Three local legislators said last week that they will announce plans later this year that will result in the environmentally-beleaguered Shark River getting dredged.
In a joint Jan. 15 press release, state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth), Freeholder Thomas A. Arnone and Neptune Township Committeeman Randy Bishop said that funding for the project and a means to dewater dredge materials have apparently been resolved with state officials.
“2015 will prove to be the year we see movement on the Shark River dredging project,” Beck said in the statement, which did not elaborate on the plan.facts. “I have been successful in securing a commitment from the state to fund this project, but the lack of a temporary drying site stopped progress.”
She said that working with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Transportation (DOT) agencies over the course of 2014, the three legislators believe they have resolved the dredging issue successfully.
Beck said that more concrete information on the project will be “rolled out this year.”
“This is a project that has been much needed, but stalled for the better part of two decades because of issues with finding a suitable temporary drying site,” Arnone, a former Neptune City mayor, said.
“With cooperation from the state, we believe that an equitable solution for all parties is on the horizon and the project will begin to move forward,” he said.
Neptune Committeeman Randy Bishop concurs.
“It has been a long wait but, with the help of the County and State administrations, we have been able to come up with outside-of-the-box solutions to help this project finally take shape. It is a very exciting time for residents who enjoy the Shark River- and a long-time coming,” he said.
Efforts to dredge the Shark River have been stymied for about 20 years, partially because an adequate site to dewater dredge materials along the river has not been approved by the DEP, although seven sites have been under review.
Ocean dumping is another option but it is a difficult permitting process, requiring federal U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, and other approvals. Ocean dumping is widely used in some other countries but sparingly in the United States.
If the river remains filled in, then it will become dead with little or no marine life, according to environmentalists. The original dredging study, conducted more than 10 years ago, estimated that about 1.5 million cubic yards of material would have to be removed to restore the entire Shark River.
The river was last dredged in 1980 and it borders five municipalities in Monmouth County: Wall, Neptune, Neptune City, Avon and Belmar.
In the early morning hours of May 12, 2014, 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 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 with DOT funding drying up.
According to the Monmouth County Economic Development Office, the Shark River’s 23-mile shoreline generates $59 million annually into the state’s economy.