Public Access

by George Browne
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association June 2020 Newsletter)

This month’s public access column will be addressing six public access items. We have had some public access success stories this past month.

First, public access at Bay Point Condominiums in Point Pleasant Borough has been restored. I am still waiting to hear about the final resolution from DEP, but you can now fish that area along the Point Pleasant Canal. Once informed of the public access violation, both the borough and DEP took on the problem and quickly resolved it. I’d like to thank both Point Pleasant Borough and the DEP for protecting access.

Second, you can now email JCAA about public access issues. The email address is publicaccess@jcaa.org. If you bring a public access issue to our attention, we need your help. We cannot solve these problems alone. When you email information include the facts (location, town, what happened, was the PD there, etc.) plus photos and your contact information. I will follow up with you to make sure the information is accurate. We need local people to report the problems. We also need locals to help in identifying mayors or council members we can discuss the problem with. If the problem is the result of a misunderstanding, a failure to appreciate who is fishing in the area or not understanding how fishing supports local businesses, a phone call or email to the right person may solve the problem. If we cannot solve the problem locally, we will determine what the next steps are. I have no problem contacting DEP and filing a complaint. Remember, you can also file a complaint by calling 1-800-WARNDEP, but let’s not go nuclear if a pea shooter will solve the problem.

Third, as a follow up to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge’s (NWR) draft Recreational Fishing Plan, we have been invited to participate in an online meeting with Virginia Rettig, the Refuge Manager. She is interested in hearing what we have to say about improving fishing access in the refuge. In her email to me after we sent the JCAA comments on the plan, Virginia wrote this about improving access: “This is something I had hoped we would have gotten more feedback/input on from anglers.” It is great to know we are being heard, but it would be much better if more people had submitted comments. Now I need to hear from you so that we can get this right in the plan.

If you would like to look at maps of the Forsythe NWR, there are several ways to do this. You should look at the NWR boundaries on these maps. You may be surprised by both what areas are in the NWR and what areas are not in the refuge.

This site is an interactive map showing the NWR boundaries as well as different types of hunting areas. "Paper" maps can be found on the NWR hunting website but are more difficult to read than the online version.

I plan on asking about the access hunters have and why anglers cannot have the same level of access.

Fourth, as many of you may know, some towns are attempting to restrict beach access. These restrictions include prohibiting parking in areas near the water, requiring a “residents only” emergency parking placard, banning parking anywhere in town, or trying to keep non-residents off the beaches. All of these are violations of Governor Murphy’s Executive Order No. 143 that was issued on May 14, 2020. The Executive Order addresses the safe access of parks and recreational facilities and includes a ban on public access restrictions under the public trust doctrine.

Item 5 of the order includes the following: “Except as otherwise provided herein, access to public beaches, lakes, and lakeshores shall be consistent with State law and regulations, and shall not be restricted in any discriminatory manner, including by offering only seasonal beach tags without a daily beach tag option, by restricting municipal or street parking, or in any other manner that expressly or implicitly discriminates based on residency, race, income, ability, or any legally protected status or class of persons.” The EO is available online at this link. You can also Google NJ Executive Order 143 to view a copy.

This order can be used to get public access restored. You should read the entire order before trying to quote it to elected officials, but so far it has been useful in getting some towns to reopen parking and allow fishing access. If you want to report a public access violation covered under Item 5 to the Governor’s office, you can send a message to his office at this link. Click on the “Contact Us” button, write a message to explain the problem and ask that they investigate it. If you have photos showing the problem, you can attach them as a file when you send your message. You should also email me at publicaccess@jcaa.com so we are aware of the problem.

The Town of Point Pleasant Beach tried to restrict parking through a Residents Only Emergency Parking Placard. If you did not have one of the placards, you could not park anywhere east of the railroad tracks. That meant no inlet parking and no beach parking. The American Littoral Society took the lead on this issue and we worked with them to get the DEP involved. Surfrider Foundation talked with the PPB Mayor about the Executive Order and this problem may be resolved. If it is not please email me and we will work on it again.

The state does pay attention to JCAA and other beach user groups, but we need public access issues to be reported by individuals too. When a private citizen reports a public access issue and we can follow up, it gives more credibility to what is being said. It is not just another public access complaint from JCAA.

Fifth, Loch Arbour had proposed an ordinance permanently restricting parking near the beach. Once I was informed of the proposed ordinance, I emailed DEP to let them know we thought this would be a public access violation. DEP got back to me almost immediately and shared the email within DEP. The NJ Chapter of Surfrider Foundation, COBRA and the American Littoral Society also joined in. Together, we were able to get the ordinance removed from the agenda. This was a great group effort and we will continue to monitor the situation. Right now, Loch Arbour has said they do not plan on changing the parking.

Sixth, and I am sure everyone’s favorite, is piping plovers. Island Beach State Park has some piping plover pairs in the park. There are four pairs in the northern natural area, but, right now, only one nest. I do not know where the nest is or how close it is to the Gillikens beach buggy access. If that nest or any other plover nest is within 1000 meters of Gillikens, the access point will be shut down until the chicks fledge. That could be a six to eight week closure. There were other plover pairs in the southern natural area (below A23), but these birds were flying back and forth between LBI and IBSP. They have not nested yet. I have volunteered to monitor the plovers in the past as that includes us in any closure discussion. Once the birds have fledged, I have pushed to get the access reopened. I plan on being a monitor again this year.

There are other areas in the state where there are plover nests and those nests may impact access, but I would like to take a minute to talk about the two different programs for nesting birds. There is the US Department of Interior program and the NJ F&W program. Areas in federal lands like national parks and national wildlife refuges are under federal rules. Non-federal lands in NJ are under NJ rules. The NJ program applies the rules differently than the federal program, but NJ must comply with certain parts of the federal rules.

Places like Holgate and Sandy Hook are federal lands. The federal program includes not only plovers, but other species of birds such as the American oystercatcher and black skimmer. The federal program automatically shuts down access in late March or early April when the birds are expected to nest in the area. Access is not opened again until September. That means these areas can be closed for up to six months.

The NJ program is about the piping plovers. The state is required by federal law to protect the plovers. NJ F&W observes known plover nesting areas to monitor the birds. Once the birds nest, access may be restricted. If there are eggs in the nest, that area is shut down to vehicles, dogs, and other activities that can jeopardize the eggs or chicks. Once the eggs have hatched, additional restrictions may go into effect. The state observes the nests and the chicks’ health. They also watch for chicks that have died, are missing or that may have been taken by predators. If the chicks are missing before they fledge, F&W may wait to see if the plover pair produces more eggs. Once there are no more chicks or the chicks can fly on their own, access is opened back up. That’s why there is a six to eight week closure but that is much better than the federal program’s six month closure.

That’s it for now. Get out and fish, but don’t let access issues spoil your day. Be part of the solution.

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