Senator Mike Doherty wants the Jersey Shore rebuilt with high-rise condos
State Senator Michael Doherty (R-Warren) would go a lot further than eliminating beach badges from the Jersey Shore if he had his way. Doherty says that the pre-Sandy Shore was a failed economic model reminiscent of the 1950’s Catskill Mountain bungalow communities and that our coast should be rebuilt in the image of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Ocean City, Maryland and Destin, Florida with high-rise condos with pools, free beaches and high end merchants.
Doherty has proposed legislation that would prohibit coastal communities that accept state or federal funds to rebuild from selling beach badges or otherwise charging the public for access to the shore. The bill would also require municipalities to provide free restroom facilities from Memorial Day through Labor Day annually.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has signed on as a prime co-sponsor of the bill. That means it is not likely to be buried in committee never to see that light of day.
“It is likely that state and federal taxpayers will provide hundreds of millions of dollars to repair and replenish New Jersey beaches that were washed away during Hurricane Sandy,” said Doherty. “Considering the massive public resources that will be directed at rebuilding many New Jersey beaches, it only seems fair to ensure that everyone have the opportunity to enjoy free access to the beaches they will support and help rebuild with their tax dollars.”
Sweeney said, “Where taxpayers are paying for beach restoration, they shouldn’t be taxed a second time just to walk on the sand. As New Jerseyans, we are all in the recovery and rebuilding process together. That means we should all be able to enjoy the reopening of our state’s greatest natural resource together, too.”
MMM called Doherty and Sweeney to ask how beach maintenance, life guards and police would be paid for under their plan. Sweeney hasn’t gotten back to us, but Doherty gave us an earful.
“Beach badges are what is wrong with New Jersey’s economy. They’re one of the reasons our unemployment rate is so high,” said Doherty, “We talk about how wonderful the Jersey Shore is, how important it is to our state’s economy, but in reality shore communities are unwelcoming and the experience of going to the beach is a frustrating rip-off. You have to pay $24 to park and $7 per person to get on the beach. That’s a lot of money for a family of four, and that’s before you’ve gone to a restaurant. And then you have to deal with the local police watching over you to step out of line. It’s not a welcoming environment.
“I’m very sympathetic to the people who lost so much, however, we need to think outside the box and look to what other states are doing successfully before we invest in rebuilding the shore. The old Jersey Shore was an antiquated economic model, like the Catskill Mountain bungalow communities of the 50’s. We should rebuild like Myrtle Beach or Destin Florida with high-rise condos and high end businesses. Where is the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse on the Jersey Shore? It’s not there. What we have instead is Mom and Pop restaurants. We should have free beaches and free parking so a guy can spend the 50 bucks in his pocket at a business instead of telling his kids there is no money left after parking and beach badges.
“If shore communities want to rebuild single family houses on the beach where the owners threaten to call the police if you walk passed their house, let them pay for it themselves. How does that benefit my constituents in Warren County?”
Doherty said that beach maintenance and safety should be funded by a portion of Sales Taxes collected in the communities, rather than by beach badges and parking fees. His bill does not provide for that. He said he would look into additional legislation to make that happen.
Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty, no relation to the senator, said that Senators Doherty and Sweeney are playing politics with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.
“As I said in my testimony before the legislature last month, we need to follow Governor Christie’s and President Obama’s example and leave politics out of rebuilding from the storm,” said Doherty, “Federal and State funds are needed to rebuild what we lost, not to keep it clean and safe with lifeguards and police. If the federal government is going to pay for lifeguards and police, fine, but we’re not asking for that.”
Belmar passed a $20 million bond ordinance this week to fund the rebuilding of the community’s boardwalk. Doherty, the mayor, said that he expects that at least 75% of the project cost, which would include a seawall and boardwalk built to current hurricane standards, will be reimbursed by the federal government. The project, which went out to bid last week, will be completed by Memorial Day, 2013, according to the mayor. Belmar’s portion of the bond repayment is planned to be paid for by beach badge sales.
Mayor Doherty said he would not be opposed to Senator Doherty’s idea of coastal municipalities sharing Sales Taxes with the State. He does not favor an increase in Sales Taxes however, noting that Belmar has not authorized a local Hotel Tax.
Mayor Doherty laughed heartily and said, “I guess legislators have to come up with something” when told of Senator Doherty’s vision of rebuilding the shore in the image of Myrtle Beach.