The next part of a Barnegat Bay cleanup will focus on developing a standard to reduce nutrients going into the bay’s unhealthiest areas.
Gov. Chris Christie announced the start of Phase Two at a press conference Wednesday in Toms River, saying the first phase kept the healthier southern part of the bay from degrading while improving conditions in the stressed northern third.
New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said he’s glad the governor is finally accepting development of a Total Maximum Daily Load standard, after blocking legislation to create one in the past. It would reduce pollution by setting limits on pollutants, he said.
“Christie will finally have his legacy on Barnegat Bay. Unfortunately, it’s eight years late,” Tittel said. “Better late than never ... It’s the next administration who will actually write and carry out the plan.”
Christie also said the state has promoted construction of new natural gas plants and controversial natural gas pipelines in part so the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Lacey Township can shut down in 2019.
The closing will eliminate a major risk factor for polluting the bay, he said, calling it part of the Phase One ten-point plan.
“It’s the oldest nuclear power plant in America. When you have a plant like Oyster Creek getting old, you’ve got to be smart about that. You don’t wait for a bad thing to happen,” said Christie.
Clean Water Action’s New Jersey campaign director, David Pringle, said Christie can’t take credit for Oyster Creek’s closing.
“Oyster Creek is shutting down, but that’s due to economics and public safety, not politics, and overdevelopment continues to be the unabated major cause of Barnegat Bay’s degradation. Everything else in his 10-point plan was relatively small potatoes,” Pringle said.
Barnegat Bay runs 42 miles along Ocean County between the mainland and barrier islands, from the Point Pleasant Canal in the north to Little Egg Harbor Inlet in the south.
“Its northern third has been most affected by changes in land use,” Christie said, with more intense development causing more pollution and runoff to enter the bay.
Calling the bay a jewel of the state, Christie said Ocean County alone contributed $4.6 billion in tourism dollars in 2016, of which $600 million was spent on recreational activities, many of which utilize the bay.
Phase Two will include spending about $10 million in loans and $10 million in grants to improve the quality of the bay, according to the DEP report “Barnegat Bay Restoration, Enhancement and Protection Strategy: Moving Science into Action.”
Funding for the projects is coming from natural resource damage settlements, the state’s Corporation Business Tax, the State Revolving Fund for infrastructure improvements, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and other sources, according to the DEP.
The Christie Administration launched Phase One of the cleanup in 2010. Since then Green Acres funding has preserved about 3,800 acres in the watershed, and the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust and its partners have preserved another 7,800 acres, according to Christie.
The state spent $24 million in grants and loans for local stormwater improvement projects and $4 million in grants for water quality restoration projects during Phase One, and enacted a strong law controlling formulation and application of fertilizers, according to DEP. It also established a fresh and marine water monitoring system.
“This is some of the most comprehensive research on a single estuary,” Christie said.