Assembly Panel Approves Spencer Beach Protection Bill Package

(Trenton) – Multiple pieces of legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer to ensure greater protection of New Jersey’s coastline were advanced by an Assembly panel on Monday.

“From the four joint hearings on the progress of Superstorm Sandy, many concerns arose that now require legislative action to address,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “This bill package proposes a more unified approach to beach maintenance and encourages development of a plan to protect them going forward.’

The first bill (A-3893) would grant the Commissioner of Environmental Protection the Authority to waive permit requirements of the “Coastal Area Facility Review Act” for any development that involves the grading or excavation of a dune by governmental agency if the commissioner finds that such a waiver is warranted as a result of a storm, natural disaster or similar act of God.

Currently, the Department of Environmental Protection has the authority under the department’s Coastal Permit Program Rules, specifically at N.J.A.C.7:7-1.7, to issue an emergency permit authorization if the department determines that there is an imminent threat to lives or property, or there is the potential for severe environmental degradation, if regulated construction activities are not immediately commenced. This emergency permit authorization allows the department to immediately authorize regulated activities, such as the grading or excavation of a dune, in order to respond to emergent conditions and protect people, property, and the environment. The sponsor notes the bill’s intention would not affect the department’s ability to provide emergency permit authorizations.

The second bill (A-3891) would authorize counties of the fifth and sixth classes (Atlantic, Monmouth, Ocean, and Cape May counties) to assume the control and responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the beaches that border the Atlantic Ocean within each county. Currently, operation is under the control of individual municipalities. The measure was amended in committee to require counties to adopt an ordinance before assuming control of beach operations and to permit municipalities to opt-out of inclusion.

Under the proposed legislation, the operation of the beaches would constitute a public utility of the county for bonding and budget purposes. Revenues and expenditures of the county beach utility would be required to be reported in detail on the same Internet website that the county budget is published. The bill also provides counties that assume the control of beaches with an exception to the 2.5% cap on increases to final appropriations of the previous year for expenditures relating to the operation and maintenance of the county-controlled beaches.

The sponsor notes in the bill that a county might choose to do this in order to establish a uniform beach fee and beach tag system within the county, to establish a uniform policy with respect to beach improvement, maintenance, and dune construction for the protection of properties near the beach, and to realize economies of scale by dealing with the maintenance and operation of all of the beaches within the county through one entity.

The third bill in the Spencer’s beach protection package (A-3500) would require the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), within six months after the enactment of the bill, to prepare an update to the New Jersey Shore Protection Master Plan. The state’s current plan was issued in October 1981.

“As proven during Superstorm Sandy, we have a lot to do to be prepared for the possible intensity of storms,” said Spencer. “Updating this plan is crucial to understanding the steps that must be taken to protect our coastal communities from enduring again the damage they have in past storms.”

The bills were released from the Assembly Environment Committee; and it will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.