Will “beach access” remain an “oxymoron” in NJ?

From Jacqueline L. Urgo: Debate continues over one of the Jersey Shore’s hot-button issues: beach access.

This week, the state Department of Environmental Protection formally proposed amendments to its “common sense” rules for access to the state’s beaches, bays and waterways.

“Providing ample access … is a fundamental right for all residents of New Jersey and the driving force behind these rules,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said in a statement.

Yet after months of hearings where residents expressed concerns about everything from restricted beach access on Long Beach Island to posted hours at state marinas, the amendments still don’t get to the meat and potatoes.

They would allow recreational anglers use of public marinas and would clarify rules regarding private marinas. Yet the only proposal specifically about beach access is a generic statement about wanting to “enhance opportunities for the citizens to participate in the crafting of municipal public access plans.” No specifics.

The Christie administration decided that old regulations requiring a certain numbers of entry points, parking spaces, rest rooms and hours were onerous. It sought a more “common sense” approach that acknowledged that rules aren’t one-size-fits-all.

But critics say that new regulations giving municipalities the ability to write their own access plans are so vague towns will be able to do whatever they please.

In places like Loveladies and North Beach on Long Beach Island, access to vast stretches of public beach — up to two miles in some areas — is restricted by a lack of access points, parking, rest rooms and other amenities, opponents of limited access say. Only those with multimillion-dollar oceanfront homes can get to the beach, making the areas essentially private, the critics say.

“Calling these public-access rules is an oxymoron,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.

Final public hearings on the proposed amendments are scheduled for April 18 in Avalon and Long Branch.