POINT PLEASANT BEACH — Mayor Paul Kanitra took to social media Tuesday to criticize Jenkinson’s Boardwalk for what he called “an unfortunate decision” to close its beaches during the off-season.
Jenkinson’s, the private entity that owns most of the borough’s beaches, has closed them to the public until further notice. Access gates were padlocked and signage announced the closings. As of press time Thursday, the company had not responded to multiple requests for comment, by phone and in person at its offices.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, the mayor said, “I have just been informed that as an apparent result of a drowning in the off-season, and a subsequent lawsuit, Jenkinson’s has made the very unfortunate decision to close all of their beaches and all of their access points.”
Mayor Kanitra stressed that the borough is not responsible for the closings.
“Please understand that Jenkinson’s is a private company that owns the majority of beaches and beach access points in Point Pleasant Beach,” he wrote. “I want to make it very clear that this decision is not the Borough of Point Pleasant Beach’s, and that the only beach that the town owns, Maryland Avenue, is open for guests in accordance with our local beach ordinances.”
Since his Facebook post, the mayor has declined to comment further on the matter.
The incident or incidents prompting the closures were not made immediately clear. However, the death of Anthony Timpanaro, 69, of Randolph, who died in 2020 after being pulled out to sea by a wave, is similar to the incident described in the mayor’s Facebook post.
Mr. Timpanaro’s family filed a wrongful death suit against Jenkinson’s which is still pending. The legal complaint filed by the family alleged that Jenkinson’s was negligently responsible for his death.
In a 2021 answer to the complaint, an attorney for Jenkinson’s said that the plaintiffs were guilty of “contributory negligence” in the case, and denied the allegation that the unsafe conditions were caused or exacerbated by Jenkinson’s.
Don Greenberg, legislative director for the Jersey Shore chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, told The Ocean Star that it is the foundation’s belief that borough officials should be reviewing their responsibility under a common law rule called the Public Trust Doctrine.
“Surfrider doesn’t have all the facts yet, as all we’ve seen is the [Facebook] post by the mayor. As a matter of our policy and the Public Trust Doctrine, we believe that beach access should not be blocked—and by law cannot be blocked,” Mr. Greenberg said. “We feel the mayor is abrogating his responsibility to be a custodian of public access for his citizens.”
According to the New Jersey DEP, the Public Trust Doctrine “provides that public rights to tidal waterways and their shores in the state are held by the state in trust for the benefit of all of the people. Further, it establishes the right of the public to fully utilize these lands and waters for a variety of public activities…such as bathing, swimming, sunbathing and walking along tidal waterways and their shores.”
“The question that needs to be asked [is]: Are those gates on town property, or are they Jenkinson’s property? We know Jenkinson’s owns the beach, but do they own the area where the gates are?” Mr. Greenberg said. “The Public Trust Doctrine flows from the state down through the municipalities, and the municipality has a responsibility to protect public access—and that’s not just access along the high tide line in a horizontal fashion, that’s perpendicular access to get to the mean high tide line.”
While some visitors to the boardwalk this week were troubled by the lack of access to Jenkinson’s beaches, others said that they understand possible motives behind the closings.
“The coastline belongs to the public. It’s federal land,” said Kathleen Stark of Brick, who was walking the boardwalk with her husband, Harry, Thursday morning. “I think it’s just wrong. I understand they’re worried about drownings and the weather, but I think it’s just for their own protection.”
The Ocean Star also spoke to Doral Thomas and Lisa Rubin of Brick, who had differing opinions on the matter.
“I think it’s done for safety reasons…All the beaches from Long Island on down south here, the rip currents were all going to be huge,” said Ms. Thomas. “If you open the beach, you’re going to have idiots go into the water and then you’re putting the rescuer’s life in danger…To me, better safe than sorry.”
But Ms. Rubin said she felt bad for out-of-town visitors who might travel to Point Pleasant Beach only to find the beaches are closed.
Michael Hull, the assistant general manager of Martell’s, which owns the beachfront behind the establishment as well, told The Ocean Star that he does not think the closings will severely affect the bar and restaurant’s business.
“Generally during the week this time of year, we’re not getting a high demand for our beach to begin with,” he said. “I think they generally [close the beaches around this time of year], maybe they pulled the trigger a week early, or two; I can’t really speak for them though because we’re two different businesses. But this time of year, depending on the hurricane season, we’re usually breaking stuff down anyway.”
He also said that he understands the potential rationale behind the beach closings.
“Between us and Jenkinson’s, our beaches are privately owned establishments and we don’t have any lifeguards this year to be putting on staff…There’s a lot of liability that comes with allowing people on the beach while there is a hurricane offshore and rip tides are as bad as they are…Some people are just unaware of the dangers,” Mr. Hull said.
Following Jenkinson’s recent actions, similar discussions regarding beach access have been held in neighboring beachfront boroughs, such as Belmar.
According to Belmar Chief Lifeguard Harry Harsin, however, these types of measures “would not be feasible” at their beaches.
“It’s kind of impossible for us to close the beaches down because even if we put chains along the gates, it’s just a hard thing, manpower wise, to clear people off because you clear one end and by the time you get to the other end, they’re already back on,” he said.
While he said he’s unsure why Jenkinson has taken such action, he suspects that it relates to safety concerns with the rough surf conditions caused by the incoming hurricane.
“Without knowing what the reasoning is, I’m assuming it’s for safety reasons,” Mr. Harsin said. “It’s a good thing, I guess, for people that aren’t familiar with the powers of the ocean. They don’t know what could possibly happen.”
“It’s always a chief lifeguard’s worst nightmare when there’s a tropical storm or hurricane brewing hundreds of miles off the coast and creating really rough surf conditions, such as this one is, but the weather is beautiful so it still attracts people to the beach,” Mr. Harsin said.
Point Beach police say they responded to a report of a 40-year-old man in distress in a rip current off New York Avenue beach on Tuesday at 3:59 p.m.
“Officers arrived on scene and observed the male in the ocean, with his head above water, drifting north,” Chief Robert Kowalewski said in a statement issued on Wednesday. “Officers went into the water in the area in the Forman Avenue and were able to get the male out of the water.” Responding units included Point Pleasant First Aid and Dive Team as well as the U.S. Coast Guard.
“The 40-year-old male was uninjured and refused any and all first aid,” police said. “This is the second incident in the last 10 days where officers had to enter the ocean and pull swimmers in distress out of the surf. People are reminded that it is not safe to swim areas with no lifeguards. Strong rip currents are expected to continue for the foreseeable future.”
Swimming in rip current conditions was the cause of multiple drownings along the Jersey Shore over the summer, with four of them taking place during the Labor Day weekend. These drownings happened in Belmar, Seaside Park, Beach Haven and Strathmere.
The National Weather Service has issued warnings for dangerous rip currents and rough surf with large breaking waves of six to eight feet expected along the Jersey Shore this Friday and Saturday. The warnings come as Hurricane Lee churns up the Atlantic Ocean, heading north toward Maine and Nova Scotia.
Beyond the Facebook post, the mayor declined to comment on the beach access issue.
In his post, the mayor also urged residents to “direct any questions directly to Jenkinson’s on this matter at 732-892-0600,” and added: “In the absence of an acceptable response from Jenkinson’s, please note that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] has the primary responsibility for ensuring your access to the beach. Their phone is: 609-777-3373.”
This is an excerpt of the print article. For more on this story, read The Ocean Star—on newsstands Friday or online in our e-Edition.