TINTON FALLS — Using skills honed as a legislator representing the shore area, S. Thomas Gagliano went about crafting a coalition a decade ago to fight for beach protection and to secure a stable source of funding to assure that it would be an ongoing process.
The result was the Jersey Shore Partnership, a nonprofit corporation that has brought together public officials from state, county and local governments with businesses from the private sector and educational institutions to keep New Jersey’s shore protection needs front and center.
Since its inception, Gagliano has been the guiding force at the helm of the partnership. Now, after more than 10 years as president, he’s stepping aside and turning the reins over to Noreen Bodman, who comes to the partnership from the state Division of Travel and Tourism.
Bodman, who has served as executive director of the division for the past two years under former Gov. Christie Whitman and former acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco, said she plans to keep on doing what Gagliano has done, with the addition of some more work in education.
"It’s hard to top Tom Gagliano," she said. "He’s done such a good job to see that the funding is there and the projects go forward. So I will continue that."
Bodman said she also hopes, through education, to make more people aware of the partnership.
"Even students can start learning about the importance of our coastal environment," she said.
Gagliano got the inspiration for forming the partnership from the Halloween storm of 1991 that wreaked havoc at the Shore, ripping up boardwalks, flooding streets and damaging property.
He said he saw a newspaper editorial calling for a stable source of funding for beach protection and brought it up with the partners of his law firm, Giordano, Halleran and Ciesla.
"We decided to establish an organization to provide funding for Shore protection," he recalled. "Someone said, ‘What should we call it?’ I said, ‘The Jersey Shore Partnership.’ "
When he went out to line up members for the partnership, Gagliano said he started with the utility companies because they had taken such a beating in the Halloween storm.
Once the membership started falling into place — the Jersey Shore Partnership now has a 40-member board of directors — the effort began to find the stable funding for beach protection.
Gagliano recounted the early attempt to find the money by tacking a small tax on motel and hotel bills, but that failed to win enough votes for passage in the state Senate.
"Subsequently, (state Sen.) Bill Gormley (R-Atlantic) came up with the idea of establishing a stable funding source with the Realty Transfer Fund," he said. "Whenever a deed is recorded, there is a realty transfer fee. Legislation was introduced to take $15 million of that a year to establish the shore fund for protection, and it passed … and was signed by Gov. Florio."
Gagliano said "a lot of people were involved" in securing that stable funding source.
"But," he said, "I am satisfied that the partnership had a great deal to do with it."
DiFrancesco subsequently increased the amount set aside for shore protection to $25 million.
Gagliano said he can’t remember ever receiving a complaint about either the $15 million or the $25 million. "I think that is very indicative that people recognize the need," he said.
That’s not to say there haven’t been some naysayers along the way.
When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began replenishing the beaches in New Jersey, Gagliano said, a lot of people were predicting that it wouldn’t work.
"They said if you put sand on the beach, the sand would wash away, and the beach would be like before, and we were wasting millions of dollars," he said. "But the sand in Monmouth Beach and Sea Bright (the first towns done) is 85 to 90 percent still intact from seven years ago."
Monmouth Beach and Sea Bright are scheduled to receive a new round of sand this spring, part of the regularly scheduled renourishment planned in the project.
The entire Monmouth County coast has received sand as part of the replenishment project, except for the "Deal reach" — a section of Elberon in Long Branch, all of Deal, Allenhurst and Loch Arbor, Gagliano noted. He said part of the reason is attributable to some residents balking at the issue of access, and part of it to others questioning whether the sand being put in place was hazardous, which he said has never been an issue anywhere else on the coast.
"Hopefully that Deal section will be done in 2002," he said.
The beach replenishment process has relied heavily on federal funding, and that has been a constant struggle for the Jersey Shore Partnership. The federal government has been paying 65 percent of the cost, with the state and local government picking up the remaining 35-percent share.
The state draws on the stable Shore Protection Fund for its share to pull down the federal match.
The Bush administration, as the Clinton administration before it, has tried to reduce the federal share. Gagliano said some people in the Bush Office of Management and Budget feel beach replenishment should be strictly a state project. To battle any move in that direction, he has lobbied on the federal level with the American Coastal Coalition, made up of coastal interests.
Bodman said she would make it her business, too, to stay active lobbying in Washington, D.C.
Gagliano and Bodman make the point that good beaches are good business, and said while New Jersey’s senators and congressmen are onboard in keeping the federal aid coming, the need has to be shown to other federal legislators — from noncoastal as well as coastal states.
New Jersey was the first state in the nation to have any stable funding for beach protection. Florida and Texas have since established their own stable funding sources.
Bodman noted that in New Jersey, tourism is a $30 billion a year business and the state’s second-largest industry, next only to pharmaceuticals. But it’s not just the economy, she added. She said good beaches make New Jersey a great place to live and a great place for recreation.
Gagliano believes the economy of the Shore is tied into its beaches.
"Whenever we saw there was erosion, people didn’t visit there," he said. "They liked to visit a nice wide beach."
Asked about beach access, Gagliano said parking is still a serious problem in this most densely populated state. But, he observed, there is more parking in Sea Bright and Monmouth Beach.
Bodman, who also served as executive director of the tourism division in the final two years of the administration of former Gov. Tom Kean, said while she got a lot of calls complaining about beach access during the Kean years, she has received none during her latest two-year stint.
"I think that’s been pretty well handled," she said.
Bodman, who currently lives on a rented farm near the Delaware River in Hunterdon County, between Rosemont and Frenchtown, looks forward to moving to the Shore in the next few months. She said she grew up spending summers at the beach in Lavallette.
When the Kean administration ended, Bodman went to Drew University, Union, with Kean when he became president. She worked there for three years in fund raising and communications. She then went on to the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Program, where she was vice president of marketing and communications for five and a half years before returning to the state tourism division.
She will earn approximately $35,000 a year in her new job with the partnership.
Asked what parting advice he might have for Bodman, Gagliano said the first thing she should do is familiarize herself with the Jersey Shore Partnership’s board — it currently is headed by Laurence M. Downes, chairman and CEO of New Jersey Natural Gas Co. — and find out how they think the organization has done. He said she might want to do a focus group with them to see in what direction they feel it should be moving in the future.
"Noreen, having been in tourism for several years, knows what to do," he added.
Bodman already was planning on getting to know the board first thing. Asked what problems she foresees as she takes up her new duties, she said she saw no major problems looming.
"I think we have to remain vigilant about the funding and push for the projects," she said.
Looking back on his tenure, Gagliano said he felt the projects undertaken had been outstanding. He noted they included annual meetings that have dealt with such matters as Coastal Area Facility Review Act regulations, the economy of the Shore and the congressional delegation.
"I’m most proud," he said, "that New Jersey has recognized the importance of the Jersey Shore — the Legislature and the governors — and put up the money to protect the Shore."