Public Access

by George Browne, Chairman Public Access
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association July 2021 Newsletter)

This month’s public access column is going to take a little different turn. Yes, there are ongoing public access issues out here, but this column is going to be about legislation and how it can affect public access.

First is Senate Bill 1071. This bill proposes to increase the amount of money annually credited to the Shore Protection Fund from $25M to $50M. The source of this money is the realty transfer fee which is paid when a property is sold, and the deed is recorded. The fee is based on the amount of consideration contained in the deed or, in some cases, the assessed value of the property. If you sell or transfer real property anywhere in NJ, the seller typically pays a fee. On a $250,000 house, the fee can be around $1,325. The money is shared between the state and counties. This fee has been around since 1968 and is used for the State’s General Fund, community revitalization, and shore protection. We are in a hot real estate market right now and there is a lot of money being paid in realty transfer fees.

So, the question is, how this will increase in money allocated to shore protection affect anglers or beach users in general. Beach replenishment has a lot of problems associated with it. In general, beach renourishment is a long term (50 years) project, and it is not cheap. Continually pumping sand provides a false sense of security and encourages development/overdevelopment in vulnerable areas. Retreat from vulnerable areas is a very limited part of how NJ handles shore protection. There are also questions of how much fishing is affected by habitat destruction at both the sand borrow site (where they dredge the sand) and the beach habitat as it is buried when the ocean sand is pumped onto a beach. There is, however, one overriding concern with fishing and beach renourishment, Public Access! How many towns that received beach renourishment money signed agreements meant to improve public access? And how many of those same towns have failed to improve access, or, worse yet, reduced public access? After signing those agreements or getting permits for those projects, we have seen towns reduce or restrict parking, restrict hours for fishing, remove signs identifying public access locations and other covert actions to deny public access. Why should a realty transfer fee paid on the sale of a house in Sussex County be used to pay for a beach in an Ocean County town that then tries to block beach access? As anglers, we should oppose S1071. The bill does nothing for us. It does not improve access and without better access why are we being asked to protect beaches that we cannot use?

The second part of this column proposes to support the introduction of legislation that improves the authority of DEP to push back against towns that limit public access. Right now, the DEP can only enforce public access requirements when towns or entities (condo associations, waterfront projects, etc.) have signed agreements to provide public access. These agreements are contained in contracts for beach renourishment money or permits such as CAFRA permits. There are towns where no such agreements exist, or public access was not adequately addressed in the permits, or the town denies public access in defiance of the permits and agreements. It is time for that to stop. During the Christie administration public access rules were not a priority and towns were allowed to have home rule on issues such as parking. As a result, several “exclusive” shore towns moved to restrict or eliminate parking near “their” beaches specifically to restrict access. It is time to change that. When NJ had an Office of Public Advocate, that office went after shore towns and successfully sued to improve access. It is time to get legislation introduced that gives DEP the power to enforce NJ’s public trust doctrine in all situations.

There is one last topic I would like to address in this column. When I contact municipalities, I hear the towns complain about anglers and their habits. We are accused of littering, drinking in public, being loud and obnoxious at night, public urination, public defecation (you read that correctly), obstructing streets with illegal parking, and more. Yes, there are a few anglers who set bad examples and make it tough for all of us. I’ve received public access complaints from anglers and when I investigated those complaints, the anglers were 100% in the wrong. You can’t defend someone who wants to fish in front of the lifeguard stand on a busy summer Sunday afternoon when the beach is open. You can’t defend anglers who block a street so badly that their parking blocks emergency vehicles. You can’t defend anglers who leave old bait, trash, and fish guts on a public sidewalk next to a fishing spot. Situations like those create problems for all of us. The next time you are fishing, think about other people around you and ask yourself if your behavior is what you would want if the situation was reversed. Better yet, leave your fishing spot better than you found it. We are much better off preventing the problems

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