment to the water’s edge without a vehicle.

Derby Co-chairman Ed Berger of Margate said the more than 40-year tournament is a “strong family tradition” that is enjoyed by 200-300 anglers in Brigantine, Atlantic City, Ventnor and Margate, where four-wheel drive vehicles are permitted on the beach on derby days.

“We believe that having access to Longport is an important part of expanding our derby and giving access to those who want to fish here,” he said. “Expansion of the beaches has made it increasingly difficult to get down to the water’s edge with gear and for parents wanting to come down with their kids. Allowing trucks on the beach is a real asset.”

Anglers are some of the strongest stewards of the marine environment and “we clean up after ourselves,” he said. “Our role is to tread lightly. We are the type of people you want on the beach in the off-season.”

As president of the Margate Business Association, Berger said the tournament provides local businesses with activity in the off season and allowing anglers to bring their vehicles to the water’s edge is a benefit for older anglers and those who also bring their children to teach them how to fish.

The only cost to the borough would be “shuffling a few papers” to issue access permits to anglers, he said.

However, resident Glenn Zuck said the beach is too narrow in the central and south end and that the area has lost about half of the sand that was deposited there during the beach fill/dune project. He said he is concerned that those who are inexperienced driving on the beach would get stuck in the sand and have to be rescued by police or firefighters.

“Undoubtedly, you will have Individuals with permits and without permits performing donuts and doing wild stuff,” he said.

Enforcement would put “undue pressure” on the Police and Fire departments and “people who are not the most honest will have access to the beach houses that are both occupied and unoccupied,” he said.

Quinten Wright, present of the Longport Police Benevolent Association, said the borough should stand behind the chief’s concerns and recommendation.

Greg O’Donnell of Mays Landing, who is president of the Recreational Fishing Alliance based out of New Gretna, said Longport has some of the better fishing spots on Absecon Island, and that is was sad to see residents not wanting anglers from other communities to enjoy it.

“The best fishing in New Jersey occurs near the inlets. The south end of Longport is absolutely one of the best places in the State of New Jersey to fish. Anglers definitely would want to get down into that area as part of the derby to fish.”

If storms cause unsafe conditions on the beach, the borough would be able to close off sections of the beach to vehicles.

“The fishermen who would come to the town to fish on the beach are some of the best people you could have,” he said, urging local police to issue tickets or pull permits if they drive more than 10 miles per hour, “because it reflects badly on the rest of us who do follow the rules.”

Tournament Co-chairman Dan Brown of Margate boasted the tournament’s policy of donating unspent tournament fees to local charities. The tournament donated $1,100 to the Longport PBA during one of the three years the borough allowed vehicles on the beach, he said.

Russo said that he intended to vote for the resolution because many of the objections posed by Culmone when it was first discussed at their Sept. 4 work session meeting had been overcome.

Russo reminded residents that the beach is considered a state park and that the borough has accepted state and federal flood protection funds for revetment improvements and the dunes.

“And now the message is…go to Atlantic City, Ventnor or Margate but we don’t want you here,” he said. “This bothers me, and I don’t want personally to seem like an elitist.”

Preventing access for fishers who are infirm could be viewed as discriminatory, he said.

Commissioner Dan Lawler, who did not support the idea when it was first presented, said that after hearing opinions on both sides of the issue, he still could not support it.

“Over the last two weeks I have spoken to people both for it and against it…we are elected to represent the people of Longport,” Lawler said. “I still don’t know if I’m for it. Everyone that’s for it is from Ventnor and Margate but do not live in Longport. I have not heard one person from Longport say they want it. I have to listen to the people of Longport.”

Commissioner Jim Leeds said the testimony he heard did not change his opinion against the resolution.

“I’m concerned about the vehicles, not the person, the vehicles,” he said. “We had it several years ago and I observed from my house excessive speeding, barreling in and out, and now with the dune restoration and the slope, it concerns me even more.”

He said the No Parking signs would soon be removed from the beach blocks and that anglers are welcome to drive up to the bulkhead to unload their coolers and equipment and carry them over the dune, just as beachgoers do during the summer months.

Russo motioned to table the resolution, which means the issue could no longer be discussed at the meeting but could come up at a future meeting. However, after a brief discussion with Solicitor Pacifico “Pat” Agnellini, he withdrew the resolution from consideration.

In other business, the board unanimously agreed to a resolution executing a new 4-year contract with the Longport PBA and introduced an ordinance to increase the borough’s police salary line item by 11% over four years. A public hearing on Ordinance 2019-18 will be held 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23.


Categories: Longport

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.