By DON STINE
An ordinance putting funding in place for a $1.2 million project to install a bulkhead along sections of the Shark River in the Shark River Hills area was tabled by the Neptune Township Committee this week.
The ordinance would have approved accepting an $835,529 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to pay for much of the project, with the remaining $346,245 funded through a bond ordinance.
The public hearing was on Monday and area residents, including members of the Shark River Cleanup Coalition, said a bulkhead along S. Riverside Drive would change the aesthetics and biology of the shoreline. Many said they use the area for boating, fishing and walking dogs and that a bulkhead would interfere with all of that.
Others said that bulkheads are outdated concepts that can have a negative impact on the river’s ecosystem.
Resident Kira Lang said many residents would like to see the river’s shoreline restored to what is was a longtime ago before bulkheads.
“The tide will not be held back by walls. Flooding will always happen and water will always find a path,” she said.
She called the bulkhead plan “a short-sighted solution to a long-term concern.”
Many residents said they would like to see a living shoreline created instead of bulkheads.
A “living shoreline” is a term used to define a number of shoreline protection options that allow for natural coastal processes through the strategic placement of plants, stone, sand fill, and other structural and organic materials.
“If anything other than a living shoreline is considered, then I do not approve of the project,” resident Stephanie Sayers said.
Township Business Administrator Vito D. Gadaleta said previously that a proposal to create a living shoreline was submitted to state Department of Environmental Protect (DEP) officials but that the agency turned it down. He said state officials are concerned about storm damage to nearby roads and sewer systems.
He said protecting private property is part of the plan but that protecting the township’s infrastructure, such as storm and sanitary drains and lines and roadways, are also a priority.
“Our public infrastructure continues to erode,” he said.
Resident Bill Burdge said he disagrees with many people voicing concerns against the bulkhead, pointing out that if, or when, S. Riverside Drive is one day washed away, they may regret it.
“We need a bulkhead now,” he said.
Township officials said that the current ordinance is to just provide the funding only and that no consultant or formal designs have been put in place.
“I am seeing valid concerns here but cannot respond to them because it is still too premature. Accepting the grant doesn’t mean we are going to build a wall. We are going to get different opinions and have a professional come up with what is best for Neptune,” Mayor Michael Brantley said.
Township officials said that the plan may include a mixture of bulkheads and a living shoreline.
After lengthy debate on the issue, the governing body decided to table the ordinance and have another public meeting on the matter. Township officials said they probably have about 60 to 90 days to make a decision if they will accept the grant money.
“I am hoping we can use the Shark River Hills fire department for the meeting and have it with the next 30 days,” Gadaleta said.
“We can reassess the grant if it is not what the township wants. There is the opportunity for public input throughout the entire process,” he said.