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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 21, 2001

Beach fee not unusual elsewhere

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Columnist

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Sometime later it turned brown. Or green. Or gray.

At least, that's what I always figured growing up in New Jersey, where the ocean was never blue, except by literary license.

For a couple of centuries, the "Jersey Shore" was a dumping ground for every waste imaginable — industrial, agricultural and human. All that material got stirred into a turgid mix, and the water turned the color of toilet bowls and toxic barges.

Not knowing better, I went swimming in it every summer. (Hey, it was cleaner than New Jersey rivers.) It wasn't until I got to California that I discovered the ocean really could be azure, turquoise or aquamarine. It was the same moment I found out that some people don't pay to get on a beach.

In New Jersey, no beach is free. People have to pay cash up front to feel the sand between their toes. Millions of them do it every summer without ever imagining that in some parts of America beaches are open to all without any cost.

Sometimes in New Jersey, you only have to pay $5 to get on a beach for a day. On a hot weekend day you can share a beach like that with several hundred thousand people. Take your worst Waikiki nightmare, multiply it by 10, and you get an idea of what Seaside Heights, N.J., looks like.

Of course, there are more exclusive beaches in New Jersey. They charge $25 or more to keep the crowds down. If you don't pay up, there are roving police patrols that can fine you or put you in jail.

I'm not making this up. Once I learned the ocean really was blue and the beaches elsewhere really were free, New Jersey never had a fighting chance in my life again. Once a Jersey boy sees Hawai'i's blue ocean and free beaches, he knows that's the way it's always going to be.

Except, maybe not always.

When I got home from a visit to New Jersey this week, I found people talking about ocean pollution and beach fees.

First, people are worrying about a suddenly booming cruise industry, which can dump everything from chemicals to cardboard to treated wastewater into the oceans the ships are plying. Cruise companies are rushing to police themselves, but this is worth saying at least once: Without our vigilance, even Hawai'i's ocean could change color some day.

Our free beaches aren't a birthright, either. A California woman is challenging the state's right to charge visitors a fee to visit Hanauma Bay while letting local residents in free. You think it hasn't already crossed some politician's mind that the simplest solution to ending that lawsuit is to start charging locals, too?

Our oceans are blue and our beaches are free. But it might not always be that way. Remember New Jersey!

Mike Leidemann's columns appear Thursdays and Saturdays in The Advertiser. He can be reached by phone 525-5460 or e-mail mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.