Beach Access Easier Than Ever But Questions Remain Over New Bill’s Intent

By GINA G. SCALA | May 22, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill ‘Life’s a Beach, Private Drive, No Beach Access, No Trespassing’ sign in North Beach.

Long Beach Township — As millions of people head to the Jersey Shore this weekend to kick off the unofficial start of the summer season, access to the state’s beaches has never been easier – something Gov. Phil Murphy ensured in signing his 250th bill into law earlier this month.

S-1074, according to a prepared statement released by the governor’s office May 3, enshrines into state law the public trust doctrine, which has historically been tapped as a principle in how New Jersey’s tidal waters and adjacent shorelines are used for navigation, commerce and recreation, including bathing, swimming and fishing. The public trust doctrine was first codified by the Roman Emperor Justinian around 500 A.D. as part of Roman civil law.

“By the law of nature these things are common to all mankind – the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea. No one, therefore, is forbidden to approach the seashore, provided that he respects habitations, monuments, and the buildings, which are not, like the sea, subject only to the law of nations,” according to Book II of the Institutes of Justinian, which authorizes the public’s right to full use of the shore.

The 1821 seminal court case of Arnold v. Mundy put the public trust doctrine into play in New Jersey. Nearly two centuries removed from its initial application, beach access isn’t that simple in the fourth smallest state in the nation, which also has the highest population density. In 2019, New Jersey’s population hovers around 9,032,872 in 7,354 square miles, according to the worldpopulationreview.com.

“It’s a very difficult issue,” DiAnne Gove, the 9th District assemblywoman who voted against the beach access bill, said recently. Six other members of the state Assembly, including Brian Rumpf, also 9th District, voted against the bill. “It’s not a cut-and-dry, black-and-white issue.”

Gove, who served as Long Beach Township mayor in the early 2000s, has firsthand experience of dealing with the complicated beach access concerns, specifically in the North Beach and Loveladies areas of the township. In both sections, co-owned driveways are the access points for beaches east and west of Long Beach Boulevard.

Under the bill, public access is defined as visual and physical access to, and use of, tidal waters and adjacent shorelines, sufficient perpendicular access from upland areas to tidal waters and adjacent shorelines, and the necessary support amenities to facilitate public access for all, including public parking and restrooms.

The governor’s bill calls for public access to the state’s beaches to be “to the maximum extent possible.”

“What does that mean?” Gove asked rhetorically.

Unlike other areas of the Jersey Shore, such as Seaside Heights, Point Pleasant Beach, Ocean City, Wildwood and Atlantic City, Long Beach Island isn’t a boardwalk resort community. In those communities, public amenities, like bathrooms, are somewhat easily found. In Ocean City, for instance, there is a large building with plenty of restrooms for women and men, at the beach access point around 11th Street.

LBI has long been known as a mainly residential resort community with business districts in each of the six communities. Finding places for public restrooms hasn’t been as easy. Still, Long Beach Township has installed a semi-permanent public restroom near the 68th Street beach entrance. Additional restrooms can be found at the front of the municipal complex where the basketball and pickleball courts are located. Public restrooms are also available at Bayview Park just across the street from the municipal complex.

“(People) go where the amenities are. Who wants to go there (North Beach and Loveladies)?” Gove asked, noting despite the fact that there is less public parking in those areas, beach access across the Island has improved since Superstorm Sandy. “(It) isn’t every 3 feet, but we’ve done a heck of a job. There are enough places for people to go. They’re not getting thrown off (the beaches).”

While Sen. Kip Bateman, who is one of the bill’s sponsors, called the signing of the legislation “a win for all who utilize New Jersey’s tidal waters for commerce, fishing, and recreation,” Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, disagrees.

In March, he vehemently opposed the bill, citing a change in language throughout the bill from “shall” to “may” as a warning sign that state officials were leaving wiggle room for wealthy waterfront property owners to defy the law. Tittel and the New Jersey Sierra Club didn’t respond to requests for comment prior to deadline.

“Using this kind of language makes the bill open to interpretation,” Tittel said in a March statement condemning the passage of the bill in the state Assembly. “Whether it’s some of the wealthy home owners in Edgewater who we have been battling for years for public access on the Hudson or down in Long Beach Township. If the law becomes a ‘may’, they are not going to do it.”

Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph H. Mancini said township officials have not been informed or received an interpretation of the new legislation’s impact on local communities.

— Gina G. Scala

ggscala@thesandpaper.net

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