Thursday, August 19, 2010

Beachfill Meets Beach Access...Again

The NJ DEP is planning to overhaul the current beach access rules in a way that makes beach replenishment a much greater possibility in many places. Proposed rule here. Let’s be frank, much of the Jersey Shore is easily accessible. But there are a handful of towns that purposefully limit access and another small group of towns where access is limited by geography or the way the town was laid out. In either case, access could be improved especially if the towns got something they really wanted out of it. That something is beach replenishment money.

At least that is how it worked the last time the beach access rules were overhauled – just a few years ago. The rules declared that access meant more than just a path to the beach; it meant parking, it meant some amenities like bathrooms. The current rules set specific standards for these things and allowed flexibility and exceptions to all of them. Best of all they tied these standards to state beach replenishment funding. So towns that really did not want outsiders on their beach and that really did not want to add parking places could keep the status quo. They just weren’t going to get public beachfill money. And towns that desperately wanted the beachfill money but had to take down a few “No Parking” signs and ask the local Wawa to provide a public restroom in order to get it had good motivation to do so. It seemed fair enough.

Of course there was a lawsuit (more on that later) and an election.

The rules proposed by Chris Christie’s DEP do not couple beach replenishment funds and beach access. The proposed rule on beach entryways for example would revert to the US Army Corps of Engineers standard which is one every half mile. The current standard is one every quarter mile (with exceptions where not practicable.)

The current rule has towns adopt ordinances declaring public beach access points as conservation easements. The proposed rule asks the town to submit a Public Access Plan, which is voluntary. There is no penalty to the town if they do not. There is no penalty to the town if the plan they submit has no real public access, and worst of all, by eliminating all the standards for access, DEP will have no power to compel them to alter their Public Access Plan.

Towns that don't meet the current standard of an access point every 1/4 mile, but do meet the Army Corps' standard of an access point every 1/2 mile are essentially getting the green light for beach replenishment soon.

However, this is not a done deal folks. The public comment period is coming. Stay tuned for how to speak your mind.

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