Bad Deal? Suit fears shore towns closing beach access points

DEAL, N.J. It was hard to tell what had Matt Schwartz more stoked: the waves rolling in, or the relatively balmy 64-degree February weather as he wrapped up a day of surfing. But something else was bothering him: the possibility that he won't be able to surf here for much longer

The spot where Schwartz carried his board ashore is the latest flash point in a decades-long battle in New Jersey and elsewhere over who can reach and use the beach.

The American Littoral Society is suing the borough of Deal, trying to nullify an ordinance it passed in December that would vacate the end of an oceanfront street in return for a $1 million payment from a nearby landowner who wants the property as part of a development proposal.

The group, which has fought for decades to preserve the public's right to access and use public beaches, fears a dangerous precedent may be set in which coastal towns sell street ends to private landowners. The new owners might then block off spots the public has long used to reach the sand, according to access advocates.

"It's definitely not fair what they're doing," Schwartz said as he peeled off his wet suit and put his surfboard away. "It seems like they cater to one class of wealthy people here. I own a business and I pay taxes, and I should be able to walk on a public beach." Deal says no physical barrier will prevent people from walking out onto the rocks and the sand even after the street end is vacated.

But surfers and fishermen are worried that is exactly what will happen once the transfer goes through.

Read full article . . .