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The Philadelphia Inquiry

‘Don’t ruin paradise’; Shore officials crack down on chaos at ‘the Cove’

Can’t find “the Cove” in Brigantine? Follow the tire tracks.

And the sounds of country music, the scent of burgers, and the sight of Jeeps and trucks — hundreds on a busy summer weekend — parked on the sand.

The Cove’s popularity has contributed to Brigantine’s tourism boom, but also has earned the New Jersey Shore spot a reputation as a party haven. In July, officials have fielded complaints about excessive drinking, public urination, liquor and beer bottles, and broken glass. On July 6, the beach was evacuated after a bomb threat, in the form of a letter, was left at a Beach Patrol stand at the Cove.

Just who is to blame for the bad beach manners is the source of finger-pointing. The locals — the Briganteeners — say it’s not them. They blame the tourists.

Judy Neville, who has lived in Brigantine for eight years, has witnessed the growing number of visitors.

Between perfecting her backstroke and applying piles of sunscreen, Neville, 72, has observed shoddy beach behavior — often, she said, by people who do not live in Brigantine.

“They just don’t care," she said.

She and others agree that many visitors conduct themselves properly, but when it comes to the problems, they blame the “walk-ons.”

It’s a specific type of beachgoer: Teenagers from out of town with backpacks, chairs, and the occasional 30-pack. They don’t always buy a beach pass — $10 for the day, $20 for the season — fees that began last summer to control the crowds on all Brigantine beaches.

Mayor Andrew Simpson has a warning: “Don’t ruin paradise.”

A piece of trash on the beach in Brigantine, N.J., on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Locals are upset about how the beach is treated and clean up trash by bringing trash bags.
A piece of trash on the beach in Brigantine, N.J., on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Locals are upset about how the beach is treated and clean up trash by bringing trash bags. TYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Simpson said he is not naive. The mayor, who owns a liquor store in town, is familiar with the festivities that thrive at the beach. He wants guests to enjoy the city’s seven miles of beaches, but the revelry at the Cove cannot come at the cost of a clean community.

Simpson and other officials are making midseason changes — including increased police presence — following the July 4th weekend, when the bomb threat and trash brought the Cove’s chaos to a new level.

Members of the city’s public works department and 20 community volunteers had already planned to clean up from July 4th, the Cove’s busiest day. The crew removed the trash within 30 minutes. But by then, a video, which has received more than 339,000 views on Facebook , had already been posted.

Keith Ritson, 38, of Bayville, N.J, who posted the video, stopped by the Cove after the July 4th fireworks and found mounds of trash near the water.

Ritson said the culprits were likely teenagers he heard had been at that the site earlier in the day.

“It’s one of those examples of the few ruining it for the many. Most of the people who go there are respectful," he said.

The bomb threat that came later that weekend further soured the mood.

Simpson could not discuss the details of the letter, but he said it was left at the Beach Patrol stand that sits at the entrance of the Cove. The note, addressed to Beach Patrol, said there was a bomb on the beach.

The incident is being handled by the FBI.

“It was some idiot,” Simpson said of the incident.

Simpson said the litter and the note have been magnets for negative press, despite Cove regulars giving positive reviews.

Brigantine has been slowly making changes to improve Cove culture for years. Deputy Mayor Vince Sera said the city assigned eight extra beach-tag checkers and added four special police officers for July 4th this year.

Earlier this month, Simpson walked the Cove to talk to beach-goers and view the improvements, which include tripling the police presence for the rest of the season and adding two large dumpsters. The city already upped its beach cleaning schedule from two days a week to three at the start of the summer.

Sera said last year’s efforts included the introduction of beach tags, which monitor the “walk-ons.” They also added lifeguards, some of whom have emergency medical training, and increased the budget for the police to ensure officers are consistently dedicated to that area on weekends.

Three years ago, the city increased the number of portable toilets from four to six at the Cove.

Some beachgoers have taken matters into their own hands.

Neville says she not only cleans up after herself but also makes certain others do the same.

“Uhhh,” she’ll say, pointing from trash to the person who dumped it on the sand. “Did you forget something?”

Gianna Donoflio, 9, of Vineland, N.J., is trying to catch this seagull to cut loose its leg from fishing line at the Cove, on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Vince Donoflio, 49, Gianna's dad, has been coming to the beach with friends and family for about four years. "Clean up after yourself," Donoflio said. "Common courtesy and common sense."
Gianna Donoflio, 9, of Vineland, N.J., is trying to catch this seagull to cut loose its leg from fishing line at the Cove, on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Vince Donoflio, 49, Gianna's dad, has been coming to the beach with friends and family for about four years. "Clean up after yourself," Donoflio said. "Common courtesy and common sense." TYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Teenagers may be blamed for the situation, but many said they follow the rules.

Steve Mortelli, 19, of Hammonton, N.J., said he has been coming to the Cove for a year and brought three friends from high school this month. They came for the sun and were sure to ditch all waste in a trash bag, he said. They lament teens’ bad reputation, but they understand where it comes from, he added.

Lounging in swimsuits at the back of Mortelli’s car, the teens recalled a mid-June incident in which 50 seniors from their high school came to the Cove after graduation practice and left behind mounds of trash.

Ryan McKeage, 23, of Brigantine, said a clean beach hinges on people policing themselves. He drives his boat from his home across the water two or three times a week and parks it at the Cove to crank tunes, toss a football, or simply sit.

When asked why he returns summer after summer, he smiled, shrugged, and said, “Why not?”

Next summer season will most likely bring more changes to the Cove.

A task force, comprised of the Brigantine Beach Committee, Department of Public Works, Beach Fee Office, Beach Patrol, and representatives from the police and fire departments convenes every year to brainstorm how to improve the beach.

Sera said all options are open for summer 2020. Simpson agreed, stressing the city would do whatever was needed so Cove standards are upgraded. If the beach needs to be closed July 4th, he warned, the city would oblige.

“I’m not going to mess around,” Simpson said.

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