POINT PLEASANT BEACH - The entrances to one of the biggest beachfronts in Ocean County were gated and locked this week, just in time for "local summer."
Jenkinson's Pavilion, which owns the vast majority of beachfront land in Point Pleasant Beach, closed and locked gates at its six entrances along the boardwalk on Tuesday, with sunny, clear skies and temperatures in the mid-eighties. The Jenkinson's website includes its annual post noting that beaches are closed and swimming is prohibited without any lifeguards on duty.
But actually restricting access flies in the face of state law, said Don Greenberg, legislative director for the Jersey Shore chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, a coastline conservation group that advocates for beach access.
"When Jenkinson's locked those gates, they denied people what they're guaranteed," Greenberg said.
A Jenkinson's spokesperson did not immediately return a request seeking comment.
Under state law, beach access is protected under the Public Trust Doctrine, a common law element traced back to the Roman Empire, which ensures public rights to waterways for navigation, commerce and fishing. In New Jersey, those protections also extend to the kinds of recreational uses common to any day at the beach, including sunbathing and swimming — and they were cemented into law in 2019.
'Just an instinct':See the rescue of a Bergen County man from Seaside Park rip current
Even on privately-owned beaches, like the ones owned by Jenkinson's Pavilion, access must be protected, according to state law. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection did not immediately comment on the situation.
In some municipalities, restricting beach access — and subtler ways of restricting beach access, such as limiting parking or requiring proof of residence — has led to years-long litigation.
More:NJ codifies beach access, public trust doctrine into state law
Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Paul Kanitra declined to comment. But in a public Facebook post, he stated that the closures were the "apparent result of a drowning in the offseason and a subsequent lawsuit" and encouraged frustrated beachgoers to contact the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
The only active wrongful death lawsuit filed against Jenkinson's is a 2021 complaint related to the death of a Morris County man in September 2020.
The closures also come amid one of the more dangerous times of year to swim, when rip current threats are typically elevated and fewer lifeguards are on duty. Three people drowned along the Jersey Shore during Labor Day weekend.
Greenberg said the borough had the responsibility as to ensure beach access was preserved, instead of waiting for the Department of Environmental Protection to step in — especially if Jenkinson's constructed gates on the boardwalk, which is owned by the borough.
"Everybody and their mother should call the DEP," Greenberg said. "But the municipality is the custodian of the people's rights, as well."
Jenkinson's and Point Pleasant Beach have long harbored a cold relationship, often tested in the courts.
In 2014, the company sued the borough and the U.S. Army Corps over a federal project to enlarge beaches and build dunes, which prevent flooding during hurricanes. Jenkinson's eventually agreed to build a steel seawall as part of a 2017 settlement.
And in 2020, Jenkinson's filed a lawsuit — later dismissed — against the borough over an ordinance that prohibited alcohol and regulated cooler sizes on private beaches, seen by borough officials as a way to diminish high-profile incidents with drunken beachgoers.
Mike Davis has spent the last decade covering New Jersey local news, marijuana legalization, transportation and a little bit of everything else. He's won a few awards that make his parents very proud. Contact him at [email protected] or @byMikeDavis on Twitter.