Throughout its 30-year history, NY/NJ Baykeeper has fought on the front lines to make public access a realty for local communities and people of all backgrounds in densely populated urban northern New Jersey, where access to our waters is often inhibited by bulkheads and gated developments. This decades-long battle was fought on our waterfronts, an effort that was not gained by sitting in conference rooms, but by leaders willing to fight in our courtrooms and in our legislature.
Today we applaud Gov. Phil Murphy for signing into law legislation (S1074) that will codify the public’s right to access our tidal waterways, a protection previously attained through invoking common law. We also heartily thank the legislative sponsors Sen. Bob Smith, Sen. Kip Bateman, Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, Assemblywoman Joann Downey and Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker.
This Public Access legislation ensures that the public has meaningful and practical access to, and use of, the shoreline and tidal waters that are protected under the Public Trust Doctrine. Our communities have suffered at the hand of urban development and redevelopment slowly eating away at their access to their rivers, bays, and ocean.
In 2015, NY/NJ Baykeeper and Hackensack Riverkeeper successfully appealed NJDEP’s proposed Public Access Rule in 2015 to ensure greater public access to our waterways. This victory opened the door for new state legislation (S1074/A4221) that was passed by a nearly unanimous State Senate and Assembly.
The right for everyone to access our shared public waterfronts – folks who want to fish, surf, and recreate along the waterfront, people from diverse communities who want to enjoy their local rivers and beaches – will be a continuing struggle, but this legislation will make enforcing fair public access much easier than in the past.
Besides protecting and promoting access to public-trust lands in DEP funding and permitting decisions, the bill also requires the DEP to consider changes in public access when there is a change in development in waterfront areas, a trend that is occurring more frequently as redevelopment occurs in urban areas.
In working to move this legislation forward, NY/NJ Baykeeper, Hackensack Riverkeeper, Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, and Friends of Liberty State Park focused on public access challenges to residents along New Jersey’s northern waterways and urban waterfronts. We collaborated closely with our colleagues at the American Littoral Society, Surfrider Foundation, C.R.A.B. (Citizens Right to Access Beaches) and others with expert knowledge of access issues along NJ’s beaches and southern waterways.
The signing of the Public Access legislation into law ensures equal opportunity for all communities to enjoy the waterfronts across the Garden State.