A Year Into Christie's Bay Plan, Praise and Criticism
Officials tout progress, activists say more should be done
Praise and criticism for Gov. Chris Christie's ten point plan to revitalize Barnegat Bay came from many of the same people Thursday, as state officials touted historic measures to restore the estuary and local activists said even more should be done.
It's been about a year since Christie announced his plan, which includes measures ranging from an early closure of the Oyster Creek Generating Station to lawn fertilizer regulations. Since then, the state has committed millions of dollars and plenty of attention to the matter, said state DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, who gave a one-year update on the plan at the Joseph A. Citta Scout Reservation in Waretown.
So far, Martin said, work on the plan has included reaching a deal with Exelon Nuclear to shutter the Oyster Creek Generating Station in Forked River 10 years early; passing one of the nation's most strict laws on fertilizer content; committing more than $100 million over next ten years through grants and loans that will go to stormwater runoff management; preserving 3,000 acres of land in the watershed from development; launching 10 scientific studies on the bay; and setting up 27 water monitoring locations in Ocean County.
What's In Store?
Martin said another $2.8 million has been dedicated to preserving an additional 1,400 acres of land in 2012. The state's goal is 30,000 total acres saved.
Additional plans for 2012 include another Barnegat Bay Blitz cleanup day on May 9, and the debut of new soil compaction plans for builders which should be ready next summer.
Also, a certification process for landscapers, which is included in the fertilizer regulation law, will be completed by the summer. The DEP is also working with each of the towns in the bay's watershed to come up with consistent planning policies which will keep the bay's revitalization in mind.
Additionally, Martin said, the state will hold public hearings on Oyster Creek's closure plans in late January or early February.
Martin said the DEP will continue the push to make all of the efforts to restore the bay a long-term commitment.
"We're not gonna back off," Martin said. "We're going to make sure we get the proper funding in Trenton."
"We want to set a mechanism in place that will last years after this administration," Martin added.
Suggestions to Reach Further
Willie deCamp, the longtime president of Save Barnegat Bay, lauded the Christie administration for putting "much more emphasis on Barnegat Bay than any other administration I've experienced," but said the plan doesn't address one major factor: air pollution.
"The number one source of nitrogen into Barnegat Bay comes from burning fossil fuels," said deCamp. "We just feel very strongly that it should be made an 11 point plan."
Martin said the administration has helped improve air quality by issuing an edict that there will be no more coal plants built in New Jersey, and taking legal action against coal plants in Pennsylvania whose emissions waft across into the Garden State.
Helen Henderson of the American Littoral Society said she was concerned over when a DEP operating permit for Oyster Creek would be issued, and if there could be any change to the agreed-upon date, which is by the start of 2019. Martin said an administrative order compels Exelon to close the plant by then, and a permit would be issued by the end of 2011 without any additional restrictions.
There was also some talk of shellfish in the bay. Dave Moore, from the ReClam the Bay organization, said the state should be making it easier for people to raise oysters in the waterway.
"The growth of the oysters are just incredible in the bay," Moore said. "There's a lot of the bay that's much more suitable for oyster growth than for clams. It seems to me that if we could encourage the propagation of oysters in Barnegat Bay, they could do what they did years ago … each oyster filters 50 gallons per day."
Moore said anyone who wants to raise oysters needs a state coastal development permit as well as a federal Army Corps of Engineers permit. Martin said he'd look into the matter.
Brick Township Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis praised the plan, but said his main concern is over enforcement of environmental and boating regulations on the bay. He called on the DEP to help local communities form shared services agreements and put more police officers on the water.
"Even though we have boats, it's difficult to put people in those boats, especially on the weekend," Acropolis said.
Martin said the agency was developing a plan to increase enforcement.
"Before we come forward with a plan, we're going to make sure we have an enforcement component in it," said Martin.
Some of the aspects of the plan, and its funding, are already coming to fruition. Ocean County Freeholder Gerry Little said the county has already solicited bids for eight sewer retrofits that will filter more than 8,000 pounds – about four tons – of nitrogen out of stormwater which now runs off into the bay.
"The protection of our bay is vital not only to our county, but to our entire state," Little said.