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STATE LANDS ON SEA BRIGHT & CLUBS

The state of New Jersey has apparently had it with Sea Bright beach club owners—and the borough, too—over the question of just who owns the beach.

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Using a pair of court rulings as leverage, acting Attorney General Anne Milgram today sued Sea Bright and nine private beach clubs for failing to provide unrestricted public access to shorefront that state claims was “almost entirely built through a publicly funded shore protection project in 1995.”

The multifaceted suit also accuses Sea Bright of breaching an agreement to convert the former site of the Peninsula House hotel to a public beach. Instead, the state claims, the borough has left the parcel in disrepair and even tried to barter it away for landlocked property for the site of a new municipal building.

And Sea Bright hasn’t paid a dime of the more than $556,000 it owes the state for its share of a 2003 beach replenishment, the state claims. It demands payment.

In addition to the borough, the defendants in the suit, filed in the Chancery Division of Monmouth County Superior Court, are Surf Rider Beach Club, Donovan’s Reef Beach Club, Chapel Beach Club, Water’s Edge Beach Club, Sea Bright Beach Club, Driftwood Beach Club, Ship Ahoy Beach Club, Trade Winds Beach Club (now Kara Homes), and The Sands Beach Club of Sea Bright.

A call to Sea Bright Mayor Jo-Ann Kalaka-Adams was not immediately returned.

The lawsuit is an effort by the state to nullify agreements signed with the beach clubs in 1993, prior to the start of a massive sand-pumping program that widened beaches from Sandy Hook to Barnegat Inlet. Those agreements required the borough and the clubs to allow the public a 15-foot wide “transit corridor” of dry sand at the water’s edge for strolling and fishing only.

The state now contends, however, that additional beachfront created by the sand-pumping programs doesn’t belong to the private clubs. It argues instead that up to 250 feet of new beachfront created by a renourishment program in 1995—and secured by a 2003 replenishment—is covered by the doctrine of public trust, which grants public access to riparian lands.

The state’s case is bolstered by two court rulings, one in U.S. District Court and another at the New Jersey Supreme Court, the lawsuit contends.

Yet the defendants have continued to “insist that they may have exclusive use of this publicly funded beach, need not provide public access to the ocean… and may receive additional future sand replenishment at public expense” over the life the original 40-year agreements, the suit contends.

“This request is utterly appropriate in light of the long succession of court decisions striking down exclusive practices on municipal and private beaches and the extensive, long-term investment of public money that has been made in these beach areas,’’ Milgram said in a prepared statement.

The 35-page lawsuit notes that Sandy Hook, just to the north of Sea Bright, is often filled to capacity with beachgoers by noon on a summer’s day. The clubs, meanwhile, “maintain private exclusive access to and use of the entire dry sand beach area” that was paid for with public funds, the suit contends.

Sea Bright, the suit says, maintains inadequate parking and bathroom facilities for public usage. The borough also owes the state more than $556,000 for its portion of the 2003 replenishment, the lawsuit claims.

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