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Coastal Legislative Delegations Highlight Drawbacks of Beach Fee Bill in Letter to Senate President

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In representing the mutual interests of their respective constituent municipalities, representatives of the 9th and 1st legislative district delegations have written to State Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney requesting that he reconsider supporting legislation (S-2368) which would require shore municipalities accepting government funds for storm-damaged beach replenishment to provide free beach access and public toilet facilities.

The following is the bipartisan letter jointly issued by Senator Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove of the 9th Legislative District and Senator Jeff Van Drew, Assemblyman Nelson T. Albano and Assemblyman Matthew W. Milam of the 1st Legislative District:

December 6, 2012

Honorable Stephen M. Sweeney, Senate President
NJ State Senate
State House
P.O. Box 099
Trenton, NJ 08625-0099

Dear Senate President Sweeney:

As Coastal Legislators, we are writing to respectfully appeal for your reconsideration of supporting S-2368, which would require shore municipalities accepting government funds for storm-damaged beach replenishment to provide free beach access and public toilet facilities.

Certainly, we understand that there may be public support for eliminating beach fees. With that said, the state should proceed with caution before taking any action that would disrupt the beach replenishment process. Protecting our state’s pristine beaches and ensuring that they remain a major attraction as part of the state’s tourism industry is necessary, not only from an environmental standpoint, but is also absolutely critical to our state’s economic recovery efforts moving forward.

While it is generally understood that the cost of beach replenishment should be born by the entire state given the tremendous revenues generated for the state from tourism, S-2368 does not take into consideration the substantial operational costs associated with maintaining and protecting our state’s beaches. These responsibilities presently fall on shore municipalities. Without the ability to raise revenue to cover operational costs, the maintenance and protection of beaches would ultimately have to be taken over by the state.

Similar to a utility service, there are capital costs and operational costs associated with beach maintenance. Beach replenishment essentially constitutes a capital cost, whereas operational costs include, but are not limited to, providing life guard personnel, police protection, daily beach clean up as well as defending civil suits brought against local municipalities in connection with beach related matters. Moreover, there are substantial operational costs associated with the increased law enforcement personnel required to accommodate the increased population in shore municipalities during the summer vacation season.

When discussing this issue, it is critically important that the public not be mislead to believe that prohibiting beach fees will eliminate the costs to taxpayers for beach maintenance. It would only shift the cost burden, while at the same time ensuring that the revenue raised from out-of-state tourists would be lost. It is also important to note that, presently, Island Beach State Park charges beach fees despite the fact that it is operated by the state with no beach replenishment.

Having toured parts of the state’s coastal areas devastated by Hurricane/Super Storm Sandy, you are fully aware of the myriad of challenges faced by local governing bodies on the road to recovery. Certainly, the affected communities and residents are entitled to government aid as part of the state’s overall recovery process in light of the unprecedented level of devastation. Using the current situation as an opportunity to impose changes on shore communities regarding the process of beach operations is excessive, would not be consistent with our state’s recovery efforts and would demonstrate a level of insensitivity to those affected municipalities that are struggling to rebuild their devastated communities.

In accessing the overall damage, it is imperative that we do not lose sight of the fact that those municipalities where beach replenishment projects were more recently completed were able to withstand the hurricane/super storm better than those municipalities in need of beach replenishment. This is a testament to the overall success of the beach replenishment program. Withholding desperately needed replenishment funds clearly sends the wrong message and devalues how important beach replenishment is to protecting our state’s coastline, especially in those counties that stand to lose substantial tax revenue in the coming months and years from damaged and destroyed properties.

In light of these considerations, our Delegations are respectfully requesting the opportunity to meet with you and open a constructive dialogue regarding this issue. In your capacity as Senate President, you have consistently demonstrated a sincere interest in addressing issues unique to specific areas of the State. We are confident that after having the opportunity to discuss this issue in more detail, you will understand our efforts in representing the interests of our respective constituent municipalities that would be affected by the provisions of S-2368, if it were enacted.

Thank you, in advance, for your attention to this important communication. As always, we look forward to working jointly with you in representing our respective constituencies.

Sincerely,

CHRISTOPHER J. CONNORS
Senator – 9th District

JEFF VAN DREW
Senator – 1st District

BRIAN E. RUMPF
Assemblyman – 9th District

NELSON T. ALBANO
Assemblyman – 1st District

DIANNE C. GOVE
Assemblywoman – 9th District

MATTHEW W. MILAM
Assemblyman – 1st District

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The 9th District Team

Chris Connors

Senator - District 9

Brian Rumpf

Assemblyman - District 9

DiAnne Gove

Assemblywoman - District 9

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