DRAG ISLAND LETTER TO gGOVERNOR

LAW OFFICES
GILBERTSON & MARTIN, LLC
36 ROOSEVELT BOULEVARD
MARMORA, NJ 08223
Telephone (609) 390-0021
PATRICK F. MARTIN* Fax (609) 390-8447
_____

*ALSO MEMBER Pennsylvania BAR
March 19, 2013

Governor Christopher J. Christie
State of New Jersey
PO Box 001
Trenton NJ 08625-0001

RE: Drag Island Access

Dear Governor Christie:

As I previously advised by email to your office last week, I am one of the founding members and of counsel to the Drag Island Access Preservation Association, which was formed to protect continued foot access to Drag Island for fishermen, nature lovers, birders and other folks. Access to this island, which has existed since 1928, is scheduled for elimination when the Beesley’s Point bridge is scheduled for demolition. The Turnpike Authority has absolutely no provision for continued foot access to the island in the plans to build the new southbound GSP bridge from Atlantic to Cape May County. The DEP rules specifically provide that when the Garden State Parkway has a plan of this magnitude, access is required to be maintained. The Turnpike’s answer to access is no access.

Our group has met with Senator Van Drew and has received much media coverage, including Channel 40 news and several newspaper articles. We have contacted the DEP and voiced our concerns. All contact to the Turnpike Authority has fallen on deaf ears or we have been told that “no one is allowed near ‘our’ bridge.” Governor, in case you need a better idea where Drag Island is located, this was the area that received much criticism over the wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars to install a barbed wire fence to allegedly protect against terrorism, when the reality was this was nothing more that political favoritism by the Turnpike Authority. The Turnpike Authority’s present position is contrary to the rules of the DEP that require access to be maintained pursuant to NJAC 7:7E-8.11(o)(1) and (2) and under the public trust doctrine. The Turnpike Authority has abused the Drag Island area enough already.

I am enclosing a joint press release between the Drag Island Access Preservation Association and the Recreational Fishing Alliance authorized for release on March 14, 2013. I am also enclosing the most current results of an online petition supporting foot access to this area. I believe this provides the necessary support for our group to show that we are legitimately concerned with our efforts to maintain access to Drag Island. We are focused and committed to our cause.

Governor, if you review other bridge projects that were slated for improvement or removal, you will clearly see that creating or maintaining access has always been a part of these projects. For example, when a bridge is removed, the old bridge is made into a fishing pier. Take a quick look at the Route 52 Causeway project from Somers Point into Ocean City. The amount of fishing access and foot access to the marsh is just really incredible and new piers were specifically built for this purpose. In the case of the Beesley’s Point Bridge, not one aspect of the bridge is scheduled to be maintained or converted into access or a fishing pier. Indeed, all the Turnpike Authority was concerned about with the bridge demolition was getting wetlands mitigation credit. What about mitigation for access? Why is this area being ignored? There is nothing in this project that preserves foot access to Drag Island, or provides for the conversion of part of the bridge into a fishing pier. Cost is not a valid argument. Look at Route 52 fishing access, or the Longport-Ocean City Bridge fishing pier. These are just two local examples of bridge replacement where cost was not an issue. What is the issue is the public’s continued right to access these areas for the benefit of present and future generations to enjoy.

Our Association is imploring your office to investigate why there is no mitigation for foot access as part of this project. The DEP appears receptive to our cause, but this is the Turnpike Authority’s project, yet the Turnpike Authority simply ignores the issue. We also question how the DEP issued permits without provisions for access when the regulations clearly require public access to be maintained. When the Authority tells you it is providing “access” by building a “bumpout” to allow fishing Drag Channel from the new parkway bridge, keep in mind this is not foot access to Drag Island. If anything, it creates exposure to noise, pollution, exhaust fumes and raises safety concerns to require citizens to access a fishing spot by walking up the parkway. The Authority is gambling that no one will do it. They may have sold the DEP on the idea of “access” but to those of us familiar with the area, this is just yet another attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the citizens. We need to maintaining and creating access, not eliminating it. Access is closing each day and this is an opportunity to create a fantastic area for all to enjoy what it has to offer.

In closing, the Drag Island Access Preservation Association seeks to convert the flat bridge from Somers Point to Drag Island as a means of preserving foot access to the island. We are simply looking to have foot access over the flat bridge; no vehicular traffic is being requested. We also seek consideration to some form of converting the Southbound part of the Beesley’s Point “toll” bridge into a pier for fishing and crabbing or just for folks to enjoy the walk out onto the water. In the age where the rights of citizens are trampled upon by the price of progress, the State should seek to treat the Drag Island area with the same consideration as the Route 52 Causeway bridge project or the Longport-Ocean City bridge project. There is simply nothing that can legitimately justify the complete elimination of foot access when it has existed since 1928.

On behalf of our Association, I would like to extend our thanks for your assistance and
intervention in resolving this important issue in favor of access. I am sure you will be hearing from many citizens voicing the same concerns. Thank you again for protecting the rights of the citizens of New Jersey to enjoy all the natural resources the state has to offer.

Very truly yours,

Patrick F. Martin

Cc: Drag Island Access Preservation Association (via email)
Recreational Fishing Alliance (via email)
NJDEP-Attn: Commissioner (via email
Lt. Governor Kimberly Guadagno (via reg. mail)