In their 23-page ruling issued Friday, the judges said the public cannot be shut out because the beach in front of the Sea Bright Beach Club was created through beach replenishment funded by taxpayers.
The Star-Ledger of Newark (http://bit.ly/Qx2l1Q) reports the ruling invalidates a 1993 agreement between the state Department of Environmental Protection and the beach club, which allowed the club to prevent nonmembers from sitting on the sand there.
The state had reached that agreement with the nine beach clubs in Sea Bright in exchange for easements along their oceanfront properties for a beach replenishment project that transformed Sea Bright beaches from a narrow strip to a wide sandy field. The general public was allowed to walk through only a 15-foot-wide path just above the water line, but couldn't set down beach chairs or towels and couldn't stop to fish, swim or surf.
The state sued the beach clubs in 2006 seeking to revise the 1993 agreement to allow the public full use of the beach, and eight of the clubs eventually settled. However, the Sea Bright Beach Club held out, contending the wide beaches wouldn't have been possible if the beach club hadn't granted the easements.
A state judge voided the 1993 agreement in 2010. But while this appeal was pending, the state and the beach club reached an interim pact giving the general public access to an 80-foot stretch on the club's northernmost border.
"We are pleased that the court vindicated the public's right to access these beaches, particularly since public funds were utilized to re-build them," state Division of Law Director Christopher Porrino told the newspaper.
David Apy, the beach club's attorney, said a decision on whether to appeal the appellate court decision to the state Supreme Court will be made after he reviews the ruling and discuss it with beach club officials.
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