Over the past century, physical barriers (such as fences, bulkheads and contamination), and prohibitions (the privatization of our beaches and waterfront) have reduced public access to the Estuary. Using the Public Trust Doctrine (PTD), NY/NJ Baykeeper has defended the public’s inalienable right of access to these waters. People have the right to walk beside, safely catch and eat fish and crabs, swim, and boat in the waterways. NY/NJ Baykeeper advocates for construction of waterfront walkways, public boat ramps and docks, for open space preservation as parks and other access points, and for pollution cleanup. NY/NJ Baykeeper also works to gain public access to illegally restricted private beaches and waterfront developments.
On November 5, 2012, NJ DEP adopted a rule governing how towns provide access to tidal waters, including the Atlantic coast, Raritan Bayshore and the banks of our urban rivers. While the Public Trust Doctrine gives the people an inalienable right to access and enjoy lands below the high tide line, DEP’s rule enables municipalities to limit access as they see fit. Further, the new rule limits the amount of access towns can require – in some cases potentially allowing them to offer no access at all – effectively placing a ceiling above public rights rather than a floor beneath them. The rule did nothing to create new public access, and in many places it will prevent the public from ever accessing the shores and riversides.
On December 19, 2012, NY/NJ Baykeeper and Hackensack Riverkeeper filed suit, asserting that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) does not have the legal authority to allow municipalities to restrict public access to tidal waters.