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Senate Passes Smith, Bateman Bill to Protect the Public’s Right to Access Beaches

Senator Bob Smith congratulates Congressman Donald Norcross on his succession to the U.S. House of Representatives.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Environment and Energy Committee Chair Bob Smith and Senator Christopher Bateman that would provide for the protection of the public’s rights to access beaches under the public trust doctrine advanced from the Senate today.

“The ‘public trust doctrine’ ensures the right for New Jersey residents to have access to its natural resources, beautiful landscapes and natural waters,” said Senator Smith (D-Middlesex/Somerset). “New Jersey’s beaches and waterfronts are for everyone. The right to access them must be preserved and honored for all residents.  The public trust doctrine establishes legal rights of the public to access and use oceanfront property for recreation, navigation and fishing.”

The bill, S-1074, would confirm in the statutes the longstanding and inviolable public rights under the public trust doctrine to use and enjoy the state’s tidal waters and adjacent shorelines.  The people’s ownership of the tidal waters and adjacent shorelines is held in trust by the state.  One of the state’s most important industries, tourism, depends upon the public’s right to use and enjoy the state’s beaches and bays. This bill attempts to strengthen public access to the waterfront, while properly balancing the rights and concerns of private property owners, be they residents, governmental entities, industrial operators or the like.

The bill also puts into statute Department of Environmental Protection rules and regulations as they relate to marinas and existing public access on such properties, and how to deal with applications for permits or other approvals issued by the DEP on marina properties to ensure that public access to the waterfront and beaches is not diminished.

The public trust doctrine is a common law doctrine of property law which establishes certain public rights to access and use of navigable waters and waters subject to the ebb and flow of tides.

New Jersey’s waterways are some of its most important assets.  The state is crossed and surrounded by tidal waters: the Atlantic Ocean, the Delaware, Hudson, Raritan, Passaic and Hackensack Rivers, and the Newark, Raritan and Delaware Bays.

The bill was released from committee by a vote of 36-4.