By Bob Martin
Governor Christie and I are strongly committed to ensuring there is excellent public access to our ocean beaches, bays and rivers in New Jersey. We view this as a fundamental right for everyone in our state.
As millions of residents and visitors know, New Jersey already has wonderful access to our 127 miles of beaches and shoreline, with a multitude of different experiences to suit many tastes and needs. To further enhance shore access and help redevelop urban waterfronts, the Department of Environmental Protection this month has adopted a new common sense Public Access Rule that sets strict requirements for providing public access, but also provides necessary flexibility.
The new rule, which I signed on Oct. 4, promotes access to our waterways without relying upon heavy-handed government policies. By implementing common sense practices, we will build a comprehensive means for residents and visitors to have broad, diversified, safe, and reasonable access to tidal waters throughout New Jersey – and in a way that builds local-state partnerships, not discord.
We recognize in this new rule that one size does not fit all in New Jersey. We understand the Jersey Shore and waterfronts are diverse, dynamic areas that provide a wide range of opportunities, from beach access to swimming areas, from places to congregate to places for solitude, and from places to launch a boat to places to fish.
The new Public Access Rule offers flexibility to deal with widely differing recreational needs, from those of casino gamers in Atlantic City and beachgoers in Lavallette, to fishermen on Delaware Bay and waterfront joggers in Jersey City.
It also recognizes that recreational opportunities include the ability to have restaurants and other public establishments along waterfronts, in appropriate locations.
All of the more than 1,000 existing coastal access points along the Jersey Shore, which is the backbone of the state’s $38 billion tourism industry, will remain open to the public under the new access rules. More will be created. The public’s right of access to tidal waters under the Public Trust Doctrine will be maintained. In fact, DEP has codified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers standard that directs beach access points every one-half mile into our regulations, as well as requirements for reasonable parking and restroom facilities.
We have listened to our residents in amending our original plan. The amendments ensure access for day and night fishing, provide greater transparency and public involvement in plan development, and mandate public access to and along the Hudson Waterfront Walkway on a 24-hour basis except in limited circumstances, while eliminating onerous burdens on marinas.
The key to this effort is to couple strict standards and oversight with flexibility to allow for state and local partnerships. DEP teams already are engaged with some 50 municipalities to assist them in development of comprehensive public Municipal Access Plans, and we anticipate more than 100 municipalities will have their new access plans in place by next summer.
With DEP-approved plans that have goals, inventories of existing access points and strategies for implementation, communities can direct resources and promote access where the public needs and wants it, rather than mandating it at inappropriate facilities that happen to apply for DEP permits.
We are going to provide our municipalities with the planning, legal, and financial tools to promote public access in areas that need it and where it is safe and reasonable. Down the shore, where good access is the rule, we are working with those few towns that may not have adequate access to improve access opportunities. The result will be more access points, more parking, and more restrooms.
In our urban areas, we will work to reverse decades of poor planning decisions by cooperating with mayors and local residents so they have meaningful access to the waterfront. We will help them develop urban waterfront parks and walkways. The new rules give us flexibility to do it.
While some may claim we should do more, they ignore the fact that the courts found that key components to the one-size-fits-all rules implemented by the Corzine Administration were illegal.
By forging partnerships with cities and towns and through existing permitting requirements for beach and dune maintenance, I believe we can build upon our past successes and provide even more comprehensive public access to our state’s diverse and dynamic array of beaches, bays and waterfronts. The new rules accomplish this goal without engendering the conflicts, lawsuits and legislative incursions that have plagued this process.
Bob Martin is the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.