The future of the Shark River will probably be determined on Mon., March 10 by the Monmouth County Board of Recreation Commissioners, which will vote on moving approvals forward on a controversial 16-acre dewatering site for the proposed river dredging project.
Proponents and opponents of the project attended the recreation commissioner’s meeting on Feb. 24 at Thompson Park in Lincroft. Another meeting, also at the park, will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 10 when a vote will be taken on moving the recommendation to use a dewatering site in Neptune on to the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders for approval.
If approved, the Freeholders would then submit an application to the state Department of Green Acres to temporarily remove the dewatering site from the state’s open space inventory.
A proposal calls for diverting 16 acres of Green Acres property for use as a site to dewater dredge spoils from the Shark River before they are transported to a permanent dump site. The property is on the river’s edge at the county’s Shark River Park, off Old Corlies Avenue.
Plans call for the dried spoils to be taken to both township and county landfills.
Neptune has 16 acres of land, near Route 66 and Jumping Brook Road, which would be swapped as part of the compensation for using the riverside Green Acres tract
A state Green Acres Scoping Hearing about the dewatering site was recently held locally and the issue has moved on to review by the county Board of Recreation Commissioners.
Neptune Township Committeeman Randy Bishop, who attended Monday’s meeting along with Committeeman Eric Houghtaling, said the process is moving forward, hopefully with the end result getting the river dredged.
“I am hopeful that we get a positive vote and start the process. Truly, this is our last-best chance to move forward dredging these channels. And this is only the start of the process,” he said.
“There will still be many other opportunities for public comment and to get questions answered,” he said.
State Sen. Jennifer Beck said that about $3 to $5 million in state Department of Transportation funding may available for the project. The Shark River was last dredged in 1980 and it borders five municipalities in Monmouth County.
According to the Monmouth County Economic Development Office, the Shark River’s 23-mile shoreline generates $59 million annually into the state’s economy.
Beck said that temporarily removing the dewatering site from the state Green Acres inventory would allow 2.5 years for the project to be completed.
Beck said she supports creating the dewatering site and hopes that the project moves forward.
“People have been talking about dredging the river for a long time and we finally have an opportunity to do that,” she said.
Beck also points out that this is probably the last opportunity to have the Shark River dredged.
“If this fails it will become silted-in wetlands and no longer be a river. So, this is it- one last shot and I am hopeful,” she said.
Beck said that the state Department of Environmental Protection would oversee the project if it moves forward and that other testing, including for any contaminants, would be done.
“But, based on preliminary testing, the spoils are fine and comply. But more extensive testing would be done,” she said.
Russ Harmstead, who lives on Hawthorne Street near the dewatering site, said he and others not only question the dewatering site but also feel the public is not being adequately informed about public hearings, like the one held on Monday.
“I would like to see more transparency in all of this and everybody should be aware of these meetings so they can be prepared. I feel we are being railroaded already,” he said.
Harmstead said that those opposed to the dewatering site will continue to attend meetings and, if they can’t stop the project, they at least want to be sure the proper safeguards and checks are in place to protect the safety of nearby residents and the public.
“I still have a lot of questions that are unanswered and I will continue my opposition at future meetings until I feel all of the safeguards are in place,” he said.
Harmstead said he wants somebody to step forward and tell the public who is ultimately responsible for handling contamination in the spoils if it does show up.
“This project should not be allowed to go forward until these responsibilities have been assigned. If we don’t make sure who’s responsible first then how do we know who to go to if problems come up? There needs to be measures in place so we know who to go to,” he said.
Residents living near the proposed dewatering site said they already have the Neptune Township sewerage plant and a bus and truck storage site nearby. They said they are concerned about odor, possible contaminants, noise, lowered property values, and the environmental impact.
Efforts to dredge the river have been stymied for about 19 years, partially because an adequate site to dewater dredge spoils has not been approved by the DEP, although six other sites have been under review.
The original dredging study, conducted 10 years ago, estimated that about 1.5 million cubic yards of material would have to be removed to restore the entire river. The project was never fully funded but $1 million was being held in escrow by the DOT to help fund it, with only navigation channels receiving top priority.
However, the DOT grant money is no longer available and the scope of the project is now to remove 100,000 cubic yards of material from navigation channels only, with 70,000 cubic yards of old sediment and sand removed and 30,000 cubic yards of deposits from Superstorm Sandy.
Without dredging, environmentalists say the Shark River will become “a dead river” with little or no marine life.
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