New Jersey lawmakers are taking speedy action before the legislative session ends next week to restore the state’s authority to require public access to beaches and waterways.
Just two weeks after an appellate court struck down the Department of Environmental Protection’s authority to require beach access as a condition of waterfront development, a Senate committee advanced a measure to explicitly give DEP that ability.
Senator Dick Codey said the law is needed.
“My fear is, if we don’t do something, chaos will result,” said Codey, D-Essex. “I think we all want beach access, but unregulated, absolutely not.”
Restoring the beach access rules that existed before the court ruling will keep the beaches open for all as well as smoothing the way for completing a comprehensive coastal protection system, according to DEP Commissioner Bob Martin.
“It will ensure the public’s access to our coastal and tidal water areas,” he said. “It will also remove the immediate threat to the completion of our coastal protection projects.”
Officials from coastal communities, environmentalists, and recreational fishing groups who packed a Senate Environment Committee hearing Thursday said they back the changes to ensure more public access.
And Erika Stahl, assistant planner for Toms River, urged quick passage of the measure.
“It’s very important for us to get the dune system and the beach replenishment up, and we don’t want anything delaying that,” she testified. “This bill is extremely important for that, and we’ve had a very good relationship with DEP in establishing our municipal public access plan.”
Senate Environment Committee chairman Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, told municipal officials, environmentalists and coastal recreation enthusiasts that lawmakers will seek their input to develop a more comprehensive beach access plan in the future.