Future dredging the Shark River is looking as uncertain as ever although for the first time all agencies involved will be sitting down together to discuss a solution.
Neptune Township Committeeman Randy Bishop, who has been a major and vocal supporter of the dredging, said the issue has been approached to the state Department of Transportation and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“And for the first time we are all sitting together and looking for possibilities as one group,” he said this week.
In a joint Jan. 15 press release, state Sen. Jennifer Beck, Freeholder Thomas A. Arnone, and Bishop said that funding for the project and a means to dewater dredge materials have apparently been resolved with state officials. They said that they will announce plans later this year that will result in the environmentally-beleaguered Shark River getting dredged.
Some local residents and environmentalists said they believe the press release was based on using a Wall Township site as a dewatering base when the local governing body there has not approved it.
Bishop said “it was never true” that the joint press release implied using the Wall site for dewatering dredge spoils.
“The Wall site was certainly considered but any long-term site needs to have three viable components: economic, ecological and political agreements,” Bishop said. “The problem is we have never been able to satisfy all three, including at the Wall site.”
Bishop said the press release was issued to “let people know we are still working on it.”
“Many people see the issue of dredging as so straight forward and, on the surface, it is but, in reality, there are so many aspects of the process than the simple act of dredging the river,” he said. “As things occur we will be telling people. As they change or progress the public will be informed.”
Bishop said the dredging of the Shark River should be a “bipartisan issue, regardless of political affiliation.”
And John Dempsey, who is with the Friends of Shark River, a division of the Shark River Cleanup Coalition, said he agrees.
“We need the DEP and DOT working with us- not against us. They know the river is dying and we hope they have a multistep plan to bring the whole river back. But the state, county and towns need to work together. We need to invest some money to build a living shoreline and protect the communities. And it all starts with a site large enough to temporally dewater the mud,” he said.
Dempsey said the DOT did a study in 2006 and found that the Wall site is the best and most economical site for the dewatering.
“We need to find out the real reason why Wall will not cooperate and who is objecting. I was told (by DEP officials) that if Wall consents, the river will get dredged soon,” he said.
Advocates for dredging the Shark River said they want local, county and state officials to put pressure on Wall to use a proposed 18-acre dredge dewatering site in the township, near the old U.S. Army Camp Evans site, even if it means using the power of eminent domain.
But Wall officials have been steadfast in opposition to having the dewatering site within their borders.
Assemblyman Sean Kean, who is also the Wall Township attorney, said Wall officials have raised alternatives sites to state officials but with no feedback from the state.
“Ultimately I feel this is a local issue and governed by the local governing body,” he said.
Kean said that it also appears that no river channels in Wall will be dredged under the project either.
“So this is not befitting Wall because these are no state channels here. I think it is a detriment to Wall right now and the negatives outweigh the benefits for a variety of reasons,” he said.
He also said that Wall officials are concerned that the river site could be permanently determined to be a state-designated dewatering site.
Kean said he would support looking into ocean dumping as an option.
Ocean dumping is an option but it is a difficult permitting process.
“But the reason I understand this is not happening is because the granular size in the spoils does not meet (federal standards). But nobody has ever explained to me why this is not the thing to do,” Kean said.
Kean also said that sections of Route 35, especially near Maclearie Park on the Shark River in Belmar, are being undermined by the river and that some spoils could be used to fix that problem.
“Just look at it- you could build a walkway from Belmar to Wall by building up a bulkhead that is not there now. We need to look at different options,” he said.
Wall Mayor George K. Newberry said the idea of creating a bulkhead area along the river between Belmar and Wall has been kicked around for several years and that other uses for dredge materials along the river may also be an option.
“I agree that is would be an excellent idea to create a pedestrian walkway along the river from Wall to near the Belmar inlet,” he said.
But the mayor said there may be some environmental concerns. He added that the proposed dewatering site in Wall is also close to a bald eagle breeding area that is heavily regulated by the federal government.
“We hear about all of these (dredging) possibilities but nobody from the state has ever come out and said here is the plan and this is how it will be done. It’s always a little fuzzy and somebody needs to say how this will be done. So I am going to sit back and wait for some type of directive and see what happens in the future,” he said.
If the Shark River remains filled in, then it will become dead with little or no marine life, according to environmentalists. An 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, except for federal navigational channels, and it borders five municipalities in Monmouth County: Wall, Neptune, Neptune City, Avon and Belmar.