ATLANTIC CITY — In the lagoon outside of Fisherman’s Park, trash piles up in the corners formed by the bulkheads.
It also collects along the decks and bulkheads in front of waterfront homes, and floats in the boat channel, visible across the water to visitors at restaurants at Gardner’s Basin.
“I’ve been swimming here since the early 1970s,” said Jitney driver Frank Becktel, who lives in a waterfront home on North Massachusetts Avenue that used to belong to his grandparents. “That was an era of dirty water. But in the last 20 years it got really clean, and it was great to swim in.”
That is, until the canal came back on line. The 100-year-old flood control project called the Baltic Avenue Canal hadn’t been operational for decades, but was renovated and the pumps turned on last year.
Now the stormwater from 775 acres of city streets travels underground to Fisherman’s Park and is pumped into the lagoon there.
“After a rain there is nothing but trash in here,” Becktel said. “Every storm drain dumps into Gardner’s Basin.”
Residents have tried to get city officials to fix the problem by creating some sort of a net to catch the litter as it is dumped out, or by sending city workers to remove the trash. But they have had no luck getting help, they said.
So business owners and homeowners go out with nets and scoop out as much as they can.
Residents say they don’t understand why the city isn’t more concerned about preventing pollution and improving the look of the lagoon, which runs along one side of the tourist destination Gardner’s Basin.
“It’s a microcosm of what is wrong with the entire city,” said retired Atlantic City Police Capt. Chris Kammerman, who now runs a bar and restaurant called Sirens at the end of Massachusetts Avenue. It’s at the site of Kammerman’s Marina, in operation there since the 1940s.
“Nobody has a business sense who works in City Hall,” Kammerman said.
No one from the Mayor’s office or the engineering firm Remington and Vernick Engineers — who designed and rebuilt the canal — responded to requests for comment.
But First Ward Councilman Aaron “Sporty” Randolph — whose ward includes Gardner’s Basin and Fishermen’s Park and who is running for re-election — said he would look into what might be done.
“It’s nasty all the time now,” said Sheryl Donofrio, who has lived on the lagoon since 2003. “One day it’s bottles — the other day I was out on my paddle board and there were cigarette butts floating everywhere.”
The canal is a 1.8-mile concrete underground tunnel, which drains Atlantic, Arctic and Baltic avenues and surrounding streets.
It runs mostly down Baltic Avenue, but cuts over to Atlantis Avenue and the bay near the Atlantic City Expressway on one end, and to Fishermen’s Park in the Inlet on the other. There are flood floodgates at each end, but a pump is so far installed only at Fisherman’s Park. So all the water collected is expelled into the lagoon there.
Along with the water, however, comes trash that has been thrown, blown or just dropped at street level.
The pollution is mostly fast-food items like bottles and take-out containers; a lot of it is plastic. Oil that collects on streets or is illegally dumped down storm drains also ends up there.
“You hear so much about ocean pollution, and plastics in the ocean,” said Donofrio, but the need to fix the problem is falling on deaf ears at City Hall.
“It’s like we’re just saying, ‘Oh, well’,” Donofrio said.
On a recent boat ride along the lagoon, a personal watercraft passed by at a slow speed.
The driver said a plastic bag had gotten entangled in his intake equipment, and he was going to have pull it to dry land, turn it over, and disentangle the mess.
Kayaker Susan Liberto said she has lived on the lagoon for 10 years.
“After storms it is bad,” she said. “I won’t swim in this. It’s too yucky.”