A large group of citizens and groups gathered at Long Branch City Hall on Wednesday night to criticize the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) proposed public access rules and amendments for beaches, bays and other waterways.
The DEP held the meeting to hear public comments on the public access rules and the amendments which were drafted after hearing feedback from the public in the past.
According to the DEP, the proposed amendments will:
- Provide enhanced public access for recreational fishermen by ensuring that municipal public access plans include defined and guaranteed points of access for day and night fishing;
- Provide greater transparency and public involvement in development of municipal public access plans by ensuring that proposed access plans are posted on the DEP website and that the public has an opportunity to comment on them;
- Do not require marinas to expand access when improving existing facilities, but development on adjacent sites would require marina owners to provide public access plans;
- Mandate public access to and along the main route of the Hudson Waterfront Walkway and adjacent piers on a 24-hour basis except in very limited circumstances, and requires conformance to existing Hudson Walkway design guidelines and standards.
Most spoke against the rules and the amendments stating that while the amendments were a step in the right direction, that they will not help create more public access areas for residents and that it they will give too much power to municipalities.
The rules, if adopted, would give towns the ability to develop and implement public access areas as long as they are approved by the DEP.
"The guidelines are not clear enough for municipalities," Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club said. "This rule takes the side of the 1 percent of those who own the marinas, big house and the developers over the 99 percent of use that go and use the beaches."
Earlier in the day, several groups walked through a state-designated public access point reading “private property” in Elberon to show their opposition to the public access rules.
"This is an access area that is supposed to be public, but it isn't," Surfrider Foundation member John Weber said. "DEP has said all of the current access points will be preserved. Unfortunately, this is one of them."
Weber brought a large bulletin board with pictures of the area, located at Garfield Terrace, to show them to the public and the DEP which was represented by Ray Cantor.
Other Long Branch residents spoke out against areas of Long Branch that were supposed to be public access points, but are not and other areas that do not have proper signage.
"In the past we had people at the DEP we could contact and we also had the public advocate looking into these issues," Citizens' Right to Access Beaches member Ralph Coscia said. "But recently, DEP has not been addressing these violations and situations of misleading signs. It should not be that hard to get to the beach."
American Littoral Society Executive Director Tim Dillingham said the large group present at city hall is concerned that there will be less public access as coastal development increases.
"Efforts to increase public access will face an uphill fight, hostile towns will be in charge and less new access will be provided by coastal development," Dillingham said.
The public access rules would require new commercial, residential and industrial development to provide public access to a beach, bay or waterway or "pay into a fund created by a municipality with an approved access plan," according to a release from the DEP.
Many in attendance on Wednesday said the waterways such as developed areas found on rivers and harbors in the northern part of the state would also not have an increase in public access under the new rules.
"(The proposed rule) accomplishes its goal of signing over urban waterfronts to big business interests, thereby limited urban residents' access to nature and real opportunities to revitalize our cities," New York/New Jersey Baykeeper Deborah Mans said.
"These rules are even worse for urban areas, not only that they not get access to beaches, but the waterfront in our cities is going to be even harder for people to get access too," Tittel said. "These rules take the side of special interest over public interest."
Other individuals including surfers, divers and fishermen spoke out against the proposed rules and said they would only make it harder for them to continue to enjoy their favorite recreational activities.
There were very few who spoke in favor of the rule, but one who did was Melissa Danko of the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey.
Danko said the rules and amendments are "extremely positive" and that they will be a good thing for marinas. She said marinas are different than other public access areas and have constraints under the current laws.
"It's to put an end to this issue and move forward," Danko said.