(PartiallyPolitics.com) – New Jersey’s environmental agency has escalated its legal measures against the coastal town of Ocean Grove.
On September 14, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) issued a Notice of Violation to Ocean Grove, a Christian-based town, for its practice of shutting down its beach for several hours on 15 select Sundays each season.
This information was relayed to Fox News Digital by the NJDEP through an email addressed to Steve Columbo, the Operations Director of Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.
Robert Clark, the NJDEP Region Supervisor, authored the notice, informing Columbo that Ocean Grove had a 10-day window to provide a response. He suggested that the association liaise with the Bureau of Coastal and Land Use Compliance & Enforcement to address the issue.
This recent action follows an earlier warning sent to Ocean Grove on August 10, 2023, asserting that the town had not maintained public access to its beach areas, in line with state policy.
Ocean Grove, often referred to as “God’s Square Mile,” is a privately owned town with a longstanding tradition of closing its beach on Sunday mornings to accommodate religious services for its residents.
Michael Badger, President of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, shared his thoughts with Fox News Digital about the NJDEP’s recent actions, stating the association’s readiness to continue dialogues with the agency. Badger pointed out a potential inconsistency in the NJDEP’s stance, noting that the nearby Asbury Park was granted permission to block beach access for an entire weekend due to a music festival.
According to Badger, the duration of Asbury Park’s closure surpassed that of Ocean Grove’s, leading him to question if there’s a disparity in the NJDEP’s enforcement.
In a response to Fox News Digital, the NJDEP indicated they were assessing reports of blocked beach access in Point Pleasant. The agency emphasized their commitment to ensuring that public access standards are upheld across all communities.
Badger highlighted that while the NJDEP announced plans to inspect the Jenkinson’s beach venue in Point Pleasant, they seemed to have overlooked concerns related to Asbury Park. He questioned the fairness of the NJDEP’s regulatory enforcement, suggesting that some of the complaints might be driven by prejudice against the Christian community.
Following the state’s initial warning to Ocean Grove, public protests ensued on the town’s beach for multiple Sundays, with the group Neptune United being one of the primary dissenting voices. Neptune United has publicly criticized the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association for perceived discriminatory practices.
Having owned the land in Ocean Grove for over 150 years, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association is deeply rooted in the community. Badger emphasized the town’s commitment to its traditions and respect for religious practices, indicating that the Sunday beach closures contributed to a peaceful atmosphere, in line with Ocean Grove’s unique identity compared to neighboring towns.
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