Published: August 16, 2013
By Staci Berger

When I was 18, I came to New Jersey from Massachusetts to attend Rutgers. I have lived here ever since. There were a few things that took getting used to about the Garden State. Cheese fries and jug handles were easy to warm up to, but after more than two decades I am still puzzled by private and fee-based beaches. Everywhere else in America, the beach is free and available to everyone. Every few years, legislators of different stripes and views try to change this and they are rebuffed with arguments of home rule and economics of municipal services.

Now, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, policy makers have an opportunity to look at this issue in a different light. Taxpayer funds of an unprecedented level are being used to restore and rebuild boardwalks and beaches.   Just last week, the Star Ledger's Brian Donohue asked some provocative questions about public access to the beaches on our coastline. Donohue wrote:

"There are private beaches up and down the shore — not just in Monmouth, but in Ocean and Atlantic and Cape May counties as well — that will see a post Sandy sand bonanza. What do you think? Should the Army Corps skip replenishment on areas that don't provide access for the public? ...Or should the state and local governments be doing more to require towns and property owners to provide more public access — especially now with such massive sums of taxpayer money is being spent?"

Through the Public Trust Doctrine, public access to the waterfront is supposed to be a right and not a privilege for all New Jerseyans. Unfortunately, Governor Christie's recent policies have curtailed public access regulations and made it more difficult for residents to reach our shoreline. From the beaches along the Jersey Shore to the Hackensack River, and all along the coastline in between, it is becoming harder for folks to reach the water's edge. As billions of dollars, not just from Garden State taxpayers but from around the nation, are pumped in to our state, we ought to be trying to implement policies that expand opportunity for all of our state's residents to access our rebuilt and replenished coastline. Money for restoration and recovery should be conditioned on public access. That way, when we Restore the Shore, we do it for everyone.