Almost one year after Hurricane Sandy left a 22-mile trail of debris in the tidal marshes and woodlands of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, a multimillion-dollar contract will help clean up and restore the area.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has awarded a contract to Coastal Environment Group Inc., of New York, to do the work, which is expected to begin in the next several weeks, refuge Manager Virginia Rettig said.

Crews are surveying the area and the debris before work begins, Rettig said.

Biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with independent project inspectors, will advise the contractor throughout the project. This is being done because the marshes at the refuge cover a 22-mile stretch of coast and are full of tall grasses and other visual impediments.

Neither the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nor the contractor has any way of knowing how much debris there is until they've done a good bit of recon, Fish and Wildlife spokesman Thomas Sturm said. The cleanup process is being monitored, managed and funded incrementally, Sturm stated.

The debris field that the contractor will handle on the refuge includes large piles that contain roofs, docks, boats, household chemicals and drums that may contain contaminants, among many other items.

To minimize damage to the marshes, some debris will be removed using tracked vehicles, while other debris will be removed by boats and specialized watercraft.

The initial contract awarded to Coastal Environment Group has a base value of just less than $4 million. Sturm said the contract is divided into three phases or line items, one of which has been awarded for $2.1 million and two more that are options with a total ceiling of $3.9 million. The options may or may not be exercised, depending on how the work is going and how much it is expected to cost, Sturm said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service received nearly

$65 million in federal emergency funding for projects at national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries that were damaged during Hurricane Sandy last year.

The Forsythe contract is being paid according to "time and materials," essentially hourly labor plus equipment costs.

During the first phase of the cleanup, if the government feels it is in its best interest, the Fish and Wildlife Service may pursue other options to complete the remaining two phases, such as a fixed-price contract that could go to Coastal, to another contractor in the region or even out to bid, Sturm wrote in an email.

The contract was divided into three parts to ensure U.S. Fish and Wildlife oversight of the ongoing cleanup process and allow the agency to evaluate it in stages and adjust its response accordingly, he added.

"Forsythe refuge's marshes buffered inland areas from the full brunt of Hurricane Sandy," Rettig said. "Nature is our best defense against future storms, and we will clean and restore this vibrant and resilient stretch of coast to sustain wildlife and protect the people of New Jersey in the future."

Coastal Environment Group Inc. is a small, minority-owned business that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated has a proven record of working with the federal government on major environmental projects, such as the response to Hurricane Katrina and remediation at Superfund sites. So far this year, the company has worked on a post-Sandy debris removal project at Fire Island, N.Y.

"Coastal is committed to providing jobs and supporting businesses in the local area. We are in the process of hiring local personnel to staff our work crews," said Clint Whitton, the company's project manager for the debris cleanup.

The cleanup at Forsythe will begin in northern Ocean County in Brick Township and move south toward Stafford and Eagleswood townships, where the bulk of the debris is located. It will continue through project zones in Ocean, Burlington and Atlantic counties and is expected to be done by spring.

In April, the Wildlife Drive section of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Galloway Township reopened after work was completed to repair damage to the 8-mile drive after Hurricane Sandy.

Contact Donna Weaver:

609-226-9198

@DonnaKWeaver on Twitter

To learn more

For more information about Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts at national wildlife refuges, visit www.fws.gov/hurricane/sandy