Asbury Park Press Editorial: Don’t relent on access

January 4, 2011

The vast majority of New Jerseyans — 82 percent of them — want shore towns that get public money for beach replenishment to offer better public access to those newly widened beaches, according to a newly released Rutgers-Eagleton poll.

No surprise there. If all of us pay for the sand that makes the beaches wider and protects a small number of affluent property owners from a storm surge, why shouldn’t everyone have easy access to those beaches?

But draft rules released by the state Department of Environmental Protection in August carry no such obligation. That must change. Final rules will be issued within a few weeks. A 60-day public comment period will follow, with adoption of the rules expected to be in place before Memorial Day.

The stated goal of the DEP is to balance the public’s right to use beaches against the cost to towns and property owners of providing public access. The DEP was forced to revise its rules after a state appeals court determined the agency had overstepped its authority by establishing rules guaranteeing round-the-clock, unfettered access to all beaches and requiring shore towns to provide restrooms and ample parking. Towns that didn’t comply risked losing beach replenishment money.

Avalon, in Cape May County, successfully won its lawsuit against the DEP, and in 2009 the state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

Nonetheless, the DEP must continue to advocate for the taxpayers who pony up the money to replenish the beaches. “Balance” here should tilt heavily toward the right of greater access.

Towns have used scarce or nonexistent restroom and changing facilities, limited parking, scarce access points and a host of other strategies to keep people away from a resource that belongs to everyone. When the final access rules are released, the public needs to pay close attention. If the rules don’t allow for improved access, citizens should demand that they be revised again.

See story here.