Coastal Access Toolkit
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Common Law and Statutes
What background legal principles govern coastal land ownership and access rights?
New Jersey is a state that follows the Public Trust Doctrine, essentially holding that the state is the trustee of tidal waterways seaward of the high tide line for the benefit of the public. Courts in New Jersey have addressed issues pertaining to both private and public coastal properties and the appropriate access which must be provided to the public.
The government has authority under its police powers to make laws protecting the welfare of its citizens, including regulating lands next to beaches and shores. The U.S. Constitution and many state constitutions also give the government the right to take private property under the power of eminent domain but only if the landowner receives appropriate compensation.
Who owns the shore in New Jersey?
Tidelands, submerged lands and filled lands are owned by the state in trust for the public under the Public Trust Doctrine. This generally entitles the public to use lands seaward of the mean high tide line for recreational purposes, and in some cases, also allows the public to use a reasonable amount of dry sand area.
Which state statutes are relevant to access issues?
State laws affecting public access to the shore include:
- New Jersey’s Landowner Liability Law (N.J.S.A. 2A:42A-2 et seq.)
- New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (NJSA 40:55D et seq)
Laws that require towns to take access needs into account in zoning and subdivision and review process:
- Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA) (N.J.S.A. 13:19)
- Waterfront Development Law (N.J.S.A. 12:5-3)
- Wetlands Act of 1970 (N.J.S.A. 13:9A)
- Tidelands Act (N.J.S.A. 12:3)
Federal laws affecting public access to the shore include:
Where can I get more information?
For more information on the above laws, please see: