Proposed changes to beach and waterway access in New Jersey threaten to wash away years of progress toward making the state's 127 miles of shores and riverfronts open to everyone.
The state Department of Environmental Protection claims the revisions to the Coastal Zone Management rules are in line with Gov. Christie's call for "common sense" regulations rather than one-size-fits-all mandates.
That might be true, if beachfront landowners — and the elected officials eager to please them — could be depended upon to act with common sense, or common courtesy. But anyone who's ever tried to enjoy a day at the beach in exclusive towns along Long Beach Island knows better.
Specifically, the changes would remove current rules on the spacing of public-beach access points. The law now requires public access every quarter-mile, but the proposed change would only set a goal of — not require — a public-access point at every half-mile.
Towns also would be asked to voluntarily file public-access plans every six years or risk losing future open-space and beach replenishment funds. However, a requirement that towns receiving replenishment money also provide nearby public parking and bathrooms would be revoked.
On inland waterways, such as urban riverfronts, the changes would not require public access on sites undergoing renovation, if no public access exists now.
It all sounds like a plan to make it easier for rich coastal towns to keep people of more modest means off the very sand bought and paid for with public money.
Supporters say the plan gives municipalities more power to determine the level of public access right for them. But that's faulty logic, since the money for replenishment projects comes from taxpayers statewide. Local municipalities should be stewards of public beaches, but they don't own them.