Ocean County’s freeholder board is planning to join several municipalities that have expressed opposition to a controversial plan for Island Beach State Park to charge $3 per person to enter the park through a walkway near a popular anchorage in Barnegat Bay.
Last month, park officials said they would place a lifeguard at the A-7 beaches near the Fisherman’s Walkway and charge $3 per person to anyone who uses the walkway to access the ocean beach. Most of the people who use the walkway are boaters who anchor up on the bay side of the park at Tices Shoal and occasionally take a walk to the ocean. The move has angered boaters, who say they often only use the ocean beach for a short period of time and never requested a lifeguard be posted. Further, boaters argue that a family of four would pay double the price to enter the park from the water versus a family of four who accesses the park from a car and takes up a parking space – even though boaters pay a high fuel tax and registration fees to the state each season.
“They’re not happy with it, and rightfully so,” said Ocean County Freeholder Joseph Vicari this week, who asked the board’s permission to write a letter to the state asking that the $3 fee be postponed for now. “Just collecting the $3 fee will be very expensive.”
After a short discussion, the seven-member freeholder board agreed that Vicari’s letter should be accompanied by a formal resolution asking the state to reconsider the fee. The board will vote to approve the resolution at its regular meeting May 6.
“We’re trying to improve tourism, because we did take a big hit with the storm,” Vicari said, explaining that the marine industry was hit hard during Superstorm Sandy and is still trying to get back on track.
Several local municipalities, including Berkeley and Lacey townships, plus Beachwood, have passed resolutions opposing the fee.
State officials have said the fee will fund guards at the beach and nothing more – a simple safety move after people began frequently swimming at the unguarded beach. Last year, they say, a man drowned at a separate unguarded beach at the park after taking a swim there.
“The safety of our park visitors is our first priority,” said Richard Boornazian, DEP Assistant Commissioner of Natural and Historic Resources. “Emergencies in unguarded sections of the park often results in compromised lifeguard resources at our main pavilion areas where swimming is permitted. So providing this additional protection at the popular A-7 section will benefit all users of the park.”
Summer gate entry fees ($6 per car for New Jersey residents, $12 for non-residents on weekdays; $10 per car for New Jersey residents, $20 for non-residents on weekends and holidays) remain unchanged.