TOMS RIVER – Senator Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May and Cumberland, issued the following statement on public beach access after attending a joint hearing of the Senate Environment Committee and the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee on issues concerning the Jersey Shore:
“New Jersey residents have an expectation of public access to the beaches, and they’re entitled to that expectation. No one can unilaterally own a piece of the Jersey Shore, and we need to consistently make public access our number one priority when it comes to the waterfront and New Jersey’s coastline.
“However, I think we need to use basic common sense when we approach beach access, in terms of the cost on local maintenance and public safety. The fiscal demands on local mayors and municipalities in terms of maintaining the quality and safety of our beaches are immense, and those demands cannot be ignored.
“I do support taking a regional approach to funding beach access. If we can settle on some regional standards, we can at least give beachgoers a little bit of predictability from one beach to the next. Municipalities which host our State’s beaches cannot absorb the entire cost of their care, and some of that cost needs to be made up from outside sources.
“Also, we need to consider that public safety may not be best-served by 24-hour access to some beaches, and that limiting access to other areas, particularly industrial sites, commercial facilities, and ports, is necessary to protect our homeland security. We cannot justify putting the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of Jersey Shore residents in danger by giving terrorists or other criminals access to sensitive sites.
“And finally, we need to tread lightly when it comes to the use of eminent domain in forcing private property owners to provide public beach access. In some cases, the use of eminent domain may be justified, while in other cases, it might not be. I’d like to see the use of fairness, and a case-by-case review, so that it’s only used when appropriate, and that the rights of private property owners can be preserved.
“The issues are definitely complex, and moving forward, we need to balance the needs of cost, safety, access, and property owners’ rights. It’s not going to be easy to find such a balance, but I look forward to working with all stakeholders to find a solution that works best for all of New Jersey’s residents.”