An issue with the environmental permitting for the construction of a Garden State Parkway bridge over Great Egg Harbor Bay has been resolved with only a minor delay to the project, officials said Friday.
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s chief engineer said Tuesday that a disagreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection could stall the project, but officials met Thursday and proposed a solution that should push the work back a month.
The Turnpike Authority now plans to award a contract for the project at its March 26 meeting.
“We were hoping to award a contract in February, but that would have required there being no issue with the permit. So we knew that was an aggressive schedule,” authority spokesman Tom Feeney said.
The agency that controls the parkway is building a new southbound span between Somers Point and Upper Township, which it expects to be complete in 2016. To make up for natural land it disturbs, the authority needs to restore or improve other natural land near the construction area.
Most of the environmental regulations will be satisfied when the authority demolishes the adjacent Beesleys Point Bridge, which has sat closed since 2004, and returns the wetlands around it to an undisturbed state.
According to the DEP, though, that work will not do enough to meet stormwater regulations: There is hardly any polluted runoff on the Beesleys Point Bridge now that no cars travel over it, so removing the bridge should make little difference.
That runs counter to the authority’s proposal.
“It’s just a matter of interpretation,” Feeney said.
On Thursday, the authority proposed creating drainage swales on the sides of the parkway to catch runoff. The DEP has not formally approved that solution, but the parties have reached an understanding that it would likely meet the standards.
“This is not like something where there are insurmountable issues, like an endangered species sitting on a lot and we can’t move it,” DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said.
Turnpike Authority Chief Engineer Richard Raczynski brought up concerns about the situation Tuesday after the authority’s board meeting.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said he received a number of phone calls from stakeholders about the potential delay and discussed it with DEP Commissioner Bob Martin and Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson.
“This project is not stalled. It will move forward. DEP will be issuing its permits in February,” Van Drew said. “It was really a nonsensical situation.”
The seriousness of the issue may have become overblown because of other recent issues with the authority’s projects, such as tree removal for the parkway’s expansion and remediation holdups with the removal of the highway’s three traffic lights in Middle Township.
“We don’t want to get into the same frustrations with this project that we saw with the traffic lights,” he said.
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