Public beach access bill passes N.J. Legislature

MARGATE — Sally Carter’s father still goes to the beach, but at 81 years old, it’s a struggle. Ahead of his visit, he calls the lifeguard station and asks for assistance getting over the dunes and onto the sand, Carter said. “It’s very limiting,” the lifelong Margate resident said while walking her dog on the beach Tuesday morning.

Carter’s tale hits upon an issue coastal towns across South Jersey have grappled with for more than a decade: What makes a beach accessible, and how easy must it be for visitors to spend a day at the shore? Beachgoers and conservationists have argued that ample parking, wheelchair ramps, public restrooms and access points are needed. Meanwhile, some local communities have discouraged people from using their beaches by limiting parking, not providing bathrooms and banning food.

On Monday, the state Legislature passed a bill that codifies the “public-trust doctrine,” which states that everyone has a right to enjoy tidal waters and shorelines. Previously, the doctrine was held up only through court rulings.

Matthew Saidel, a spokesman for Gov. Phil Murphy, declined to say whether the governor planned to sign the bill.

“(The bill) makes clear that the public has a right to get to and enjoy the waterfronts of New Jersey and that the state should create new public access, enhance existing access and defend against attempts to block access,” Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, said in a news release.

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