Beck: Federal and State Agencies Haven’t Approved Drying Sites
Governor Chris Christie told his Town Hall gathering in Belmar yesterday afternoon that the dredging of Shark River is being held up because the municipalities along the river and Monmouth County can not agree on a destination for the dredge spoils to be dumped.
The issue has gathered increased public attention in recent months due to a massive fish kill in the river last May. 310 tons of dead fish were removed from the shoreline of the estuary that feeds into the Atlantic through the inlet between Belmar and Avon-by-the-Sea and extents 11 miles through Neptune and Wall Townships.
In answering a question from a man who identified himself as Bob from Wall, Christie said that he supports the dredging, fought for money from FEMA to pay for the dredging and would impose a solution on the county and municipalities if he had the authority to do so. He said he had been briefed on the issue three weeks ago.
Maybe the Governor remembered a briefing from a different dredging project when answering Bob’s question.
Both the Monmouth County and Neptune landfills are willing to take the dredge spoils, according to Senator Jennifer Beck. The river hasn’t been dredged, Beck said in a phone interview last night, because over the last two decades various federal and state agencies have rejected every proposed location for the dredged materials to dry before being moved to their final disposal site.
Beck, who has been working on a solution to the problem since the region became part of her legislative district three years ago, said that 100,000 cubic yards have accumulated in the river over the last two decades, 30,000 cubic yards as a result of Superstorm Sandy. The materials must be dried close to the river rather than being moved while wet to the landfill where they will eventually be dumped. Drying sites have been rejected by the Army Corp of Engineers, National Marine Fisheries, the NJ Department of Transportation and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection for various environmental, historical or fiscal reasons.
Arrowheads were found on one location. Other locations were rejected because of nesting bald eagles, turtles and fluke spawning. A recent county owned property was rejected because the cost of hydraulically pumping the material was outrageous.
Beck said that other sites are being examined and other options, like barging the material to another area or dumping it in the ocean are being evaluated. The material has been tested and has been found not to contain dangerous levels of toxins.
Beck said that Christie’s support and dedication of funds for the project “is huge.” The funding to dredge the 30,000 cubic yards in material that resulted from Superstorm Sandy has been secured. The funding to dredge the other 70,000 cubic yards has been dedicated from State funds through the Department of Transportation.
Beck said that once the dredging is finally done, that she will propose maintenance dredging every five years. The 20,000 cubic yards that would accumulate in that period would be much easier and less expensive to manage.
Monmouth County Freeholder Tom Arnone echoed Beck’s information. “I’ve been working on this issue for many years both from when I was mayor of Neptune City and as a freeholder,” Arnone said. “We’ve proposed numerous sites with the agreement of local parties, only be to rejected by federal and state agencies for various reasons.”
“We are very appreciative of the Governor securing the funding for the dredge. We would welcome any help in identifying an acceptable site and getting it approved through the bureaucracy.”
Christie spokesperson Michael Drewniak did not respond to an email requesting a clarification on Christie’s remarks about dredging Shark River.
Christie would vote “Yes” on Belmar bonding referendum
In other Monmouth County specific news, Christie announced to the feisty crowd of several hundred gathered at the the Huisman Gazebo that he would vote “Yes” in the August 19 special election referendum to authorize Belmar bonding $7,000,000 to rebuild the Taylor Pavilion at the Fifth Avenue beach and the safety pavilion at the 10th Avenue beach if he was a Belmar resident.
The Mayor and Council of Belmar approved a bond ordinance for the $7,000,000 on May 6. A petition signed by 364 people, 336 of whom were certified to be Belmar voters, requesting the Ordinance be put to referendum was submitted to the governing body on May 27, triggering the special election.
Opponents of the bonding want the Borough to rebuild the pavilions for the approximately $4.4 million available from FEMA and insurance. If the referendum is approved and the pavilions rebuilt as proposed, the $4.4 million in FEMA and insurance funds would go to repay the bonds, leaving Belmar property tax payers on the hook for $2.6 million.
Thomas Burke of Belmar asked Christie if he had studied the costs associated with the proposed rebuilding. The Governor said he had looked at the issue in preparation for coming to Belmar and determined that if he had a vote he would vote yes. “But you’re not down 1 to nothing, ” Christie quipped to Burke, “because I don’t have a vote.” Christie said he respected the opposition to the bonding. Both he and Burke urged Belmar residents to study the issue prior to voting.
No Pain No Gain, Bail Reform
Christie billed the Town Hall as part of his Jersey Shore No Pain, No Gain tour to rally public support for pension reforms he will propose in the fall. Instead, the Governor started the gathering with a brief talk on his proposed constitutional amendment on bail reform. If resolution authorizing a statewide referendum on the amendment is approved by the legislature today and approved by New Jersey voters on November 4, State Judges will have more discretion to deny bail to defendants accused of violent crimes and those accused of non-violent offenses would have more affordable options to for being released from incarceration pending their trials. Christie will address a Special Session of the Legislation at noon today to urge them to approve the resolution so that it can be on the ballot this November.
But retirees and union members at the Town Hall wanted to talk about pensions. Teachers from the Freehold Regional district adorned in blue t-shirts and CWA members in red demonstrated their opposition to Christie reducing pension payouts.
In an 10 minute exchange with a retiree, Christie assured Jean Toher of Asbury Park that there was $80 billion in the pension fund and that her pension, and those of current retirees would not be altered. “Let me ask you a question,” Christie asked Toher. “Make sure that we get those benefits that were promised,” Toher replied.
“I cannot make the assurance to every person that’s in the system that they will get the benefits that they were promised,” Christie said. “Folks want to believe that just because they gave them some happy talk that the problem didn’t exist, but the problem did exist.”
Christie said the pension system was underfunded because previous governors did not make the states payments to the pension system and did not charge government employees high enough contributions to the system. “No amount of taxation will fix this problem,” the Governor said.
Christie also took questions on medical marijuana and fracking.
One resident who said he was a former Hudson County Freeholder, urge the Governor to reinstate the old vehicle inspection system. “You’re in the minority,” Christie said. The Governor said the reduced inspections have been a cost savings and have not resulted in increased motor vehicle accidents due to mechanical failures.