The agreements significantly expand the amount of beach open to the general public. The beach clubs also have agreed to contribute to a fund that will be used for the construction of additional public-access amenities on Sea Bright beaches.
In addition, the state has resolved its claims against the government of Sea Bright. Under the settlement, Sea Bright has agreed to spend $556,000 to provide additional public-access amenities within the borough that are related to providing public access to the beach.The six private clubs that settled with the state are: Chapel Beach Club, Surf Rider Beach Club, Driftwood Beach Club, Sands Beach Club, Water's Edge Beach Club and the Ship Ahoy Beach Club.
The settlements, reached in state Superior Court in Freehold, do not include three other beach clubs in Sea Bright that were named in a 2006 lawsuit filed by the state. Filed in Superior Court in September 2006, that lawsuit called for revision of an agreement signed by the state and the nine private clubs in 1993.
The key aspect of the settlements announced Wednesday is the expansion of the amount of beach in Sea Bright that will now be available for public use in front of the private beaches of the clubs. Under the 1993 agreement, a 15-foot "limited use public corridor" was set aside in front of the clubs' beaches. Wednesday's settlements replace that 15-foot corridor with a "full public use" area encompassing at least 50 percent of the beach — up to a maximum of 150 feet — extending landward from the high water mark. Under the new agreements, the beach clubs will retain exclusive use and control over the beach area landward of the public use areas.
"These are important agreements for the people of New Jersey, and for anyone who wants to experience the beaches of Sea Bright," said Acting Attorney General Ricardo Solano Jr. "As a result of these settlements, the public will be able to use and enjoy substantially more beach area. I appreciate the willingness of the beach clubs to work with our office to reach these settlements."
"This settlement reaffirms our continued commitment to maintaining and enhancing access to our natural resources for the use and enjoyment of all New Jersey residents," Environmental Protection Acting Commissioner Mark N. Mauriello said.
Under terms of the settlement, the newly configured public-use areas in front of the six beach clubs vary in width from club to club because of the width of the beach, the physical make-up of the respective clubs, and the specific terms of the individual settlements.
Based on measurements taken earlier this year, the width of the public-use area at Ship Ahoy Beach Club ranges from 88 feet to 118 feet. At Sands Beach Club, it ranges from 118 feet to 150 feet. At Surfrider Beach Club, the width is a consistent 150 feet. At Chapel Beach Club, the width ranges from 80 feet to 107 feet. At Water's Edge Beach Club, it ranges from 50 feet to 76 feet, and at Driftwood Beach Club, it ranges from 24 feet to 59 feet.
In the case of all six clubs, the remainder of beach extending inland from the designated public-use areas will remain private and for the exclusive use of club members.
The public-use areas likely will vary in width from year to year as natural forces change the beach. Because of this, the beach will be re-measured annually on June 15. At present, the beach in some areas of Sea Bright has been significantly eroded due to recent storms. It is anticipated, however, that the described widths of the public-use areas will be representative of the available public-use area during the summer beach season. Additionally, in the event of a future beach fill, the size of the public-use areas likely will increase significantly, because all of the new beach seaward of this year's mean high water line will be available for public use.
The state's 2006 lawsuit contended that the 1993 agreements limiting public access to a 15-foot-wide limited use corridor were contrary to law and public policy.
The six settlement agreements announced Wednesday not only expand the amount of beach area available for public use in the borough, they provide for a contribution from each of the settling clubs to help fund construction of public-access improvements. Five of the settling clubs will contribute $30,000, while a sixth club, the Driftwood Beach Club, will contribute $20,000 and give the DEP a tract of oceanfront property in nearby Monmouth Beach.
The money contributed by the clubs will be placed in a Sea Bright Public Access Fund, to be managed by the state, and will be used to finance public access improvement projects.
The specific projects will be designated by the state in consultation with the Borough of Sea Bright, the American Littoral Society and the advocacy group Citizens Right to Access Beaches. The American Littoral Society and Citizens Right to Access Beaches were both amicus parties to the state's beach access lawsuit.
Of the three clubs who are not part of the settlement, one club — Trade Winds Beach Club — was sold previously and the property converted to residential housing. The beach that was once part of the Trade Winds is now a public beach.
Another club not involved in today's settlement — Donovan's Reef Beach Club — previously settled with the state, and the club property is now a full public access beach. Litigation is continuing against the Seabright Beach Club.
The settlements announced Wednesday were reached largely through the extensive mediation efforts of former state Supreme Court Chief Justice James R. Zazzali. The Sea Bright beach access matter is being handled on behalf of the state by Deputy Attorney General Dean Jablonski, of the Division of Law's Environmental Permitting and Counseling Section.
— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM