Some of the pieces of equipment which will be used to clear submerged debris from Barnegat Bay are already in place and will begin operations soon, officials said.
But work to dredge the waterway may not begin until after the unofficial start of summer.
The equipment was starting to line up in northern Barnegat Bay last week, said Chris Nelson, Mantoloking borough's special counsel for storm cleanup. Nelson said state officials told him dredging portion of a state contract with CrowderGulf - the company responsible for cleaning up the bay north of Barnegat Inlet - includes two feet of dredging up the bulkheads.
But that portion of the project may not begin until June, since that is how long it could potentially take for all of the submerged debris to be removed - a step which has to be completed before dredging can begin, said Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna.
"Right now, the key concern is making sure the waterway is safe for boaters," said Hajna. "They're beginning work this week on removing debris. Our goal is to have a significant portion of the debris removed by early June."
At that point, the dredging of channels - as well as other areas, such as sandbars formed during Superstorm Sandy - can begin.
"The dredging is going to come a little bit later," said Hajna.
According to a state contract, CrowderGulf - and in the southern portion of the bay, AshBritt Inc. - will use cranes and other pieces of heavy equipment on construction barges to remove items detected on the bay floor. Those items include everything from sunken boats to pieces of buildings washed away by the storm.
Just north of the Mantoloking Bridge, an entire house still sits in shallow water next to a small, uninhabited island.
"The first priority is to get the hard debris out of there, and once that area is safe, we'll begin assessing plans for dredging," said Hajna.
If dredge work must be done on major channels to keep them open, that work could be accelerated, he said.
The state cleanup contract also includes the removal of debris from marshlands, though crews will be focusing on large pieces of debris such as boats, vehicles or other similarly sized items. The contract does not include privately owned marshlands or marshlands that are part of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, as those areas come under federal purview.
While there is no way to know with complete certainty how long the cleanup effort will take, Hajna said restrictions on boating in some areas of the bay could be on the table this season.
State officials will work with the New Jersey State Police and U.S. Coast Guard to determine if access should be restricted in certain areas.