More beaches in Sea Bright will be open to the public thanks to a lawsuit settlement reached last week. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)
By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
More than three years of legal battling against the borough and private beach clubs has resulted in a win for the public, say local beachgoers.
They will be able to use more space in front of six private Sea Bright clubs as a result of a settlement in the state Superior Court last Wednesday. According to a prior agreement, the average visitor was only allowed to lay down a towel or chair within a 15-stretch along the waterline in front of the clubs. Now the space is 150 feet.
It may be hard to find anyone from the public who’s going to complain about that, considering the issue has long been a bone of contention within the borough.
“I’m all in favor for it,” said Maryanne Maletto, of Red Bank.
Maletto said she only goes to the beach in Sea Bright during the winter, when it’s free and open. In the summer, she heads down to Belmar. Now she’ll re-think her choice and probably come to Sea Bright, “if I can find a parking spot,” she said.
In Maletto’s eyes, there never should have been a controversy. In 2006, the state and two non-profits sued the borough and nine private clubs for restricting access to many beach areas after taxpayer dollars were used to replenish and expand eroded beaches.
One club, Donovan’s Reef Beach Club, settled with the state in 2007 and now has full public access, according to the state Attorney General’s office. Another club, Trade Winds Beach Club, was dismissed from the suit after converting its private club to residential homes and another, Sea Bright Beach Club, will continue to defend itself in the suit.
Agreeing to the settlement were: Chapel Beach Club, Surf Rider Beach Club, Driftwood Beach Club, Sands Beach Club, Water’s Edge Beach Club and the Ship Ahoy Beach Club. Along with the borough, they agreed to pay $726,000 for improvements to Sea Bright beaches. The borough, though, will carry most of the burden, shelling out $556,000 for amenities like ramps and parking spaces.
“They took our sand and they didn’t want us,” Maletto said. “I couldn’t believe beaches could be charged for.”
Kevin Slavin, who once was a member to one of the area’s private clubs, said he was “definitely excited” to hear about Wednesday’s settlement.
“It’s about time,” said Slavin, who lives in the Navesink section of Middletown. “It’s a great thing since our money paid for (the replenishment). It was ours to begin with.”