New Jersey governor signs law protecting public beach access

New Jersey governor signs law protecting public beach access
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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed a bill Friday to protect public access to the Garden State’s beaches after a decades-long dispute over their availability to residents.

The legislation enshrined in law the state’s public trust doctrine, which ensures that tidal waters and adjacent shorelines be available to the public for navigation, commerce and recreation, including bathing, swimming and fishing.

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“New Jersey’s shoreline and coastal communities are some of our state’s greatest treasures,” Murphy said in a statement. “By strengthening the public’s right to access our beaches, we are ensuring that all New Jersey residents and visitors can enjoy our beautiful shore this summer and for generations to come.” 

New Jersey and other coastal states have been the sites of intense debates over public access to beaches as some communities have sought to restrict their availability by imposing fines or curtailing nearby parking. 

“It’s very significant legislation,” Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, a marine conservation group, told NPR. “It provides New Jersey citizens with policies that will strengthen and promote public access to tidal waters, not just beaches, but along rivers and backbays.”

However, environmentalists say the legislation does not go far enough.

“This bill does not move public access forward in any meaningful way,” Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, told The Associated Press. “It has vague language that could lead to a lot of lawsuits from towns that have fought public beach access for years. They want money for the beaches, paid for by the public. They just don't want the public on those beaches.” 

The legislation does not address local beach fees and exempts some waterfront sites connected to homeland security such as oil or gas facilities.