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Anti-Beach Access Rules Finalized

Date : Fri, 12 Oct 2012 11:08:40 -0400

For Immediate Release

October 5, 2012

Contact:Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club, 609-558-9100

Anti-Beach Access Rules Finalized

Yesterday DEP Commissioner Martin signed the beach access rules.There rules will further limit the ability of citizens to access beaches, bays, and waterways.The rules side with special interests by blocking the people from getting proper access to the beaches and waterfronts. After being proposed and repurposed they are finally being adopted.These rules continue to violate the Public Trust Doctrine and limit the public's right to access our waters ways.The rules will also undermine the one tool we had in fighting bad municipal access plans, lawsuits.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.The Courts have been protecting our public access rights while the DEP is rewriting and weakening the rules to take away access.

"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% versus the 99% 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%," said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club.

The New Jersey Sierra Club believes these rule are a violation of the Public Trust Doctrine. New Jersey Supreme Court Rules that all tidal waters belong to the people of New Jersey. These rules for a municipal access plan are still too vague and will be used to get around providing adequate access. Since the rules are so vague this 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.

"The groups that have always been the problem such as municipalities and the DOT are now going to be writing their own plans and those plans are not even enforceable.The changes have made these rules even more open to abuse," said Tittel. "The rules actually give the towns power to limit public access from a current quarter mile to now a half mile. 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. This giver towns the power to further limit public access and if the towns do not follow their public access plans there is no penalty."

TheDEP is basically delegating public access and public access planning to the towns. This means that the towns can do what they want based on what the town wants not what the public needs. This completely undermines public access and violates the Public Trust Doctrine. 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.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 come in if they do not want to, there is no standards for what is in their access plan, and there is no enforcement mechanism so they can do whatever they want," said Jeff Tittel."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."

Under these rules there are no standards for towns regarding where or how to provide for parking as well as requirements for bathroom or changing areas for people who are using the beaches. There were attempts by Lisa Jackson when she was the head of the DEP to provide more access, however those rules did have their flaws they still allowed for more access. Under the old rules towns were required to have beach access every quarter mile now it is only every half mile and if towns cannot provide access they could get waivers. These rules are weak now, but towns could even waive access limiting even more access to our waterways.

"This is another example of Christie's Administration roll back of rules in environmental protection, whether it is the bad Waiver Rule, clean energy monies, or now the Beach Access Rules. This Administration is trying to undo 30 years of environmental protection including access to our beaches," Jeff Tittel said.

These rules limit access in urban areas more than anywhere else by being used to wall off our waterfront from the public. The rules did recognize the Hudson River Walkway only because that was won in a court case. This not only undermines access, but hurts urban revitalization because having access to the waterways is important in 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.

"These rules are even worse for urban areas not only can they not get access to beaches, but the waterfront in our cities are going to be even harder for people to get access too," Tittel stated. "These rules take the side of special interest over public interest."

Under these rules existing commercial and industrial buildings, sewer plants and other large facilities are exempted. 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," Tittel said. "The more and better access we have, the more people will visit our waterways, waterfront communities, and beaches."

These rules allow for bars on the beach in Atlantic City, but limit the right of day trippers to get access to the beaches or bays. They limit access in urban areas more than anywhere else by being used to wall off our waterfront from public. This not only undermines access, but hurts urban revitalization because having access to the waterways is important in urban revitalization.

"The DEP's Beach Access Rules limit the public right to get to the water ways and beaches they own. Calling these public access rules is an oxymoron; they do the opposite. They violate public trust and limit the public's right to access their beaches and waterways," Jeff Tittel said. "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?"

Kate Millsaps
Conservation Program Coordinator
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
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