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Environmental groups challenge transfer of public beach to private developer

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE/ 08/15/16

FAR HILLS, NJ - Friday, the American Littoral Society, Inc. and New Jersey Conservation Foundation filed a lawsuit to challenge the pending transfer of 1.37 acres of public beach in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, to a private developer. The beach in question lies just north of the Casino Pier and is a popular destination for beach-goers during the summer months. This June, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the State House Commission approved the removal of Green Acres protection from this public beach so that it could be transferred to the owners of Casino Pier for private development.

"This is the first time any of us can remember a recreational, public beach being traded away to a private developer," said Tim Dillingham, Executive Director of the American Littoral Society. "The Green Acres program is intended to preserve such natural resources and recreational opportunities for everyone, not to place them into the hands of private developers."

In exchange for the lost beach, Seaside Heights is to receive a carousel being phased out of Casino Pier due to dwindling ridership, a parking lot along the Boardwalk that is about half the size of the beach parcel, and 67acres of inexpensive, undevelopable and inaccessible wetlands valued at $4,100 per acre. The beach parcel to be diverted from public ownership is worth millions of dollars.

"It's outrageous to swap a highly-accessible and densely-utilized Jersey Shore beach facility for an aging, high-maintenance amusement ride and an inaccessible, undevelopable wetland tract that is already providing maximum ecological benefit to the public. The Green Acres Program is sending a signal to developers that privately owned, nostalgic 'things' and inexpensive, regulated wetlands can be used to remove expensive, critical recreational parkland from the public trust, instead of protecting the parkland resource in perpetuity. This decision cannot stand unchallenged," commented Dr. Emile DeVito, Manager of Science & Stewardship of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

Green Acres rules say public land diversions require replacement with property of similar usefulness, recreational value, economic value and natural resource value. In this instance, the swap would exclusively benefit a private developer.

The beach in question is a facility that has been operated by the township for nearly a hundred years and is fundamentally irreplaceable. The beach would be transferred to AFMV, LLC, the owners of Casino Pier, so that the amusement park could be rebuilt over sand rather than water, at a significant cost savings to the private developer. In its application to DEP, Seaside Heights stressed the project's economics as the justification for the swap.

"The Borough of Seaside Heights is fully supportive of the proposed expansion [of Casino Pier] as a critical way to stimulate the local economy with the added benefit of saving the nostalgic carousel," read the July 2015 application. Members of the State House Commission also seemed to view the request as motivated by economics, with one commenting that the State needs "to step in and try to make adjustments to allow these towns to recover . . . ."

This is a clear violation of Green Acres program rules.

"Whether this is about a carousel or aiding a developer in the hopes of stimulating a local economy, the point is that the Green Acres law and regulations do not permit this type of trade," said attorney Andrew J. Provence of Litwin & Provence, LLC, attorneys for the appellants. Aaron Kleinbaum, Executive Director of the Eastern Environmental Law Center, is serving as co-counsel for the appellants.

The appeal was filed Friday, August 12, with the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court in Trenton, New Jersey.

New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a private nonprofit that preserves land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. Since 1960, New Jersey Conservation has protected 125,000 acres of open space - from the Highlands to the Pine Barrens to the Delaware Bayshore, from farms to forests to urban and suburban parks. For more information about the Foundation's programs and preserves, go to www.njconservation.org or call 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728).

Leaders in coastal conservation since 1961, the American Littoral Society, is a non-profit organization which promotes the study and conservation of marine life and habitat, protects the coast from harm, and empowers others to do the same. In addition to restoring beaches, the Society advocates for sustainable uses of the ocean and coast; educates children and adults to be stewards of the shore; and promotes programs that strive to make beaches, bays and estuaries cleaner and more resilient.

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