Friday, December 21, 2007

Give us our beaches!

From Atlantic City Press:
The concept is simple - and a long-standing legal principle: The state's tidal waterways and their shore lines belong to all of us.

That means each and every one of us has a right to access those waterways and beaches. And, as a practical matter, the "right" to nearby parking and bathrooms.

The parking and bathrooms matter, because a public beach is, in reality, more of a private beach if there's no place for a family from Metuchen to park or to attend to the calls of nature.

That's the gist of new state Department of Environmental Protection rules that took effect Monday. From here on out, if municipalities want state taxpayers to help pay for beach-replenishment or for shoreline areas purchased under the state Green Acres program, the municipalities are going to have to provide public access to those areas at quarter-mile intervals, public restrooms at half-mile intervals and "parking sufficient to accommodate public demand."
The new EPA rules take up 344 pages, & no agency knows how to write rules like the EPA. I wonder why the Press writer mentioned Metuchen. Of course, Avalon was the first to file suit against the rules, as one of many shore towns that doesn't want the hoi polloi on its beach.

I'm an open access freak. But I can see some potential problems here. Most Jersey's beaches, even ones with reasonable access, are lightly used on summer weekdays. I'm generally not bothered when towns with extensive beach fronts try to funnel beachgoers into specific areas with lifeguards, parking, rest rooms, & nearby concessions. I don't think our goal should be to spread everyone out by having parking lots every 1/4 mile & dozens of brand new, ugly rest room buildings. But it's certain shore towns themselves that invite the pushback by the State of NJ when they discourage daytrippers. They & their wealthy summer residents treat beaches built mostly with state & federal money as clubs for their use only, & as protection from storm & tide for multi-million dollar "cottages." Because of loopholes in environmental zoning laws, ugly condos have walled off miles & miles of ocean & bayshore for private access. Every shore town should have welcoming public beaches, if only as a "Thank you" to all the bennies who made that beach possible. No town should be permitted to make it an onerous, infuriating, & sometimes impossible task for an out-of-towner to simply park & go for a stroll by the water.


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