When the sun beats down this summer, beach lovers may have a hard time finding that perfect place on the sand because New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection is abdicating its responsibility to ensure beach access.
It is letting Shore towns, some of which have been hostile to tourists, write their own beach access plans. It is providing so few guidelines, that advocates rightly worry citizens' suits pressing for access could be lost causes. Even if DEP were to reject a town's plan, there are no real consequences. The state says it would be more difficult for towns to get shorefront replenishment funds but not impossible. DEP hasn't even considered the wily town which could take the money and then change its access plan to be prohibitive.
While there are 1,200 paths to New Jersey's 127-mile coastline, beach access is a lot more complicated. Shore towns have kept day trippers at bay, by restricting parking. Some eliminate it altogether, charge a high price or put a time limit on it. Keeping families away is even easier. The towns can fail to provide enough restrooms. Try explaining that to a toddler.
The dispute started when the Corzineadministration tried to withhold shorefront protection funds from Avalon unless it provided restrooms, parking and beach paths every quarter-mile. Avalon sued and won in 2008. But instead of writing reasonable access guidelines itself, the Christie administration punted the job to the Shore towns.
New Jersey is entrusted with ensuring public access to the ocean and Gov. Christie must live up to that obligation. The public pays to protect the beaches through state and federal taxes. Beach goers fuel the state's $38 billion in tourism. Providing a place to park and a restroom is a small payback for the public's investment.