Need Grows for Marsh Disposal of Dredged Materials

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Posted January 22, 2019

Ocean City has been a leader in addressing the backlog of dredging necessary to keep Jersey Shore marinas and channels functional for the state’s boating and waterfront community. That’s crucial to the shore’s character and economy.

It hasn’t been easy, and once again the city is facing a roadblock to its good work, this time from a fellow Cape May County municipality.

Ocean City long has been willing to bear much of the cost of dredging itself and to streamline private investment by marinas and other properties. But for more than three decades it has been hard pressed to get state approval to put dredged material anywhere.

In the 1980s the state declined to let Ocean City deposit 100,000 cubic yards of silt on an island the state was using for the same purpose. A few years ago the city had to spend $2.7 million to have 50,000 cubic yards of dredged material hauled away by truck.

That was a small piece of what was needed. The head of the city’s dredging program at the time said a backlog of 760,000 cubic yards of silt had built up since the state restricted its disposal, with another 60,000 cubic yards added every year.

Ocean City pushed forward, last year pledging to spend $20 million through 2021 to unclog its back bays. The state Department of Environmental Protection issued it a citywide dredge permit, first ever for a N.J. municipality. And a more accurate mapping of flounder protections also allowed dredging during three winter months, a crucial period free from summer’s busy tourism.

The plan was to temporarily place dredged material at two city sites — at 34th Street and at Route 52 — and then transfer it by truck to permanent disposal sites on the mainland. Last month, Middle Township officials rejected a local sand mine’s proposal to accept and recycle the material.

The Cape Mining and Recycling plan was about as good as it’s likely to get for interior disposal of dredgings. The material would have been tested and met state standards for residential use, assuring it was safe for human contact. It would have been combined with other material for uses such as residential construction, dirt for sod farms or to cap landfills.

But the residents nearest to the Cape Mining site started objecting in July to the prospect of 75 dump trucks a day on local streets. There was also some concern that the DEP had temporarily closed the company’s similar site in Lower Township in 2017 over the placement and height of material there.

The neighbor’s fears about harm to groundwater and local wells are unfounded, but their concerns about increased traffic and noise are quite legitimate. Township Committee members went further, suggesting that the historic acceptance of dredged material in the municipality should end.

That’s their decision to make, and it’s hard to blame them. Cape Mining might be the only business in town directly harmed by such a ban, and the township was only in line to receive $150,000 under the company’s material recycling proposal. The township attorney suggested conditions such as an increased buffer between the site and residential properties but they weren’t enough to satisfy the committeemen.

This probably means that, once again, Ocean City and other barrier island municipalities are headed back to square one on dredge material disposal.

The ray of sunshine in this gloomy scenario is that 2019 is the year that the DEP is due to conclude a three-year test of the best hope for disposal — taking dredged material out of back bays and spraying it directly on the adjacent and vast salt marshes.

Officials have been exploring this option since 2014, and since 2016 the process has been deployed on a 44-acre patch of marsh behind Avalon.

The early reports were promising, with existing holes in the deteriorating marsh filling in, native vegetation growing through the sprayed material, and wildlife continuing to use the marsh.

Since much silt in the back bays comes from the marshes, which are sinking and contributing to flooding, it makes sense to put it back. From the start, the process promised to be beneficial to the salt marshes and the barrier island communities, and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official said restoring the marshes with the material makes much more sense than building little mountains with it.

Add another beneficiary now — the residents of mainland communities who don’t want dredged material trucked into and out of their neighborhoods.

We hope the DEP concludes its marsh-spraying research and delivers this promising technology soon to all of these worthy stakeholders.

Source: Our View