By Freeholder Director Tom Arnone
I think Mother Nature is surely playing tricks on us. Last week at this time we were still digging out from one of the biggest blizzards in years. Some of our towns reported nearly two feet accumulation and more in certain areas with snowdrifts piling on several additional inches. Fast forward to this week, and we are enjoying spring like temperatures. Whatever weather Mother Nature brings us, Monmouth County is always prepared to handle it. Our crews were out round the clock, preparing ahead of Jonas by pretreating and brining all of the county roads, and of course keeping up throughout the storm with plowing and snow removal. We even assisted several municipalities in keeping up with the accumulations as we are always partners in providing services when requested.
Speaking of shared services, a few weeks ago we kicked off phase II of the Wreck Pond Restoration Project in Spring Lake, a huge shared service partnership comprising all levels of government and non-profit partners working together to improve the environment. The safety of residents and their property is a priority for all of us. We look forward to returning Wreck Pond to the healthy, natural environment it once was, and anticipate increased fish passage between the ocean and the pond in addition to pristine water quality.
Congressman Chris Smith, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, Assemblyman Dave Rible, Arnone, Freeholders Serena DiMaso and Gary Rich, Spring Lake Mayor Jennifer Naughton, U.S. Fish and Wildlife field supervisor Eric Schrading and American Littoral Society Executive Director Tim Dillingham gathered in the cold on January 19th, to commemorate the progress of the project that is coming to fruition after more than a decade of advocacy, study and planning.
Phase I of the $7.84 million project, the dredging of the pond by the Monmouth County Department of Department of Public Works and Engineering started in July and was recently completed. The construction will begin on an outfall system that will improve tidal ocean flows into the lake while providing protection to surrounding neighborhoods from flooding. Work will also begin on other significant ecological enhancements, including creation of ecosystems using dredged materials and native plants. Phase II work will be completed by March 15, to make way for the piping plover breeding season.
This has been a team effort from start to finish with myself, my Freeholders, local officials, Congressman Chris Smith, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, American Littoral Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Congressman Smith has been working on the restoration of the pond since 2005, when he secured authorization for the project from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Since then, Smith has secured almost $6 million in federal funding for this project to provide ongoing assistance to mitigate the flood damage done by storms. In addition, Spring Lake contributed $915,000 to the cost of the project.
Wreck Pond is a 73 acre coastal tidal pond in southern Monmouth County that is surrounded by Wall Township, Spring Lake Heights, Spring Lake and Sea Girt. It is the center of an over 12 square mile watershed that has long been subject to flooding and water quality problems.
Historically, Wreck Pond had a natural inlet; however, in the 1930’s the inlet was filled in, and a pipe was installed to connect the lake to the ocean. Over time, the restricted tidal flow caused by the pipe, coupled with impacts from increased development, led to a number of environmental issues within the watershed including erosion, impaired water quality, flooding, and reduced fish populations.
I am very pleased to announce our newest initiative, Grown in Monmouth under our Grow Monmouth program umbrella. This project will focus on promoting the wonderful agricultural products produced right here in Monmouth County. This is another way the County aims to help local and small businesses.
Last week we hosted a program kick-off at Rutgers Research Center where over 90 attendees heard from me and Freeholder Burry as well as the Grown in Monmouth project team. The project team consists of staff from the County’s Division of Economic Development, Division of Planning, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Monmouth County and the firm of Spinelli and Pinto Consulting, LLC.
The Grown in Monmouth initiative centers on the rich agriculture of Monmouth County and how essential it is to our way of life. We have some of the best produce in the world right here in Monmouth County and endorsing these products on a larger scale is long overdue.
The first objective of the project will be to create an inventory of all available agricultural products produced in the rural sections of the county. Then, an analysis will be conducted of the food supply and distribution chain to identify their needs and challenges. Once completed, strategies will be developed to help overcome those challenges.
An important part of this project will be to conduct research to gain a comprehensive understanding of not only the needs of the County’s agricultural industry, but also the needs of local and regional buyers in order to develop a strategy to foster successful business relationships. Long-term goals include identifying new business opportunities as part of a marketing plan that will strive to develop an awareness and preference of buying local by both consumers and institutional users.
In the fall of 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture awarded the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders a Rural Business Enterprise Grant to assess the rural agricultural industry in Monmouth County, evaluate current trends and future opportunities to expand the industry, and to develop a marketing strategy to promote and market local agricultural products.
The Freeholders and Grown in Monmouth project team will also participate in the Feb. 26 annual Vegetable Growers Association Conference held by Rutgers University at the County’s Agricultural building located at 4000 Kozloski Rd. in Freehold. For more information please visit: www.GrowninMonmouth.com or contact the Division of Economic Development at 732-431-7470.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks on some exciting news regarding the budget and tax relief! As always, thank you for your support and I hope you continue to enjoy everything our beautiful county has to offer.