[133 NJSuper Page 249] This case involves the complex and oft-times perplexing issue of title to lands in the meadowlands. Appellants have challenged respondent's mapping procedure of title to meadowlands as depicted on the respondent's maps.
Appellants now move for partial summary judgment. They ask this court to find as a matter of law that both respondent's use of the "hatched" area legend and its failure to designate which, if any, of the prior riparian grants it recognizes as valid on the maps promulgated, filed and published pursuant to N.J.S.A. 13:1B-13.1 et seq. violate the letter and spirit of that statute.*fn1
These maps represent the most recent attempt by the State to properly manage the riparian assets of the school fund trust. Since 1894 (see L. 1894, c. 71) riparian lands have been designated as trust assets for the support of public schools. See, e.g., N.J. Const. (1844), Art. IV, § III, par. 6; N.J. Const. (1947), Art. VIII, § IV, par. 2; N.J.S.A. 18A:56-5 ("All lands belonging to this state now or formerly lying under water are dedicated to the support of public schools * * *")
Thus, the State, as represented by respondent Council, has a solemn duty to preserve these assets. However, it cannot act in a manner which violates the more fundamental duties of a sovereign to act reasonably and in a manner which least harms its citizens.
The past record of administration has been at best uneven. Compare L. 1851, p. 335 (Wharf Act), with L. 1869, c. 383, § 3; L. 1891, c. 124; see generally, New Jersey
Legislature Joint Study Commission on Riparian Lands, Report and Recommendations, 7-9 (1963).
After years of confusion, uncertainty and severe hardship to meadowland owners, the New Jersey Supreme Court, in O'Neill v. State Highway Department, 50 N.J. 307 (1967) established a new, clearer definition of what the State could claim as riparian lands. The court held (at 324) that all lands now or formerly flowed by the mean high tide are riparian lands. This definition is incorporated in the statute, see N.J.S.A. 13:1B-13.3. The court also suggested to the State that
The Legislature responded to this suggestion by passing L. 1968, c. 404; N.J.S.A. 13:1B-13.1 et seq. The pertinent statutory sections provide:
The council [respondent] is hereby directed to undertake title studies and surveys of the meadowlands throughout the State and to determine and certify those lands which it finds are State owned lands. [ N.J.S.A. 13:1B-13.2]
Upon completion of each separate study and survey, the council shall publish a map portraying the results of its study and clearly indicating those lands designated by the council as State-owned lands. [ N.J.S.A. 13:1B-13.4]
Pursuant to these statutory directions and others (see N.J.S.A. 13:1B-13.3), respondent on January 14, 1970 published a two-part map, more commonly known as the "grey and white" map.*fn2
In an earlier case, State v. Council in the Division of Resource Development, (Docket L-12561-68, September 8,
1971), this court found that this map was not prepared in accordance with the statute, particularly N.J.S.A. 13:1B-13.3, and ordered it suppressed. Though another part of that order was modified on appeal, see State v. Council, 60 N.J. 199 (1972), the suppression of the map was not appealed by respondent. Subsequently, respondent compiled pertinent data for the publication of new maps. On July 10, 1973 it approved and published seven base maps and overlays. By the end of the procedural history (as developed below), respondent had approved and published 36 maps which encompassed all of the Hackensack Meadowlands.
The root cause of the vexing and concededly difficult problems in this case lies buried in man-made acts of direct imposition of fill, etc., which artificially changed the physical characteristics of areas of the meadowlands. On the maps the meadowlands are characterized as either upland (areas above mean high water), or riparian (areas now or formerly below mean high water), or "hatched" (areas of filled meadow adjacent to virgin meadow, indicating a probable claim that the filled area was probably once tide-flowed to approximately the same extent, percentage-wise, as are adjacent, unfilled meadows at the present time). Though each category should logically and mutually exclude the other, the last one ("hatched") does not. Rather, it means that a portion of the land so labeled might at some time have been flowed by mean high tide. "Hatching" thus represents a possible claim by the State to some or all of those lands. It is a legend suggesting mixed ownership. It most certainly is not a claim clearly indicating ownership; it is, rather, an equivocation.
Respondent used a comparative, quantitative, analytical procedure in determining whether an area should bear the legend "hatched." The "hatching" procedure, described below, was used to determine the riparian "claim" only on a filled meadowland ...