Public Access

by George Browne
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association January 2021 Newsletter)

In the past two months JCAA has been working on a couple of public access issues. The first was Sandy Hook. The second was Brick Beach.

Sandy Hook

The Army Corp of Engineers (ACoE) dredging project at the False Hook is still being completed. It appears that it will not be completed before the end of the year. JCAA had several conference calls with Congressman Pallone’s office and Senator Booker’s office. Both offices contacted the ACoE and reported back to us.

Senator Booker’s office also hosted a conference call with the National Park Service (NPS) in early December. JCAA raised our concerns during all the calls.

Here is what we know.

  1. The current dredging project is using money left over from 2018 and 2019 to complete work that could not be completed in 2019. The ACoE will be going to public comments in January for the 2021 and 2022 dredging work.
  2. The sand that accumulates at the False Hook comes from beaches in Long Branch, Monmouth Beach, and Seabright. Dredging the False Hook looks like it will become an annual project and can only be completed in the fall due to the winter flounder spawning in late winter and nesting birds from March 15th to September 1st.
  3. There was general agreement that the notice for the closure on October 1st was inadequate.
  4. There are significant safety issues in the area being dredged. As the dredging is taking place, an underwater drop-off is created and there is the potential for that cliff to collapse without warning. Anyone in the area could wind up in the water which is why there is a closed safety zone in the area.

JCAA has asked for the following regarding Sandy Hook and the ACoE dredging projects.

  1. Better notice of the planned closures from the ACoE and NPS. We feel 45 days advance notice is appropriate.
  2. Better signage so that areas closed for dredging are clearly identified. Areas shown as closed on the NPS map do not always correlate with areas that are closed. We would like to see anglers have access to areas that are not in the safety zone and have the signs and maps updated to show current closures. We would also like to see better communication between the NPS and the fishing community.

We also discussed the piping plover and common tern nesting beach closures from March 15th until September 1st. Plovers nest on the beach and terns nest in the dunes. Sandy Hook has 35 to 40 piping plover nests each year. That is 50% of all the plover nests for NJ and the nests and chicks need to be protected. However, the plovers do not lay their eggs until sometime in May and the chicks can fledge (capable of sustained flight on their own) 7 to 8 weeks after hatching. There may be later plover eggs laid if an earlier nest is destroyed and these late chicks may not fledge until late August. The plover nests are monitored on a regular basis by the NPS and they know what is happening at the nests. JCAA asked why it was necessary to close the beach to all users before there were eggs or chicks in the nests. We felt that if people walking on the beach, especially anglers walking along the water, did not disturb the nests, why couldn’t the beach remain open? This was an interesting question as there seems to be some confusion about whether the beach is completely closed before eggs are laid or chicks are present. We are working to clarify that point with the NPS. If we can walk the beaches between March 15th and the first eggs appear, how do we let people know that? We also want the northern beaches reopened as soon as the chicks have fledged. If all the chicks have fledged by early August, why keep the beaches closed until September 1st? We will be getting back to the NPS for clarification. We also agreed that better communication, including signs, was needed to let beach users know what the restrictions are. Fishing the False Hook during the spring run provides at least some relief from the other closures. Having it open earlier in August adds weeks to the late summer/early fall season.

Brick Beach

I was notified in early December that a homeowner or homeowners had erected a fence across the beach just south of the four-wheel drive access at Brick Beach One. I have included a picture of the fence (thanks Matthew Farrell for the pics). To me it looks like the definition of chutzpah. A beachfront property owner claiming that the taxpayer funded, renourished beach in front of their home was their private domain is too common in NJ.

Emails were immediately sent to the Brick Administrator and DEP was copied on the emails in case we needed to file a complaint. The Brick Administrator got back to me right away and this is what she wrote back: “I reviewed this with Planning and Engineering. The fence is not permitted. They were sent notices of same in 2018 and 2019. A violation was sent out today as well. Our beach supervisor reported that the fences were going up throughout the summer and his crews took them down. Thanks for letting us know. We will continue to send violations that include fines of up to $2,000 per day.”

That quick response was great to see. Since this same fence issue also occurred in 2018 and 2019, I filed a complaint with DEP on behalf of JCAA. Brick could only fine the homeowners for putting up an unpermitted fence. DEP can go after the homeowners for blocking public access and with multiple instances, the fines can get bigger.

I would like to thank Joanne Bergin, the Brick Administrator, and DEP for quickly taking care of the issue. The fence is gone and the beach is open again. If another fence goes up, another complaint will be filed.

Other Access Issues

If you have a public access issue, please contact me at publicaccess@jcaa.org. We keep working to make sure the public trust doctrine is enforced and we have the right to access the beach. At times it is a simple fix like we had in Brick. Other times we must put more work into public access, and it takes time.

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