By DON STINE
The estimated number of dead fish removed from the Shark River after a massive fish kill about one month ago has risen from 500,000 to as many as 800,000 fish.
Neptune Business Administrator Vito Gadaleta said this week that revised fish kill numbers came from the Monmouth County Reclamation Center in Tinton Falls where the fish were dumped
Gadaleta said that about 310 tons of fish were weighed in at the landfill facility, with fish ranging in weight from three-quarters of a pound to a pound each.
“From these weight measurements it was determined that about 700,000 to 800,000 fish were brought to the landfill,” he said.
Trucks from several towns surrounding the Shark River and other county and state agencies were used to transport the dead fish over a one-week clean-up period.
In the early morning hours of Monday, May 12, hundreds of thousands of fish, including many menhaden, or bunker, were found floating dead in the Shark River. State biologists originally estimated the number of dead fish, which apparently died to oxygen depletion in the water, at about 500,000.
The massive fish kill has brought forth a public outcry for the state to get moving on the Shark River dredge project, which has been under review for years and state Department of Transportation funding may be available for the project. The Shark River was last dredged in 1980 and it borders five municipalities in Monmouth County.
“This was a large, regional issue that affected all of the five towns along the Shark River’s shoreline,” Gadaleta said.
Workers from local and the county public works departments worked on the cleanup. The state Department of Environmental Protection provided a private contractor with a skimmer boat and one boat was also brought in from the Lake Hopatcong Commission.
Helicopters provided by the New Jersey State Police and the DEP helped monitor the clean-up by determining the scope of the cleanup in certain areas and directing resources to the proper areas.
The state Department of Corrections and the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office provided about 100 inmates a day for one week to assist in the clean-up efforts.
“It was a cooperative effort and everybody went above and beyond. It was cleaned up in a week and I hope we never see anything like this again,” Gadaleta said.
He said possible reimbursement of costs is being examined by the county and state Office of Emergency Management.
“The township also paid for crane services to place boats into the river. We are also still determining costs for manpower, fuel and equipment and are still pursuing possible reimbursement,” he said.
Neptune Chief Financial Officer Michael Bascom said the exact cost for the clean-up is still being determined but he estimates tipped fees at the landfill alone are estimated at about $29,500
“We are working on these calculations right now and expect to meet with local, county and state representatives on July 2 to talk about costs and possible reimbursement.
“The county has not charged anyone fees yet but they kept a record of who dumped what,” he said.
Meanwhile, discussions on dredging the river continue. Former Neptune Mayor Thomas Catley urges legislators to put pressure on Wall Township to acquire a site through eminent domain.
When the 18-acre dewatering site was presented to Wall officials by the DEP more than a decade ago, they said they did not want the site used due to truck traffic, odor and aesthetic concerns.
Wall Mayor Clinton C. Hoffman said he was told by a state DEP official that the site in his township is too environmentally sensitive to be used to dewater dredge materials.
He said that on June 2, 2009 Suzanne Dietrick, Chief of the DEP’s Office of Dredging and Sediment Technology, met with him in Wall to discuss the matter.
Genevieve Clifton, program manager at the DOT’s Office of Maritime Resources, was also a participant through a telephone link.
“The site is environmentally sensitive as far as the DEP is concerned,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman said the site was used for a dredge project previously but that was more than 75 years ago.
“And nobody in the DEP said the recent fish kill was caused because the river wasn’t dredged. Just read the DEP report. (The fish kill) was an unusual situation but everybody’s just grasping on to this to now to get the recreational channels dredged. This site is too environmentally sensitive and the residents of Wall do not want it used as a dewatering site,” he said.
Hoffman said he doesn’t know that much about ocean dumping but he said it could be a viable alternative and should be explored.
But Bill Sciarappa, who is a natural resource professor at Rutgers University, said that “it doesn’t make any sense” for the DEP to rule the 18-acre site too environmentally sensitive, especially since it is covered with phragmite, a reed-like invasive plant that chokes out other vegetation and wildlife.
“(Phragmites) do not allow salt-marsh plants and upland shrubs to grow. They cut out nesting for birds and habitat for crabs and bait fish. Habitat diversity drops 60 percent or more when phragmite are on the land,” he said.
He said other invasive plant species are now coming into the Shark River because the bay is not dredged and use of the site will kill off the phragmites. Plus, the river needs to be dredged.
“This will affect oxygen levels in river. The river needs to be deeper so certain types of algae (that can deplete oxygen) can’t proliferate,” he said.
Sciarappa said that nobody lives very close to the proposed Wall dewatering site and that the state should use its power of eminent domain to acquire it.
“Eminent domain should be used to seize the site and then pay Wall for it. The risks are minimal compared to the benefits. We are between a rock and a hard place and that site needs to be used and then we could improve its habitat so much more,” he said.
Neptune Township Committeeman Randy Bishop spearheaded a 2008 effort that filed a lawsuit against the DEP alleging the agency abandoned its responsibility to dredge a body of water vital to commerce and recreation in the area.
The lawsuit was the first of its kind in New Jersey. Bishop said the court agreed that the state is responsible to dredge the river but that there is no way to force the state to proceed.
“We get to a certain point and then we get set back to square one again. It’s very frustrating because everyone agrees the river needs to be dredged and the channels opened but it seems people keep focusing on what can’t be done and not on what can be done,” he said.
And ocean dumping is a viable option although there are people and groups that oppose it, Bishop said.
“I believe ocean dumping is absolutely the right answer but I understand there are environmental concerns. I believe we must rationally balance the effect of dumping sediment in the ocean against allowing the river to completely silt up,” he said.
Bishop said he believes shallow conditions in the river exacerbated the recent fish kill and that nutrients flowing into the river also create a problem. He added that dredging only to the railroad bridge won’t do much to help the rest of the river.
“And the river will fill in again until it’s allowed to find its natural bed,” he said.
But, no matter how hard it is to do, the Shark River still needs to be dredged- and soon.
“It needs to be done and we need to understand that some regulations and rules may have to be adapted to make this project occur. Because, if we don’t, the life of the river is simply over and large fish kills will probably continue to happen. We need a new approach to a multi-pronged problem,” he said.
This is the third in a continuing series about the future of Shark River. Subscribe to THE COASTER below to follow the entire series. Select features will be posted here.