It's a complicated problem.

Almost 20 years ago, an independent government commission that no longer exists changed the tidal flow near some sparsely populated Delaware Bay communities in Cape May County to combat that scourge of South Jersey summers - the mosquito. The idea was to let saltwater flow in with the tide to destroy the habitat of the cattail mosquito, a particularly nasty breed that thrives in freshwater.

But part of the experimental project - a dike that would contain the saltwater - was never constructed. As a result, high tides bring saltwater not just into the marshes near Schellenger's Creek and Green Creek, but into backyards in the Del Haven section of Middle Township. The saltwater kills trees, gardens and lawns, and it has left homeowners searching for a solution, and trying to figure out which government agency is responsible for all this.

The Cape May County Mosquito Control Commission, which excavated the creek channels near Norbury's Landing in 1994 with permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, no longer exists. It was replaced by the county Department of Mosquito Control.

Any effort to fix the problem - by building an earthen dike or installing floodgates, for example - would likely involve the county, the Army Corps, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, since the area abuts the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge.

And those agencies each have different priorities.

Assistant Cape May County Counsel James Arsenault summed it up to Press staff writer Richard Degener this way: "There's a lot of moving pieces and pieces that may not move in the same direction."

Add to that the fact that the homeowners and trailer park residents of the Delaware Bay coast are not exactly politically well-connected. (It is difficult to imagine that saltwater flooding would be allowed to persist in the state's wealthier backyards.)

So, yeah, it's complicated. But at its heart, it's pretty simple.

A government agency caused the problem. Government needs to fix it.

This problem - along with the predictable interdepartment buck-passing and finger-pointing that accompany it - is precisely the kind of thing that could benefit from the new attitude toward government service promised by Gov. Chris Christie. The DEP, in particular, has undertaken a mission to cut regulatory red tape when it makes sense, as it clearly does in this case.

All of the involved agencies here should get together to figure out how to correct this unintended consequence of a well-intentioned project.


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