In Mays Landing, a decaying old barge along the Great Egg Harbor River is either a historic remnant or a hazard to navigation.
But now some on the west side of the river in Weymouth Township are concerned that Hurricane Sandy turned the vessel into a hazard for swimmers and passing boats.
"It was assembled with old creosoted planks, and they are all held together with steel rods," said resident Dominick Messina, who lives directly across the river from it. "They are all falling into the river."
Some on the east side, in Hamilton Township, take a different view.
"I never heard a complaint about it," said Hamilton Township Mayor Amy Gatto, a sentiment echoed by Township Administrator Mike Jacobs.
"I've only heard things about how cool it is for motorists to be able to pass by and see it," Gatto said. "It's just a part of the history, as far as I'm aware."
It is unclear exactly how old the barge is, and stories vary as to how it wound up on a muddy bank of the river off Old River Road in Mays Landing.
Gatto, 31, a lifelong township resident, said she understood the barge once transported Civil War-era munitions.
Jay Seigfried, the owner of Mays Landing Marina, said he had been told the barge broke free from moorings near the Beesleys Point Generating Station during the March Storm of 1962. He said it washed upstream to its current location, where it has since decayed.
Elmer Ripley, 85, a longtime member of the Hamilton Township Historical Society, said at some point in the 1940s, Mervin Wescoat towed the barge from Wescoat's Atlantic City marine construction facility to here, where he had a relationship with a previous owner.
Wescoat, 86, of Ocala, Fla., could not be reached for comment.
Regardless of its origin, Messina said the barge has decayed over the decades, and the problem has grown more serious since Sandy in October. Messina said the storm wreaked havoc with the decaying vessel, spilling pieces of rotten wood into the waterway.
The barge is not a marked hazard on any recent Great Egg Harbor nautical charts.
Earlier this year, a boater hit a piece of barge wood, Seigfried said, putting a hole in the bottom and damaging the propeller drive shaft. He said he wasn't sure whether the boater hit the barge or a piece that had drifted free.
The barge is on the shores of an industrial property on the 200 block of Old River Road in Hamilton.
Property records show the tract was formerly owned by the state affiliate of Buffalo Molded Plastics Inc. The land was deeded to Robert B. Johnson Sr. and Peterson Brickwork in 1979.
Johnson died in July 2002, and his son, Robert J. Johnson Jr., eventually acquired the whole parcel by 2007 for $297,000. Johnson Jr. did not return calls seeking comment.
Messina said he has asked for help from the state Department of Environmental Protection, Hamilton Township, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local officials, to no avail. More recently, he said he and his wife were turned down when he asked officials whether they could use money set aside for Sandy debris removal.
The prevailing attitude, he said, was nothing could be done until someone is blamed.
Messina and his wife, Amelia, the former mayor of Weymouth, have wanted the barge removed for years.
Fred Akers, president of the Great Egg Harbor Watershed Association, said the Messinas contacted the association about it in 2003. Akers said the DEP told the association it needed to hire a historical consultant to survey the wreck before it could proceed.
"It's ludicrous," Akers said. "It's not a historical artifact of significance." The nonprofit stopped, unable to afford the consultant.
With no resolution and little chance for removal, it seems the decaying barge will remain in place. In the meantime, boaters may want to keep an eye open for floating debris.
Seigfried said a Coast Guard official asked him whether he had seen any damage after Sandy. He mentioned the barge but said he was told the Coast Guard was only clearing material out of marked channels.
"I know I'm not taking my boat out there, Seigfried said, "I know that."
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