In seeming defiance of a warning notice from the state Department of Environmental Protection, entrances to the beach along the entire strip of the boardwalk owned by Jenkinson’s – the vast majority of the oceanfront in Point Pleasant Beach – remained shut down by wooden barriers, metal plates and gates with padlocks on Thursday.
The company’s arcades and a couple of restaurants remained opened, however, while neither the company nor the state were willing to comment on the controversial closure. Shorebeat reached out to both the DEP and Jenkinson’s again. The DEP declined to comment beyond sending a fresh copy of the violation notice, and Jenkinson’s officials did not return a call. There was, apparently, some contact behind the scenes between Jenkinson’s and two Point Pleasant Beach officials, prompting the borough’s mayor to say his blood was “boiling.” It was also revealed at a borough council meeting this week that an attorney in an off-season drowning case attempted to depose the mayor as part of the litigation, but was ultimately unsuccessful in doing so.
People strolled the boardwalk both Wednesday and Thursday, many asking a reporter where they could access the beach. Some left when told the beach was closed; one group of teens jumped a fence and ran onto the sand anyway without being caught. Jenkinson’s, under the control of owner Frank Storino, is a rare corporate entity that owns the physical beachfront of nearly the entire town of Point Pleasant Beach up to the high water mark of the Atlantic Ocean. Point Pleasant Beach itself owns only the Maryland Avenue beach, which remains open to the public, though swimming is not allowed without lifeguards on duty.
Point Pleasant Beach held a borough council meeting earlier this week at which it was announced that two members of the governing body – Council President Douglas Vitale and Councilman Michael Ramos – held a meeting with members of the Storino family on Tuesday, a day before the DEP issued its warning notice to Frank Storino, informing him his company was in violation of state policy by blocking all access to the beach from the public.
“Councilman Ramos and I met with the Storinos on Monday regarding the beach closures, and the residents’ disaffection,” said Vitale.
The statement drew instant shock from Mayor Paul Kanitra, who has been silent on the issue besides issuing a notice on social media informing residents the beaches were closed.
“My blood is boiling,” Kanitra said, collecting his thoughts as Vitale went on to describe the discussion.
“We had an honest and frank discussion with them, reminded them about their responsibility to remain access to the high water mark, and they explained to us that they are actively working with the DEP,” said Vitale. “They understand everybody is concerned. Our meeting was very positive.”
Kanitra responded by saying the councilman should not have met with Jenkinson’s officials despite the fact that the borough is not a party to the wrongful death lawsuit that led Jenkinson’s to close access.
“There were no legal matters discussed,” said Vitale. “It was, ‘we’re listening, what’s going on?’”
A short time later in the same meeting, it was revealed that Kanitra had been called by Jenkinson’s to undergo a deposition in the wrongful death case. Neither he nor the borough are named in the complaint, but “they insisted the mayor ordered Jenkinson’s to keep the beaches open,” said borough attorney Kevin Riordan.
Ultimately, Riordan said, Kanitra did not have to provide any statements, however he warned the two councilmen that they could have now opened themselves up to being subpoenaed.
“Individual council members, without the authority of the governing body, have no authority to speak for the governing body,” said Riordan. “You can certainly do it as a private citizen.”
“It was a friendly meeting,” Ramos responded. “It was an opportunity to speak and have a conversation.”
The issue, Riordan and Kanitra both said, is that the councilmen said they relayed public opinion to the Storino family during the meeting, which Kanitra is a “de facto position” on the issue.
“There isn’t a lawyer in this state who’d have your back saying that is okay. Is that clear?” Kanitra asked.
One member of the public asked if the borough planned any negotiations with Jenkinson’s over the matter, however officials explained the borough has no jurisdiction to do so.
“This is a matter between Jenkinson’s and the state DEP, which is why the Borough of Point Pleasant Beach, with our own legal interests at play, are not allowed to wade into that,” said Kanitra. “This is a state issue, and there may be a legal issue with a lawsuit in play.”
There was no sign of the various barricades and obstacles placed in front of beach entrances being removed Thursday night as the Jersey Shore prepared for a powerful coastal storm that was forecast to affect the region Friday night into Sunday.