Six months after signed the into law, state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin today said the key accomplishments include the nation’s most stringent fertilizer application law and possibly sending $44 million, earmarked in pending legislation, out to 100 bay improvement projects.
Martin, in a news conference held in Toms River Municipal Hall, told an audience filled with media, government officials and environmentalists that the work has just begun on the 10 points identified in the action plan.
Some of the hurdles to reversing the polluted bay and its tributaries are the speed of passing legislation, the complex research to properly identify problems and the coordination of multiple agencies.
However, Martin said much legislation has already been passed, millions in grants were awarded, and acres are preserved, all in hopes of turning the tide on a nitrogen-overloaded body of water, the Barnegat Bay.
“We are six month’s out. Our plan is to give you an update every six months,” Martin said. “This plan will not sit on a shelf.”
The 10 points the plan is addressing: Oyster Creek, stormwater mitigation, nitrogen fertlizer, soil health, land preservation, a special area management plan, water quality standards, public education, comprehensive research, and the impact of boat and other water crafts.
Martin and local officials admitted the problem was complex. But the DEP commissioner peppered his speech with thanks to mayors, local officials and the county freeholders for their efforts in the wake of the plan’s adoption six months ago as projects are rolled out.
“We prioritize based on the impact the project will have, but also the willingness of towns to step forward,” Martin said. “Mayors, towns, the freeholders are doing a wonderful job with that willingness.”
Questions from the public asked for more specifics on the broad issues the 10-point plan includes. Among the issues asked: How can I get my neighbors to stop using improper fertilizer controls? Is the state register of streams that feed into the Barnegat Bay complete? What can be done about jet skiers in the marshland?
Criticisms of Event
Questions taken from the audience on written notecards were handed to moderator Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher, for answering by Martin or the slate of DEP professionals also attending the 45-minute event.
The format was questioned afterward by Willie deCamp, head of the Save Barnegat Bay environmental nonprofit organization.
"The Department screened the questions and refused to listen to comments from the public. That is arrogant and inaccessible government, and Barnegat Bay is going to suffer for it,” deCamp said in a prepared statement.
He had hoped the plan would include a focus on air pollution and its impact on the Barnegat Bay area.
“The Governor's 10 points are silent on air pollution. Save Barnegat Bay came to the event wanting to constructively and interactively address that fatal flaw. But the Commissioner refused to interact," deCamp said.
Compiling Data, Crafting Solutions
Toms River Township Planner Jay Lynch said that six months in, the presentation was clearly about initial steps, as opposed to seeing immediate effects in Barnegat Bay.
“Any change will happen long term,” Lynch said. “What I am most curious about is how they are going to decipher how the action correlates to a result. There is a lot going on in the bay, based on where you measure, at what time of year, time of tide, what is flowing into the bay at that spot.”
Calculating all the specific data and factoring out certain elements – man-made versus natural pollution such as pollen – is a tremendous task in itself, Lynch said.
However, Lynch said the Barnegat Bay he remembers as a teen is not the same body of water it is now, and that helps put the long-term process into perspective.
“I remember 50 years ago the issue was you couldn’t swim because of sewage issues,” Lynch said. “Now the issue is the effects of nitrogren.”
He added that the bay’s importance to tourism, and as a complex ecosystem, means he is glad to see the state’s attention to the bay problems.
Freeholder Heralds State Attention to Bay
Ocean County Freeholder Joseph Vicari, who spoke briefly before Martin took public questions, heralded the DEP administration’s efforts and coordination with county offices.
“They know us by name, know our department heads by name,” Vicari said. “They are at our Freeholder meetings… I can say the Barnegat Bay estuary programs are at the top of his list of priorities.”
Vicari also said it’s easy to point at the quick development of Ocean County that’s happened over the last 50 years as a main reason behind the current state of Barnegat Bay.
“We can’t turn the clock back to 1950 and say look at all the development that went on. It is what it is, the population has increased substantially,” Vicari said. “The people here now are putting money where it needs to be. They have figured out a way of getting things done.”
Vicari said he’s hopeful the current plan will create a better Barnegat Bay, but over the long-term.
“We can’t change it immediately,” he said.
Brick Mayor Stephen Acropolis, also the director of the Toms River Municipal Utilities Authority, spoke to Patch about the impact for the town of Brick and the water of Toms River, saying that both have taken immediate steps he feels will produce results to improve Barnegat Bay.
“The Toms River MUA is relining pipes, improving the infrastructure, all things that can improve the quality of the bay,” Acropolis said.
Brick has preserved 3,000 acres, whether by purchase by the town, county, state or federal preservation efforts, said Acropolis. He said that is 1/5 of the entire land mass of the township, and it should help counter development that may be choking the bay.
One thing he’d like to see is grants to local government to help police the waterfront from polluters or folks operating water craft in no wake zones.
“The commissioner brought up that he hopes to hire state police or conservation officers. Why not just do it like we do the Cops in Shops or Click-it And Ticket programs? The police of Bay Head, et cetera already have marine officers, why not get some grants to add hours for this purpose?”
Toms River Mayor Kelaher said he was also hopeful of things such as adopting model ordinances as Toms River did, to outline the accepted level of fertilizers allowed.
However, Kelaher also admitted the problems of Barnegat Bay are incredibly complex, and determining the answers will come with a monetary cost.
“A lot of this has to do with funding,” Kelaher said. “How do you determine what’s best for every lagoon, every catch basin, that’s a monumental task. I don’t know if there will ever be enough funding to collect it. The costs would be horrendous and at this time, there is no money.”
Martin also said the next phases of the action plan need to ramp up research, as well as public education. The task of compiling the data is extensive, he said.
“The work has not been fully coordinated. This has led to gaps in our data,” Martin said.
What’s next for the action plan?
A big step forward will come if the legislation dishing out $44 million for 90 stormwater projects is approved this week. Letters of intent from local government promising to complete improvements were accepted earlier this year.
On the fertilizer front, the state will not allow the application of any fertilizer that is not 20 percent slow-release nitrogen or better, and zero percent phosphorous, starting January 2013.
Martin also said identifying land for preservation under the Green Acres program, on top of acres added to the Double Trouble State Park and Wells Mills preservation area, is a priority going forward.
A map of the bottom of the bay has yet to be completed, as does additional meetings of some of the stakeholders such as the Barnegat Bay Ambient Monitoring Partnership, one of the entities formed by the 10-point plan.