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Shark River Dredging Saved from TTF Shutdown

Posted on August 1, 2016

By Susanne Cervenka,

The Shark River dredging project that was stalled by the gas tax impasse will resume “any day” now after state officials realized they risked losing an undisclosed amount of federal funding for the work, a Monmouth County freeholder said.

The news assuages local concerns that the state-level standoff over the Transportation Trust Fund would unravel a tenuous deal local officials spent nearly 20 years trying to move forward.

“Tenacity works,” said Monmouth County Freeholder Director Tom Arnone, who has spent much of his public career pushing for the dredging project.

The concern over the project ramped up so much that officials behind the project announced a press conference Wednesday morning to demand work resume — before abruptly canceling the event and referring all questions to the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

“All I can tell you is you have faith in all of us. Please continue that faith in all of us. That’s all I can ask of you,” Arnone said.

Wednesday evening, Arnone and DOT announced the project would move forward. Had the project stalled, they said, it would otherwise lose Federal Emergency Management Agency funding that had been awarded in connection with superstorm Sandy.

The $7.6 million project was fully funded through the state Transportation Trust Fund, but is eligible to have $3 million to $4 million of the costs reimbursed through FEMA, DOT spokesman Kevin Israel said.

Arnone said he agreed to cancel the press conference after DOT officials assured him the project’s restart was imminent.

Arnone has been fighting for the river to be dredged for nearly 20 years, first as a Neptune City councilman and mayor before continuing the push as a freeholder.

He, along with Neptune Councilman Randy Bishop and state Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, made a breakthrough last spring when the trio announced NJDOT gave them a timeline to remove more than 100,000 cubic yards of silt from the river’s navigational channels.

Monmouth County and towns surrounding the river paid nearly $2 million — about a quarter of the project’s overall $7.6 million cost — after the state asked them to have “skin in the game.”

Yet, the project was still among the hundreds of projects New Jersey Department of Transportation put on hold in the wake of the impasse between lawmakers and Gov. Chris Christie over how to hike the state’s gas tax and replenish the Transportation Trust Fund.

Arnone said he began looking closer at the FEMA project funding after the contractor, Mobile Dredging and Pumping Co. of Chester, Pennsylvania, spoke about removing its equipment from the site to work on its other projects until the TTF shutdown ended.

But demobilizing from the project ultimately could have killed it. Federal environmental regulations only allow dredging to happen from July 1 to Dec. 31 because of fish spawning.

And one of the sites to be used for drying the silt — the Belmar Marina parking lot — is only available this year because it’s already undergoing construction with the $6 million restaurant that Chef’s International is building. That site won’t be available next summer once the construction is complete.

Had the dredging delay past this year, officials will once again be facing one of the same dilemmas that stymied the project for years: where to dry the muck that contractors pull from the river.

But Arnone said once he realized the FEMA time constraint, that soon became the more pressing issue moving the project forward.


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