LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The view from Jeffrey Dawson’s property included dozens of ducks and other water birds on a scenic pond until someone removed part of an earthen dike on state-owned land about three weeks ago.
Now that pond — part of Ballanger Creek that separates the township from its neighbor Bass River Township — has drained and is a muddy, smelly mess.
Dawson, 46, said Bass River Township workers told him they took out a section of the berm to lower the water on the pond at the request of Bass River residents. But they could not show him state permits for the work, he said.
Bass River Township Mayor Deborah Buzby-Cope has not responded to calls for comment.
Bass River State Forest Superintendent Cynthia Coritz and other state officials met with Buzby-Cope on Tuesday to discuss the situation and visit the site, said state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna.
Bass River Township is taking full responsibility for fixing the dyke and is working with the state’s Bureau of Dam Safety for guidance on how to restore it, said Hajna.
Dawson and his neighbors on Old Ice House Road are worried about their property values.
“There is no water going through there anymore,” said Dawson.
The water drained into a pond farther east, then under Route 9, where the creek (spelled Ballinger on some maps) continues. The waterway is also the boundary between Ocean and Burlington counties.
To the east of Route 9, the creek passes through Bass River State Forest’s Ballanger Creek Habitat Enhancement Site, then into the Mullica River.
The pond is known locally as Roberts Pond, for the family that once owned hundreds of acres in the area.
Dawson’s uncle, William S. Roberts, 59, said his family bought about 300 acres around the ponds after World War II, and they were popular places to ice skate in the winter when he was a kid.
Beavers have been in the pond but did not create the berms, he said.
Roberts and Dawson showed a state conservation officer the damage on Monday.
Another Old Ice House Road neighbor, Pat Chambers, said her husband first noticed the water level was getting low a few weeks ago. They both thought it was because of the state’s drought.
“Then just before Thanksgiving, he was saying, ‘Pat, it’s gone’,” she said.
The pond had been home to a lot of wildlife, and a place where bald eagles hunted.
“The bald eagle was out out here today, searching for food, and then took off,” Chambers said. She said she and her husband had used the pond for kayaking and canoeing, and skating in winter.
“It’s beautiful — peaceful, like a sanctuary,” said the former science teacher. “My deck backs right up to it. We used to sit on the deck and look. Wood ducks and mallards would come right up on the property to be fed.”
Turtles, including big snapping turtles, would lay eggs in her garden, she said.
“It’s an extensive wildlife area. To see what’s happening really upsets me,” Chambers said.
Dawson said an Atlantic white cedar swamp at the edge of his property has also been drained. It would normally hold about two feet of water, he said.
He wants Bass River Township to restore the berm so the pond can recharge and said it must be done soon.
“It’s got to happen before spring. We can’t let the vegetation get hold or we’ll lose the pond,” said Dawson.