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Public Access Bill to be Discussed at Joint Field Hearing on Thursday
RFA Offering Conditional Support for S2490

New Gretna, NJ - The Senate Environment and Energy Committee and the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee will hold a joint meeting at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, August 18, 2016 at Toms River Town Hall, 33 Washington Street, Toms River, NJ.  Among the several bills to be heard includes S2490 sponsored by Senators Bob Smith, chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, and Christopher Bateman, which would provide protection of the public's rights under the public trust doctrine as it pertains to tidal waters and adjacent shorelines. While not going as far as the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) would have liked in terms of specifically addressing vacating of street ends, ensuring reasonable parking, requiring 1/4 to 1/2 mile access points or including an exemption for marinas, the bill is a step in the right direction.

At the heart of the matter is the longstanding and inviolable rights afforded to the public under the public trust doctrine to use and enjoy the state's tidal waters and adjacent shorelines for recreational uses.  Some municipalities have habitually denied the public's rights to these areas.  New Jersey has a legal obligation to promote, protect and safeguard the public's rights to reasonable and meaningful access to tidal waters and shorelines.  In response to a legal challenge of their 2012 rules,  New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) is currently proposing amendments to rules that govern public access to tidal waters and shorelines under the Coastal Zone Management Rules.  While that process is taking place, the public is left with weakened or no regulations that protects their rights to tidal waters which is of great concern to recreational fishermen. 

At the meeting on Thursday, RFA will be requesting that the bill's sponsors amend S2490 to provide an exemption for marinas consistent with language included in the 2012 NJDEP public access rules.  The marina exemption was widely supported during discussions when the 2012 public access rules were revised.  Unfortunately, that language was not expressively included in S2490 when it was introduced.

"Marinas serve as critical infrastructure for the recreational fishing industry and provide access to tidal waters for our fishermen, our charter boat operators and head boats," explained Jim Donofrio Executive Director of the RFA.  "It is essential that S2490 is amended to ensure that an excessive liability burden is not placed on marinas or that these facilities are denied the ability to expand."

In a letter submitted to Senator Smith, Marine Trades Association of New Jersey Executive Director Melissa Danko stated that "the very nature of their (marinas) business operations ensures that the public has use of public trust waters.  In order to do so, however, marinas must be able to reasonably control and manage their property."  The NJMTA is also requesting an amendment to S2490 to exempt marinas. 

What is clear after reviewing S2490 and proposed revisions to the DEP public access rules is that this issue will not be resolved in the short-term.  RFA is encouraging anyone who has the ability to make Thursday's meeting in Toms River to attend and advocate for the public's rights to tidal waters and adjacent shorelines. 

"Getting this bill passed would be a step forward for land based anglers but there's more work to do,"  stated Greg O'Connell, National Access Coordinator for the RFA.

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