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All Quiet on the Regulatory Front – DEP Sits on Sidelines While Barnegat Bay is Dying


With Barnegat Bay’s survival in question, action demanded


Friday, July 31, 2009


It’s choked by invasive aquatic weeds, infested with jellyfish and devoid of clams and oysters that used to support an entire shellfish industry.

The Barnegat Bay, which separates mainland Ocean County from a barrier island of seashore towns, has been the subject of numerous studies, all pointing to the slow death of a fragile ecosystem over the last two decades. …

As commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection last year, Lisa Jackson publicly stressed the need to restrict the levels of nitrogen in lawn fertilizers that wash into the bay after rainstorms. Nitrogen promotes the excessive growth of algae and other plants, and deprives water of oxygen for native marine life, a condition known as eutrophication.

Bill Wolfe, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said neither Jackson — who now heads the federal Environmental Protection Agency — nor her interim replacement, acting Commissioner Mark Mauriello, has addressed the nitrogen issue” [click for story]

Tim Dillingham of American Littoral Society explains why the Bay is dying:IMG_8350

Barnegat Bay nearing point of no return

August 14, 2009 7:07AM


Barnegat Bay is nearing the brink of ecological death.

The Bay is an environmental treasure that has been struggling to survive pollution created by decades of overdevelopment and a failure of local and state government to protect it. Unchecked sprawl development, ill-considered use of fertilizers and polluted runoff are the principle villains. Additionally, the Oyster Creek nuclear generating station uses and heats billions of gallons of Bay water every day, killing marine life in the process.

The Bay has lost its ability to provide a healthy, robust habitat for shellfish and other living creatures that rely on clean waters. The Bay is also unable to provide for our recreational enjoyment as it did in so many childhoods because it has now become home to stinging sea nettles and harmful algae blooms — thriving because of the pollution.

One of the crown jewels of the Jersey Shore, the Bay supports a $3.5 billion dollar economy built on crabbing, fishing, swimming, boating, waterfront property values, a robust rental market and breathtaking views. It is a premiere eco-tourist destination and its jobs and revenue-generating power are inextricably linked to its ecological health” [full Op-Ed here]

While Tim did a nice job describing the problems in the Bay, he failed to identify solutions and hold officials accountable for the decline of the Bay’s health. There are plenty of things that can be done right now to stem the decline and move towards restoring the health of the bay.

In an article prior to the recent joint Senate and Assembly oversight hearing on the Bay, Kirk Moore of the Asbury Park Press identified key measures, mostly associated with enforcing standards and limiting pollution from nitrogen, a nutrient that accelerates eutrophication:

Lack of fertilizer rules likely a key issue at hearing

Senate Environment Committee to address Barnegat Bay water


LACEY – Delayed action on cleaning up Barnegat Bay with fertilizer controls and a new state standard for nitrogen in surface waters are likely to be a focal point when the state Senate Environment Committee holds a public hearing here Thursday. …

The environmental group Save Barnegat Bay still is trying to get traction for its model ordinance for controlling use of lawn fertilizer, considered one of the larger sources of nitrogen emissions to the bay through storm water runoff. Nitrogen compounds in the bay act just as they do in fertilizer on land, fueling blooms of algae that scientists say are tilting the bay’s ecosystem at a basic level, to the detriment of native species like clams and eelgrass. …

“The DEP could do a lot more to help,” said Bill Wolfe, an activist and former DEP employee who worked for years on water quality issues. “DEP could have a model ordinance and offer technical advice” to spare municipal governments the cost of research and implementing fertilizer controls, he said.

Wolfe also takes the state agency to task for failing to deliver on a new nitrogen standard to protect the bay that was backed by former DEP commissioner Lisa Jackson before she left to take on the job of Environmental Protection Agency administrator for the Obama administration.

“If DEP had a (nitrogen) standard, they could pull the trigger and mandate local action,” Wolfe said [click for article]

DEP is responsible for protecting the Bay, which is of statewide and national significance. But for years that have sat on the sidelines, not developed or enfored standards to protect the Bay, and rubber stamped development permits that have paved the way to ecological collapse.

The problems have finally drawn the attention of the Legislature. On July 30, a joint hearing was held by the Senate and Assembly environment committees. I attended the hearing and prepared testimony that focused on 10 things DEP could do right bnow to imrove the Bay’s condtions.

 DEP Deputy Commissioner testifies to the joint Senate and Assembly hearing on the health of Barnegat Bay -

DEP Deputy Commissioner testifies to the joint Senate and Assembly hearing on the health of Barnegat Bay –

I was deeply disappointed by DEP Deputy Commissioner John  Watson’s 25 minute power point presentation. Watson completely ignored DEP’s responsibilities and failed to note tools DEP could rapidly deploy to stem water quality problems. The DEP “Action Plan” Watson presented amounted to a pack of band aids cynically offered to create the misleading appearance that they are doing something.

If DEP were serious about protecting the bay, they would: 

1) adopt enforceable nitrogen standards and enforce nitrogen BMPs in regulatory programs;
2) classify all streams draining to the bay as “Category One’ waters, which provide 300 foot wide protected naturally vegetated buffers;
3) enforce cumulative impact standards in the CAFRA coastal permit program to limit the growth of addition soil/vegetation disturbance and new impervious surfaces, pollution sources and water withdrawals;
4) mandate cooling towers at Oyster Creek;
5) adopt the Ocean County Soil Conservation Service study recommendations on soil compaction and modify “TR 55″ manual to force builders to change site construction and storm water management practices;
6) mandate water conservation measures and cap current water withdrawals;
7) provide technical and financial assistance to Towns;
8 ) enforce the Clean Water Act’s “TMDL” program.


Yes, polluters and developers are pleased that DEP was silent – All’s Quiet on the Regulatory Front – despite the fact that just last summer DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson held a pres conference and made commitments to take regulatory actions, particularly to develop nitrogen standards and controls (nitrogen is the pollutant ht is driving the eutrophication that is killing the bay).

When DEP can not even talk about real solutions that involve enforcement of DEP regulations, adopting the findings of DEP scientists, and restricting development, something is terribly wrong.

DEP has totally abdicated its responsibility.

That should be an outrage to all New Jeresyeans.

Oh, before closing, about that 800 pound gorilla in the hearing room. You can’t make this stuff up.

The joint Legislative hearing was held in the district of Assemblyman Van Pelt, who just days before had been criminally indicted for taking bribes.

Van Pelt had been a member of the Assembly Environment Committee.

Van Pelt was indicted for agreeing to pressure DEP to issue CAFRA and wetlands permits. He bragged that he had successfully secured DEP permits and that “DEP works for me” and that he “knew the right guys” at DEP to “work the system”. Unlike Mr. Watson of DEP, Van Pelt sure didn’t hesitate to focus on specific DEP permit actions.

Shockingly, despite the fact that Van Pelt had used his legislative oversight power as a member of the Environment Committee in a criminal way, Committee Chairman John McKeon was silent.

Despite the fact that DEP was cast in an extremely negative light in the indictments, DEP Deputty Commissioner Jay Watson was silent.

McKeon and Watson’s cowardly silence spoke volumes.

  1. March 21st, 2010 at 03:06 | #1

    Bill, Nice site, you offer a great deal of information. Bill do you think they will ever build the cooling towers at Oyster creek or Salem? It looks like a losing battle to me. I believe they have contributed to the severely depleted weakfish population. Do you think success could be found through mitigation? Have them pay for fish hatcheries for weakfish,clam seed, habitat improvement, ect..

  2. March 21st, 2010 at 07:27 | #2

    Thanks Ken – enjoyed our site too – My sense is that the DEP will not issue the final cooling tower permit. Christie and Bob Martin support cost benefit analysis, which will be used as the excuse to kill the permit and thy will create another stakeholder process on the Bay. I don’t think mitigation can work with the scale of aquatic life impacts the facility is having on the Bay – that’s like shoveling sand with a a fork.

  1. August 13th, 2010 at 11:47 | #1
  2. October 13th, 2010 at 12:52 | #2
  3. June 28th, 2011 at 11:31 | #3
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