On Thursday, state (Department of Environmental Protection) Commissioner Bob Martin signed the beach access rules. Their rules violate the Public Trust Doctrine by further limiting the ability of citizens to access beaches, bays, and waterways.
The rules side with special interests by blocking people from getting proper access to beaches and waterfronts. After being proposed and re-proposed they are finally being adopted.
When they first proposed the rule it was a major roll back of our public access. With each new change to the rules they are cutting access even more. This is part of the overall chipping away at the Public Trust doctrine and the right of the people of New Jersey to access our waterways.
These rules take the side of the 1 percent versus the 99 percent that go to and use the beaches. These rules violate the public trust since these areas belong to all of us not just the 1 percent.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that all tidal waters belong to the people of New Jersey. Allowing municipalities to plan public access will let the towns do whatever they please instead of providing the necessary access. These rules will be open for political games and subject to abuse.
The rules as proposed take the side of developers and special interest over giving the public access. In the past where there was not proper access developers can pay into a fund to provide for that access. This fund has been eliminated allowing developers to block access and not have to mitigate for the loss of that access.
Under the new rules, the DEP is basically delegating public access and public access planning to the towns. This means that the towns can do what they want and not address the public needs, completely undermining public access.
Under these rules DEP will also undermine attempts by citizen groups, environmental and other groups to gain access to beaches because once these plans are adopted it will make it difficult for these groups to sue for access.
We have been able to secure public access rights in courts and these rules will undermine those gains. Just last week the Appellate Court upheld public access rights requirements for private beach clubs in a lawsuit against Sea Bright.
The courts have been protecting our public access rights while the DEP is rewriting and weakening the rules to take away access. Many of the lawsuits where access rights were expanded like Monmouth Beach and Sea Bright will be reversed by these rules.
Towns do not have to submit access plans. Further there is no standards for what is in their access plan and there is no enforcement mechanism for ensuring planned access is provided.
The one area we have been able to get the public more access is through the courts and these rules will undercut our ability to sue. Once a town has an approved DEP plan, no matter how bad it is, the court will take the side of the DEP and the town over citizen groups.
Rules proposed under former DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson, while still flawed, would have provided more access. The new rules rollback access requirements: under the old rules towns were required to provide beach access every quarter mile, these rules require only every half mile.
Now towns can even skirt that requirement by getting a waiver from providing access. Towns can also close existing access and concentrate them into one area like a beach that goes underwater or an area where there is not good parking.
There are no standards for towns on where or how to provide parking, bathrooms or changing areas for people who are using the beaches. This gives towns the power to further limit public access and if the towns do not follow their public access plans there is no penalty.
The rules limit access in urban areas more than anywhere else by being used to wall off our waterfronts. The rules did recognize the Hudson River Walkway only because that access was secured through a court case. This not only undermines access, but hurts urban revitalization.
Urban waterway access is a successful redevelopment tool that will be denied to New Jersey’s cities under the proposed rule. Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, and other cities across the country have focused revitalization efforts around abandoned waterfronts with tremendous success and now Jersey City, Trenton, Camden, Newark, and other New Jersey cities will be denied this opportunity.
Under these rules, existing commercial and industrial buildings, sewer plants and other large facilities are exempt. When any of these facilities block public access, there should be a way to require access or help pay for access at another place. When industrial or commercial sites are redeveloped, access should be required.
These rules block public access for the people of New Jersey and would undermine our tourism industry. The more and better access we have, the more people will visit our waterways, waterfront communities, and beaches.
The DEP’s Beach Access Rules limit the public's right to get to the waterways and beaches they own. Calling these public access rules is an oxymoron; they do the opposite. They violate the public trust and limit the public’s right to access their beaches and waterways.
What will happen the next time — will they re-propose the rule again to chip away at more public access and more of the public’s rights?