New Jersey governor signs public beach access law
BARNEGAT LIGHT, N.J. — New Jersey’s governor signed a law Friday intended to protect the public’s right to reach the beach in a state where some shore towns have employed a wide variety of tactics to discourage outsiders from sitting on or even walking across their sand.
But not everyone is convinced the new law will actually change that.
The bill signed by Democrat Phil Murphy codifies in law the state’s public trust doctrine, which holds that waterways including the ocean, bays and rivers, are common property kept in trust by the state for the use of all people. It is a legal doctrine that dates back to the Roman Empire.
It has been at the heart of decades of battles between access advocates, government and private property owners in a state where demand for access to the water remains high, but so do physical and legal obstacles.
Some communities have actively worked to discourage outsiders from using their beaches by restricting beach badge sales to residents-only (something that was struck down by the courts); drastically limiting public parking, prohibiting food on the beach, and refusing to provide public restrooms.
Among other things, the law signed Friday requires the doctrine to be applied to coastal development, protection and funding issues.
“New Jersey’s shoreline and coastal communities are some of our state’s greatest treasures,” Murphy said. “By strengthening the public’s right to access our beaches, we are ensuring that all New Jersey residents and visitors can enjoy our beautiful shore this summer and for generations to come.”
Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, worked with business interests in developing the bill, which addressed and sometimes compromised on opposing aspects. For instance, the law exempts infrastructure sites critical to homeland security — such as chemical plants and oil or gasoline tank farms — from public access requirements on safety grounds.
Dillingham said he’s happy with the result, even if neither side got everything it wanted.
“This legislation was supported by almost every major conservation, fishing and surfing organization in the state, from beach advocates to defenders of access along urban waterways,” he said.
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