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The New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA) is urging the Assembly Environment Committee to accept common sense amendments to protect the public’s right to access New Jersey’s waterways without the regulatory excesses of the past.

A-4221 and S-1074, which seek to codify and expand the reach of New Jersey’s Public Trust Doctrine, are scheduled for consideration this afternoon.

As currently written, the bills would require the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to provide public access “to the greatest extent practicable” without considering public demand for access and the burdens to the property owner, as the  New Jersey Supreme Court ruling allows.

“Requiring 24/7 access on beaches and parks, as well as private property, proved to be unworkable when they were imposed as regulations in the past,” said NJBIA Vice President for Government Affairs Ray Cantor. “They required facilities simply rebuilding a bulkhead to pay tens of thousands of dollars to local communities for their public access ‘payment’ and could allow people to fish in a homeowner’s back yard.”

One of the amendments NJBIA advocated for is included in a new draft of the bill unveiled today; it would exempt relatively minor permits from the requirement to study and provide public access.

“Things like replacing a bulkhead do not fundamentally change the ecosystem and would likely affect properties where there is little demand for public access in the first place,” Cantor said.

Another amendment NJBIA is offering but is not in the new text would allow for reasonable access to be provided as opposed to “the greatest extent practicable” as the bill now requires.

“We believe that these amendments would not at all diminish from the intent of this legislation but would, instead, avoid regulatory problems in the future,” Cantor said. “Let’s get this legislation right while we have the chance.”

Those future regulatory problems are more than hypothetical. DEP adopted rules in 2009 that went well beyond what was required under the Public Trust Doctrine, and they proved to be expensive, burdensome and unworkable, Cantor said.

“We believe a more balanced approach will provide the public access the people deserve while serving the public interest as a whole,” Cantor said.

Currently, New Jersey’s shorelines have over 3,900 public access points. The bill not only applies to 126 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline, but another 1,800 miles of tidal waters within 231 municipalities in 17 counties.