N.J. bor­ough faces suit over beach ac­cess

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - NATION - By Wayne Parry The As­so­ci­ated Press

DEAL, N.J. — It was hard to tell what had Matt Schwartz more stoked: the waves rolling in, or the rel­a­tively balmy 64-de­gree Fe­bru­ary weather as he wrapped up a day of surfing.

But some­thing else was both­er­ing him: the pos­si­bil­ity that he won’t be able to surf here much longer.

The spot where Schwartz car­ried his board ashore is the lat­est flash­point in a decades­long bat­tle in New Jersey and else­where over who can reach and use the beach.

The Amer­i­can Lit­toral So­ci­ety is su­ing the bor­ough of Deal, try­ing to nul­lify an or­di­nance it passed in De­cem­ber that would va­cate the end of an ocean­front street in re­turn for a $1 mil­lion pay­ment from a nearby landowner who wants the prop­erty as part of a de­vel­op­ment pro­posal.

The group, which has fought for decades to pre­serve the pub­lic’s right to ac­cess and use pub­lic beaches, fears a dan­ger­ous prece­dent may be set in which coastal towns sell street ends to pri­vate landown­ers. The new own­ers might then block off spots the pub­lic has long used to reach the sand, ac­cord­ing to ac­cess ad­vo­cates.

“It’s def­i­nitely not fair what they’re do­ing,” Schwartz said. “It seems like they cater to one class of wealthy peo­ple here. I own a busi­ness and I pay taxes, and I should be able to walk on a pub­lic beach.”

Deal says no phys­i­cal bar­rier will pre­vent peo­ple from walk­ing out onto the rocks and the sand even af­ter the street end is va­cated. But surfers and fish­er­men are wor­ried that is ex­actly what will hap­pen once the trans­fer goes through.

“In the 1850s, our courts rec­og­nized the value of street ends in pro­vid­ing the pub­lic ac­cess to the shore,” said An­drew Provence, the lawyer for the Lit­toral So­ci­ety. “It is im­por­tant to fight this new no­tion that street ends … can be va­cated for the right price.”

The Amer­i­can Lit­toral So­ci­ety says the street, Nep­tune Av­enue, has long been used by surfers, fish­er­men and oth­ers.

“Pub­lic ac­cess to the beaches and tidal wa­ter­fronts of our state is con­stantly un­der at­tack,” said Tim Dilling­ham, the group’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

Deal coun­ters that the end of Nep­tune Av­enue has never been an of­fi­cial beach ac­cess point. It notes that on an of­fi­cial in­ven­tory of such places main­tained by the state Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion, the av­enue is listed as a vis­ual ac­cess-only spot, mean­ing peo­ple can stand there to look at the ocean but not use it to walk down onto the beach.

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