N.J. legislature releases beach access bill

Photo: Justin Auciello/for WHYY

Photo: Justin Auciello/for WHYY

New Jersey lawmakers are moving ahead with a measure guaranteeing the public’s right to access beaches and riverfronts, but hard decisions remain to be made.

A state Senate committee on Monday released a bill that writes the Public Trust Doctrine into law and directs the state Department of Environmental Protection to apply it to coastal land use and funding decisions.

The doctrine is a legal concept dating to the Roman Emperor Justinian stating that oceans, bays and rivers are held in a trust for the public, which has the right to swim in them, or sit or walk along their shores.

It exempts critical infrastructure like chemical or nuclear plants and doesn’t specify how far apart public access points must be.

Andrew Chambarry, an attorney and beach access advocate, says the bill will strengthen efforts to ensure that the public has full access and usage of tidal areas and provide authority to address chronic problems limiting public access.

“Without clarification and direction from the NJDEP, municipalities and private landowners have, and will continue, their attempts to limit parking, close off access points and restrict the public from enjoying beaches and waterfronts which case law dictates they have a right to access,” he said. “We are hoping that the bill will ultimately pass and provide the public with the protection that is needed.”

Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club also supports the legislation.

“Too many time people gave restricted access to these areas that we all own. Many towns and businesses try to restrict access to these waterways but this bill will prevent that from happening,” he said. “As taxpayers are paying hundreds of millions of dollars for restoring our beaches, it is even more important for the public to have access to them.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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