Our Economy Depends on Our Beaches
No one can deny the significant economic impact of our state's beaches: New Jersey's tourism industry is a $38 billion industry, supporting a half million jobs in communities along the 127 miles of state coastline. As the slowing national economy continues to hurt working families, place a strain on seasonal small businesses, and affect local revenues, our beaches continue to be an attractive alternative for individuals and families who are looking for inexpensive yet enjoyable day-trips and extended vacations. The importance of our beaches - and the health and safety of residents and visitors - is something we must constantly promote and vigorously protect.
It is because of my strong belief and support for our beaches that I have fought the Clinton and Bush Administrations at every turn to ensure South Jersey's coastal communities received the beach replenishment funding - more than $170 million so far - that they desperately needed. It is also for this reason I remain opposed to the drilling for oil and natural gas off New Jersey's coasts and was pleased that the House of Representatives recently approved my legislation to ensure the public is notified if a sewer overflow occurs on our beaches and in our waterways.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates approximately 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage enter our waterways each year, sickening nearly 3.5 million people annually. Under the legislation introduced by Representative Tim Bishop (NY-01) and myself, sewage plant operators would have to notify public health officials and the general public of overflows that endanger human health and report to the state or EPA on all overflows. While common-sense in theory, this bipartisan legislation is a critical tool to ensure our beaches and waterways - and those who enjoy them - are protected.
In addition to the cleanliness and safety of our beaches, visitors to the South Jersey Shore have come to expect a diversity of activities and events to entertain their families and fill their days. Ecotourism is a growing industry in our region, already bringing in $500 million annually in Cape May County. From week-long camps for children and young adults that examine marine life and ecosystems to the expanding Bird Sanctuary in Stone Harbor and day trips to the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, there is an ever-growing demand for interactive and educational alternatives. The increased demand provides new business opportunities which helps to create new local jobs and additional local tax revenues.
Earlier this year, more than sixty of the state's beaches were put to the public to choose which would be the state's top beach destination. After nearly 15,000 votes, Cape May County's own coastal community of Wildwood captured the top honor: New Jersey's "Best Beach." In fact, seven of the top ten beaches in the state were located in South Jersey, with Wildwood Crest being specifically highlighted as the "Best Family Vacation" destination. I, along with the countless residents of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, have long known how clean, safe and convenient our beaches are: we should all encourage our family and friends to use the remaining weeks of summer to explore and enjoy once again the South Jersey Shore.