Plan for prioritizing N.J. Shore projects may expand beach access

A New Jersey Senate committee has advanced legislation that would require the Environmental Protection commissioner to develop a priority system for Shore protection projects.

Sen. Jen Beck voted against the bill because she’s concerned a priority list could stand in the way of some beach protection projects.

“What if we have a project in Long Branch ready to go, and we go to the Shore Protection Fund, and they say, ‘Oh you don’t really meet the priority list, sorry,’ and now we can’t do that project?” said Beck, R-Monmouth.

Senate Environment Committee chairman Bob Smith says the measure provides for public input and good planning.

“It’s really not like, let’s find a way to avoid No. 2 on the list and go to No. 5,” said Smith, D-Middlesex. “It’s about trying to spend your money in a strategic way.”

Environmental groups are urging lawmakers to require more public access to the beach when government funds are used for replenishment projects.

Beach replenishment projects that involve federal funds are required to provide public access to the beach, but that doesn’t always happen, said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, a coastal advocacy group.

“If you include public access as a required element of this funding, we’ll be able to provide the funding to the municipalities,” he said Thursday. “So that cost issue of providing or acquisition of land to support parking or other additional elements of robust access projects can be dealt with.”

The bill requires a public hearing on the beach projects.

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