DOWNE TOWNSHIP — A long-planned project to bring a wastewater treatment plant to parts of this Delaware bayshore fishing community has received state and federal funding.
The Fortescue/Gandy’s Beach Wastewater Project has about $6.5 million in funding and the engineering for it has begun, Mayor Robert Campbell said Sunday. He estimated the total cost to be as much as $15 million, and said the county will provide financial assistance in bonding for the local share of the cost.
“This will make Fortescue and Gandy’s Beach sustainable and resilient going forward,” Campbell said. “Hopefully the real estate values will stabilize and business and private investment will come in. You can’t buy an ice cream cone in Fortescue. It’s ridiculous.”
The township has been under serious pressure from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the county health department since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, because of failing septic tanks in some properties, Campbell said. So township committee developed relationships at the state and federal level, and worked for years to secure the funding, he said.
The problem of septic systems in such a low-lying area with small lots has hobbled any development of even small businesses, and has driven down home values.
The DEP is providing a $2.5 million grant to get the project up and running, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing another $2.5 million grant, as well as a $1.5 million low-interest loan, Campbell said. He said the township will have another chance to apply for more USDA funding next year.
The plant will only serve Fortescue and Gandy’s Beach, two of the five historic villages that make up the township. The others are Money Island, Newport and Dividing Creek.
The project originally was intended to serve Money Island as well, but the DEP insisted it be removed from the plan, citing repeated loss claims there, said Campbell.
But Campbell said Money Island has had fewer repetitive loss claims than Fortescue and Gandy’s Beach in more recent years.
“The treatment plant in Fortescue is something so critical to the economy and well being of the community going forward. It’s awesome news it’s being funded,” said Meghan Wren, founder of the Bayshore Center at Bivalve and a resident of Money Island, who is also the chairwoman of the Delaware Bayshore Council and co-chair of the local Chamber of Commerce.
While she is disappointed Money Island wasn’t included, she hopes it may be in the future. Money Island is the center of the state’s oyster industry but has had many properties bought by the state under the Blue Acres program, which knocks down buildings on properties that face repeated flooding and adds them to open space.
The wastewater plant will be in Fortescue, Campbell said, and sewage from Gandy’s Beach will be pumped there for treatment.
While oceanfront communities have received hundreds of millions of dollars in post-Hurricane Sandy rebuilding funds and beach replenishment funds, the Delaware bayshore was left out of the rebuilding effort, he said.
“It is finally happening in Fortescue and Gandy’s Beach,” Campbell said. “We are finally being maintained and redeveloped and reclaimed.”
The bayshore has lost about a dozen historic fishing villages over the years, due to lack of planning and interest, he said.
“It’s a terrible crime. It’s a unique part of New Jersey and we need to sustain it so people can continue to enjoy it,” he said.
There are two restaurants now in Fortescue, and Campbell said he hopes more will pop up along the bay there once the new infrastructure is built.
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, will hold a news conference to announce more details on the plan with local and state officials on Tuesday at the Charlesworth Inn in Fortescue.