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How South Jersey tests ocean water quality

ATLANTIC CITY — Technicians were busy testing water samples from Atlantic County ocean and bay beaches at a laboratory here Monday, looking for signs of bacterial contamination.

If a beach’s water sample is too high for Enterococcus, a bacterium found in the digestive tracts of animals, an advisory is put out on the beach and new samples collected. If it remains high two days in a row, the beach is closed, said Atlantic County Utilities Authority Laboratory Director Michael Gille.

Since water quality problems usually happen after big rain events, it wasn’t surprising when 47 Jersey Shore beaches tested positive after sampling June 11, and advisories went out June 12. The previous week was unusually rainy, he said.

Swimming advisories for local beaches lifted

The swimming advisories that were in effect for beaches in North Wildwood, Wildwood and Somers Point have all been lifted, according to the Department of Environmental Protection’s website.

But the next samples collected were all clear in Atlantic and Cape May counties, so no beaches in southeastern New Jersey were closed.

It’s all part of the state’s Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program, Gille said. Testing is always done on Mondays, with results taking 24 hours. The lab also does wastewater and drinking water testing and is located at the ACUA wastewater treatment plant.

The water tested Monday came back fine Tuesday.

Generally high Enterococci counts are caused by animal droppings, said Gille. Dog, cat, bird and other wildlife waste gets swept up by stormwater runoff, into street drains that dump into nearby streams that end in the ocean.

But the real culprit is all the impervious surface — places rainwater cannot penetrate — in our highly developed state.

“On normal undeveloped ground, (the waste) percolates into the soil with the water and is broken down,” Gille said. But when you develop land, put down concrete and asphalt, water has to go somewhere else.”

Coastal areas are some of the state’s most developed areas, with homes packed tightly together on barrier islands, and little space for yards or planted areas.

“There are things people can do,” ACUA spokeswoman Amy Menzel said. “They can pick up their dog waste, and be mindful of what goes into the storm drain, which goes into the nearest body of water, not to the sewer treatment plant.”

They also can capture rainwater in rain barrels and reuse it in gardens, use green roofs as planting surfaces and generally avoid paving over their properties, she said.

The ACUA laboratory has been working with the Atlantic County and Atlantic City health departments on ocean and bay monitoring since 1985, Gille said. At first it tested for fecal coliform levels, but switched to Enterococci in 2004.

Its die-off rate is slower in salt water than fecal coliform, so it’s a more reliable indicator of water quality, Gille said.

The lab analyzes samples collected by health department staff and relays the data to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and both health departments. They in turn issue advisories or closings when needed, Gille said.

Bacteria levels on most shore beaches after a storm are not truly dangerous, even if they are above the safe-swimming standard, said Bruce Friedman, director of the DEP’s Division of Water Monitoring and Standards.

Experts say when impervious surfaces make up 8 percent or more of the total landscape, waterways are at greater risk of degradation.

New Jersey, as a whole, reached that threshold in 2011, according to the National Land Cover Database. No other state has a higher share.

The most recent statewide figure is somewhere north of 12 percent, according to a 2016 analysis by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Cape May County launches centralized dispatch center

LOWER TOWNSHIP — After years of planning and $6 million spent on renovations and equipment upgrades, Cape May County officially launched its centralized dispatch center at the Lower Township Public Safety Building at the county airport.

The county moved its emergency management offices and dispatch center out of the basement of the library in Cape May Court House and into the new center. With the new system, response times and organization among police, fire and emergency medical departments will improve and enhance overall public safety, county officials say.

But the trick will be getting all 16 municipalities to buy into the idea and join the system.

So far, Avalon and Stone Harbor have joined with fire and EMS personnel. Lower Township has joined with police, fire and EMS. It also serves the county Sheriff’s and Prosecutor’s offices.

County officials say they expect more towns to join now that the site is operational.

“This is something that we have talked about for years, and I’m very happy to see this going,” county Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton said. “We are one of the last counties in the state to get this, but it is something that will definitely improve public safety and reduce costs.”

The center has seven operational dispatch stations, but there is room to expand to 26, said Martin Pagliughi, director of the Office of Emergency Management.

The system is compatible with the 700 MHz Public Safety Spectrum, to which some county municipalities upgraded for dispatch, and the older “trunked” radio system, which other towns still use.

Thornton said they decided to make it compatible with different types of radio systems so towns that wanted to join were not forced to upgrade right away, which can be expensive.

Pagliughi said eventually the whole state will use 700 MHz.

The center also includes Next-Gen 911, which allows people to text in their emergency.

“It could take a few months for (a town) to transition into the system because you need an ordinance and transition of employees,” Thornton said. “But the transition of (the towns) currently involved was very smooth.”

Other towns in Cape May County have expressed interest, but many are taking a wait-and-see approach before giving up their own emergency dispatch centers.

“I think it’s a good concept, and I am glad to see the county has taken these steps,” Middle Township Police Chief Christopher Leusner said, adding he has visited centralized dispatch sites in Camden and Monmouth counties. “We’re going to give it consideration, but we want to see how this all works out first.”

Towns that join pay based on a formula of how many emergency calls they get in a year. For example, Lower Township will pay more than Avalon because Avalon is not crowded during several months of the year.

Lower Township pays about $600,000 a year for dispatch in the new system, which is about $160,000 cheaper than what they were paying before, Thornton said.

If another municipality of the same size enters the new system, that town and Lower Township will pay $500,000.

“The costs will be spread around once more towns join in,” Thornton said. “This is an opportunity to save money and provide tax relief.”

Thornton also said he believes having the whole county involved will be best for public safety, pointing to the fact that several individual dispatch systems went dark during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Pagliughi said it also could cut down on confusion in a major emergency, citing reports of radio failure between the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the Coral Springs Police Department when responding to the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

But getting all the towns on board could be difficult.

In 2016, Atlantic County abandoned plans for central dispatch after getting few takers among its municipalities.

Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said towns were interested in the idea, but interest waned over the time it took for the county to put a plan together.

“Unless the state of New Jersey puts down incentives for cooperation and penalties for not cooperating (with shared services), it’s going to be extremely difficult to get over the home-rule mindset,” Levinson said. “The county wants to do it, I want to do it and the freeholders want to do it, but we don’t rule by decree.”

Jury enters deliberations in shooting of Atlantic City Officer Vadell

MAYS LANDING — Robin Lord took almost two hours to deliver her closing remarks, ripping off easel-sized papers listing 22 doubts she had in the case against her client, Martel D. Chisolm. She pasted each doubt around the courtroom as she discussed them.

“If you go back in that jury room, and you have to speculate and you have to guess as to what really happened in that alley, the law requires you to find them not guilty,” she said.

As of Tuesday, it’s up to the jury to decide whether Chisolm, 31, of Millville, and Demetris Cross, 30, of Bridgeton, are guilty of attempted murder, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery and weapons possession in the Sept. 3, 2016, shooting of former Atlantic City police Officer Josh Vadell.

While defense attorneys argued there is not enough evidence to convict, the county’s chief assistant prosecutor told the jury to remember the case is about heroism, and the actions that night of Vadell and his partner, now-Detective Thomas McCabe.

“As a result of that robbery, as a result of protecting the law and protecting those boys, Officer Vadell got shot in the head. And that’s why these two are guilty,” Chief Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy said in his closing remarks.

Following Tuesday’s closing statements, Superior Court Judge John Rauh gave the jury instructions before deliberations.

Vadell was shot in the head after attempting to interrupt an alleged armed robbery with his partner. He spent weeks in the hospital, underwent intense rehab to relearn basic motor skills, and ended his police career at age 30 as a result.

The shooter, Jerome Damon, 25, of Camden, fled after McCabe returned fire. Damon was found dead about a block and a half away. McCabe was later cleared in Damon’s death.

Lead investigator in Vadell shooting questioned Tuesday

MAYS LANDING — The trial of two Cumberland County men charged in a September 2016 robbery and the shooting of Atlantic City police Officer Josh Vadell resumed Tuesday morning with the cross-examination of the lead investigator on the case.

Lord said detectives used “tactics” in the interview room with Chisolm, one of the two men with Damon that night, telling him he would be found guilty and every fact he told them that’s relevant in the case was “independently corroborated.” She said Chisolm did not know Damon had a gun that night, and there was not enough evidence to prove a plan, agreement or conspiracy in the incident.

“Their mind was closed, a cop was shot, the shooter is dead. We need somebody, that was the mentality,” she said.

Levy opened his remarks by saying the trial had gotten off track with the defense’s arguments.

“I think we’ve lost sight of why we’re here,” he said. “They (Vadell and McCabe) believed in the law so much they were willing to risk their lives to uphold it, to protect complete strangers.”

Levy said Damon’s death does not make the two men innocent.

“As a result of that robbery, as a result of protecting the law and protecting those boys, Officer Vadell got shot in the head. And that’s why these two are guilty,” Levy said.

The defense attorney for Cross, Brad Wertheimer, said Lord covered most of his points, and just because the two men might have been with Damon that night, that does not make them guilty.

“We probably never will know what happened in that alley,” he said.

Vadell and McCabe testified in the trial, along with two of the victims of the alleged robbery. Vadell told the court he saw a group of men on Arkansas Avenue that night and told McCabe to drive down the street. When they arrived, one teen was standing with both of his hands behind his head and another man pointing a gun toward his head, he said.

Vadell was then thrown to the ground when the shooting began. McCabe testified he saw a man “running and pointing” toward him with a gun. Lord said his statement said nothing about Chisolm’s involvement.

Lord’s voice broke with emotion while she talked about Vadell’s testimony during her closing statements, and said, “a not-guilty verdict does not mean that that did not happen to him,” referring to his injuries.

Deliberations are expected to continue Wednesday.

Following Tuesday’s closing statements, Superior Court Judge John Rauh gave the jury instructions before deliberation.