There's been an ongoing point of contention between Jersey Shore beach town homeowners and tourists who come to the The Jersey Shore to enjoy some of America's best beaches.
For instance, In Mantoloking, beachgoers can only park their cars on public streets for two hours. That's two hours - max - within the entire 24-hour day.
In parts of Long Beach Island like the Loveladies section of Long Beach Township, many streets dead-end into private driveways with signs warning "Private drive. No public beach access."
And in many places, you can't even eat on the beach or find a bathroom within walking distance.
All of this has worked to keep "outsiders" away, because only local residents who live near the beach - and can walk home to eat or answer nature's call - can effectively use that beach.
New Jersey is trying a new way to address the problem. Instead of imposing a uniform standard that all shore towns must meet, it is letting individual shore communities decide what level of access is right for them, although those decisions must be approved by the state.
The new rules ask - but don't require - coastal towns to adopt a public access plan spelling out exactly where the public can get to the beach. The new beach access rules will let seaside towns propose their own plans for accommodating the public with parking and restrooms, and state Department of Environmental Protection says the agency is already in discussions with "challenging'' towns where public access has been a problem.
A court decision blocks the DEP from directly withholding beach replenishment funds from problem towns. But the new rules still have three fairly strong sanctions:
--Towns that refuse to comply with access rules would not be allowed to get state Green Acres funds and aid for open space or recreation.
--Access problems will result in towns being ranked lower in eligibility for beach replenishment projects ... a way for the DEP to work around the Avalon ruling's ban on direct withholding.
--The DEP can hold back a town's general permit for beach maintenance. This is probably the biggest stick, Martin said, because towns need those permits for routine beach grooming and sand cleanup.
Hopefully, these new rules will allow more people to enjoy The Jersey Shore beaches, and not just the locals...and I am a "local."
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