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State of New Jersey-Department of Environmental Protection-Public Acess
State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
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Implementing Municipal Public Access Plans
Roles and Responsibilities

Source: NJ Department of Environmental Protection, Coastal Management Office, Public Access in New Jersey: the Public Trust Doctrine and Practical Steps to Enhance Public Access, by Robert Freudenberg, Trenton, NJ, 2006 (pdf)

Section III. Public Access-Roles and Responsibilities
Improving public access requires a collaborative relationship between the federal, state and local governments, as well as with regional and local authorities. Each of these entities has important roles and responsibilities that need to be fulfilled to ensure meaningful public access.

  1. Municipal Government
    As the success of the state’s public access goal is dependent on the commitment from local governments to implement it over time, the role of local governments in ensuring public access is of great importance. Local governments help to determine the future development of coastal lands and serve as gatekeepers for the public that seek to reach and use tidal waterways and their shores. Additionally, local governments have the responsibility to uphold the policies set by county, state and federal governments, and have many opportunities to ensure that public access in their jurisdiction is ample and clearly defined.

    1. Regulatory/Planning/Engineering
      Local regulatory authorities have the responsibility to address public access and can do so in a variety ways. Municipal regulatory authorities can ensure that public access remains a priority by passing ordinances that enunciate such topics as development requirements, parking restrictions, signage and the preservation of street ends as access points. In conjunction with municipal planners and engineers, these authorities can develop strategies to support public access through the acquisition of waterfront land for public parks, by incorporating public access into the municipality’s master plan and disseminating information on public access that educates citizens and decision makers alike. In addition, taking part in shore protection projects with the state enables municipalities to protect natural resources while ensuring public access to tidal waterways and their shores, including project sites.

      Responsibilities:
      • If fees are charged for access to municipally-owned land along tidal waterways and their shores, ensure fees do not exceed the actual cost of maintaining and operating the property.
      • Allow children to obtain access to municipally-owned land along tidal waterways and their shores free of charge.
      • Ensure that there are no differential fees for residents and non-residents to use municipally-owned land along tidal waterways and their shores.
      • Ensure that the shoreline is visually and physically accessible to the public for use.
      • Abide by the requirements set forth in any State Aid Agreements.
      • Be knowledgeable about the Public Trust Doctrine and aware of all tidal waterways and their shores within the municipality.
      • Develop ordinances that encourage public access and use and limit the loss of public access on land along tidal waterways and their shores
      • Educate citizens and decision-makers about the Public Trust Doctrine and public access to and use of tidal waterways and their shores.
      • Uphold the public access policies of the state and the federal government.

    2. Enforcement
      Police officers and park rangers, who enforce municipal ordinances and respond to complaints, play important roles in maintaining and improving public access and use within municipalities. It is critical that enforcement authorities be clearly educated on the Public Trust Doctrine and use this knowledge when responding to complaints or enforcing local laws.

      Responsibilities:
      • Properly enforce municipal ordinances that deal with public access
      • Be aware of violations of the Public Trust Doctrine and enforce accordingly
      • Be aware of the Public Trust Doctrine and the rights it affords the public
      • Be aware of Supreme Court rulings in public access cases and the implications they encompass
      • Respond appropriately and within the scope of the Public Trust Doctrine to complaints of private property intrusion when on tidal waterways and their shores

  2. County Government
    County governments perform dual roles, acting as both an agent of the state and as a local government entity, responsive to the needs and preferences of the community. Serving as the organizing authority for municipal governments, county governments typically handle such matters as education, tourism, economic development, recreation, public works and public information. As each of these matters offers opportunities to address public access, county governments are in a great position to enhance public access. As landholders, the county also is responsible for ensuring adequate public access on its own land at tidal waterways and their shores.

    Responsibilities:
    • Follow same fee and access requirements for county-owned land as municipalities follow for municipally-owned land (See above)
    • Be aware of land use patterns (including tidal waterways and their shores) in each municipality (summarized in Master Plans)
    • Be aware of the Public Trust Doctrine and the rights it affords the public
    • Educate citizens and decision-makers about the Public Trust Doctrine and public access

  3. Local Partners
    Within municipalities and across the state, there are a variety of local partners (based regionally, statewide and nationally) that can significantly impact public access and use along the coast. These local partners include real estate agents, beach associations and advocacy groups, whose roles are described below:

    1. Real Estate Agents
      Real estate agents facilitate the purchase of shorefront property and could therefore play a tremendous role by educating property owners about the Public Trust Doctrine and public access. Much of the conflict that exists currently between private property owners and the general public occurs due to the lack of understanding of the application of the Public Trust Doctrine. Shorefront property owners may fail to recognize that because they are buying property that abuts tidal waterways and their shores, public trust rights are in effect. If a real estate agent were sufficiently trained in the private/public requirements under the Public Trust Doctrine, the agent would be able to explain to the potential buyer that the private property ends at the mean high water line, beyond which is public domain, and that public trust rights may extend upland of the mean high waterline.

      Suggested Responsibilities:
      • Be aware of the Public Trust Doctrine and the rights it affords the public and where it applies to property they feature
      • Accurately portray the property lines of featured property
      • Explain the Public Trust Doctrine to prospective buyers and how it pertains to property they are considering
      • Be aware of conservation restrictions, accessways and permit conditions for access on the property for sale and inform clients prior to sale

    2. Beach Associations
      In order to better manage the private beaches that dot New Jersey’s Atlantic coast, individual homeowners have joined together as associations. These groups deal with such issues as beach cleaning and beautification, charging fees, providing lifeguard services, policing and general beach maintenance. Because they have many responsibilities for their beaches, it is imperative that associations have a full appreciation of the Public Trust Doctrine and recognize the boundaries of their jurisdiction.

      Responsibilities:
      • If fees are charged ensure fees do not exceed cost to operate and maintain the beach
      • Provide clearly marked rules and fee schedules at access points to beaches
      • Allow public access to and across the tidal waterways and their shores that abut property
      • Be aware of the Public Trust Doctrine and the rights it affords the public

    3. Advocacy Groups
      New Jersey serves as home to a number of national and local advocacy groups that embrace public access as a cause to champion. These groups are a particularly important resource as many of them strive to reach out and educate the public and at the same time work with governments on behalf of the public to ensure that public access is a priority in the legislature. Working with advocacy groups can help to bridge any gaps that might be present between government officials and the public.

      Responsibilities:
      • Be aware of the Public Trust Doctrine and the rights it affords the public.
      • Provide accurate and helpful information on the Public Trust Doctrine and public access.
      • Serve as an intermediary between government and the public.
      • Serve as a regional watch dog for public access/Public Trust Doctrine violations.

  4. State
    The Public Trust Doctrine establishes the basis for the public’s right to access tidal waterways and their shores. As part of its duty to administer tidal waterways and their shores for the benefit of the public, the state as trustee has the responsibility to assure adequate public access to New Jersey’s oceans, bays and rivers. The New Jersey Coastal Management Program takes a lead role in realizing public access to the state’s tidal waterways and their shores. The Coastal Management Program is comprised of a network of programs that serve distinct functions yet share responsibilities that influence the coast. These offices include the Coastal Management Office, the Division of Land Use Regulation, the Bureau of Coastal and Land Use Enforcement, the Engineering and Construction Program, the Green Acres Program and the Office of Dredging and Sediment Technology. Through the Coastal Management Program, the DEP manages the state's diverse coastal area. Within the New Jersey Coastal Management Program, each entity works together in a concerted effort to address the various issues involving public access policy and to improve public access to New Jersey’s tidal waters and shorelines:
    • Coastal Management Office- the overall coordinator of the Coastal Management Program; develops and implements long range planning projects, develops policy, and organizes how the rest of the units will interact and play their roles in terms of public access.
    • Division of Land Use Regulation- addresses public access through its role in permitting the various activities allowed on property throughout the state. The Division is responsible for ensuring that public access requirements are met for each development project and that the public access provisions are included in conservation restrictions for permitted projects.
    • Bureau of Coastal and Land Use Enforcement - uses authority to put violators on notice, take administrative actions and levy penalties when public access requirements are violated.
    • Engineering and Construction Program - administers beach nourishment, shore protection and coastal dredging projects with municipalities throughout the state. Most projects require provisions of public access in exchange for financial aid.
    • Green Acres Program- determines how funds may be spent for park and open space acquisition.
    • Office of Dredging and Sediment Technology- coordinates local, state and federal dredging efforts and performs environmental reviews of proposed dredging projects. This office is also responsible for reviewing port related developments.

  5. Federal
    In 1972, Congress passed the Coastal Zone Management Act to create a federal framework for the development of statewide coastal management programs in an effort to protect the nation’s coastline. Out of this act grew the Coastal Zone Management Program, which is administered at the federal level by the Coastal Programs Division within NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM). By working directly with coastal states and territories, OCRM supports the development of Coastal Management Programs in a variety of ways. Most importantly, OCRM works with state coastal programs to provide technical and financial support, undertake projects with program-wide or system-wide benefits, integrate all of their information to support activities at the national level, and promote coastal stewardship on numerous critical coastal issues, one of which is public access.

    In particular, OCRM, state and local governments are working together under the Coastal Zone Management Act on a variety of measures intended to increase public access. These include providing directions through guide books and signs, purchasing land that preserves public access, adding infrastructure, including boardwalks, bathrooms and parking facilities, and protecting habitat in sensitive areas. Additionally, by providing national guidelines for public access standards for shore protection projects, the US Army Corps of Engineers helps to ensure that public access is available wherever federal funds are used to protect and enhance the coast. By overseeing the state coastal programs, providing funding and guidance, and ensuring that there is consistency between state regulations and federal standards, the federal government plays an important role in protecting coastal public access.

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