Trenton, NJ: via Sierra Club NJ: The Statehouse Commission has voted 5-0-1 to approve the plan to divert a 1.37-acre portion of Seaside Heights’ public beach for private use. The diversion would give the beach to the Casino Pier Company, limiting public’s ability to use the beach, swim, and recreate. The diversion will allow Casino Pier to build a new Ferris wheel and roller coaster in the same location where the property was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. They are also seeking to host and preserve a historic Carousel, which is just an excuse to give this land away since they can put the museum elsewhere. We believe this diversion is unfair to the public, who have paid for this land. It should be kept in the public trust for all of us to use.

“The Statehouse Commission has just rubberstamped a big giveaway of our beaches. Instead of protecting the Seaside Heights beach that belongs to all of us, they have approved it for an amusement park. They know this project is bad because public access to our waterfronts, especially our beaches are severely limited. We have very few places in Seaside Heights that we can access the ocean for recreation and enjoyment. The Statehouse Commission is giving our beach away for pennies on the dollar for a profit venture,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Beaches belong to all of us and we all should be able to access them. The public has even paid millions of dollars to fix and replenish these beaches. We not only have a right to this property, but we paid for this property and deserve access. We also paid twice to re-build this boardwalk. This diversion takes away our access and is a violation of the public trust.”
Seaside Heights was devastated by Hurricane Sandy and this project could wash out to sea, just like the last storm. During Sandy, much of Casino Pier collapsed into the ocean due to the intense waves. The Boardwalk cost an estimated $15 million to replace and an additional $1 million dollars in damages after the boardwalk fire in 2013. We are concerned given sea level rise and climate change impacts that will affect the barrier island, that this new development will not even exist given the next severe storm. The public not only paid to restore this beach, put to repair the boardwalk twice—once after Hurricane Sandy and once after a fire broke out on the boardwalk.

“This decision is really the Statehouse Commission taking beachgoers on a ride. This diversion will remove part of the beach people have enjoyed for decades. There is really no trade-off because we don’t have other public beaches to replace this with. What is more shameful is they are using a Carousel museum as an excuse to take away our public land and build a new pier when they can build the museum elsewhere.,” said Jeff Tittel. “Not only have taxpayers paid for this beach as open space, we pay to maintain it and to replenish it after each storm. No one can forget the famous picture of the roller coaster sitting in the surf after Hurricane Sandy and yet we are doing it again. This diversion is building a pier with the same type of amusements that got destroyed during the storm. With climate change impacts like sea level rise and flooding, this site will most likely wash out to see during the next severe storm.”

The NJDEP requires a 1:1 replacement of open space that is of greater of equal value. The parcel proposed to be swapped is the Winding River parcel that is far from of equal aesthetic recreational value. This land is being held by Ocean County for purposes other than development, including mitigation of destroyed wetlands, according to statements by the Ocean County Freeholder and Planning Director. In return for the diversion of public land and beach, the Borough also proposed the preservation and conservation of the historic Dentzel Loof Carousel as a museum for the public. This is a public beach for people who have paid to utilize the beach and now this diversion would give it away for private use, especially when the museum can be placed elsewhere.

“This is a complete giveaway of public land to private developers so they can extend their boardwalk and the Statehouse Commission has gone along with it. The land being replaced is a joke. It is not even on a beach, near the ocean, or encompasses the same aesthetic or recreational value. You can’t replace beachfront property—it doesn’t exist,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “There are plenty of other places to put a Carousel that doesn’t take away from our beaches, but the Statehouse Commission approved this anyway. This diversion is not only taking public land that we paid for, but it will actually be washed out during the next storm. We should be moving structures back from the water’s edge, not expand buildings closer to the ocean and taking away public access. It is a terrible excuse to build a Carousel museum on an old pier that was washed away by Hurricane Sandy. This project will put people and property at risk during the next storm. People make fun of Seaside Heights, but this sell-out is no joke.”

Toni Granato