Coaster File Photo
The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association owns and operates the beach in the historic district.
By WILLIAM CLARK
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has informed the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association it could be fined up to $25,000 a day if it continues to prohibit public access to its beach on Sunday mornings.
On Sunday mornings from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the camp meeting uses chains and padlocks to block access to the sand and surf until noon. This summer, weekly protests popped up in response to the longstanding practice.
The confrontation between the public and the OGCMA escalated in August when an unknown person contacted the NJDEP, which in turn issued a warning letter to the OGCMA on Aug. 10. In response, the association sent a letter dated Aug. 13 saying it would not be removing the barricades. The chains stayed up on Sundays for the remainder of the summer. Follow up inspections from the state confirmed this.
On Oct. 2, the OGCMA filed with the Superior Court of New Jersey a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Permanent Injunctive Relief. The camp meeting filed the lawsuit in order to get a decision on the beach access. Before the beach opens again in May
In a letter dated Oct. 13, New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin said his office recognizes that the suit is intended to seek a declaratory judgment. The AG’s office is ready to step in and the NJDEP plans to “file a motion to intervene in this matter within 60 days
Michael Badger, OGCMA President, provided a statement in response to the ruling.
“The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) issued an administrative order Oct. 12 intended to interrupt the OGCMA’s request for injunctive relief through the Monmouth County Chancery Division,” he wrote. “NJDEP’s administrative order is based upon their permit issued for the maintenance of the OG dunes and beach. Prior to releasing the administrative order, OGCMA requested a meeting to discuss the dune and beach maintenance permit. The NJDEP sent an invitation to discuss beach closures for Oct 19. NJDEP’s out of season order compels an immediate openness that is moot at the moment (since the beaches are open now until May).
The association has continuously defended its tradition, stating that the closure for a few hours is a chance for people to appreciate the ocean without a beach full of people and less restrictive than other private and municipal beaches in the area.