Governor’s Barnegat Bay Plan Can Float If Holes Are Plugged

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by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

During his campaign for governor, Chris Christie promised to clean up and restore Barnegat Bay. Eleven months after taking office, Governor Christie announced a “comprehensive plan of action” to fulfill his promise. It’s a good start, but unless some missing pieces are plugged into the plan – and the plan is backed up by funding – it may not float.

Barnegat Bay’s 75-square-mile system of environmentally sensitive estuaries is home to fish, shellfish, waterfowl and aquatic vegetation. It’s a natural treasure, designated as an “estuary of national significance” by the National Estuary Program In 1995.


As an icon of the Jersey Shore, it’s also critical to the economy of this state we’re in. Ironically, many of the bay’s well-documented environmental woes today are the result of being loved to death.

Barnegat Bay has suffered from too much development in its watershed, which encompasses most of Ocean County and part of Monmouth County. Excessive nitrogen – from rainwater and residential fertilizers – is contaminating the bay and gradually diminishing its ability to sustain life. The use of bay water for cooling the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station adds to the problem.

No one knows more about Barnegat Bay, or follows its environmental health more closely, than the non-profit group Save Barnegat Bay. They have identified several ways to fix the root causes of the bay’s decline and set it on the path to restoration:

1. Burn less fossil fuel to reduce the amount of nitrogen in the atmosphere, which in turn would cut the amount of nitrogen contained in raindrops that fall;
2. Curtail overdevelopment in the Barnegat Bay watershed by conserving land and planning wisely for development. Open space filters nitrogen and other pollutants from rainwater before flows into the bay;
3. Improve stormwater management systems, especially by re-vegetating areas around storm drains;
4. Adopt legislation that reformulates fertilizers with a slower-release form of nitrogen;
5. Add cooling towers to the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, which would eliminate the current practice of circulating Barnegat Bay water through its cooling system, heating it and treating it with chemicals before returning it to the bay.

Many points in Governor Christie’s 10-point plan address these goals. For example, the plan would:

* preserve more open space in the Bay’s watershed;
* enact new legislation cutting nitrogen content in fertilizers and regulating how they are applied;
* require soil to be restored and “un-compacted” after construction projects;
* fund stormwater mitigation projects; and
* reduce the negative impacts of boats by restricting them from certain shallow areas.

Although the plan recognizes the need to address the bay’s problems on a watershed scale, it falls short of what’s needed in several areas. The Oyster Creek plant will be allowed to draw water from the bay for nine more years, until its proposed closing in 2019. And the plan pledges to “investigate” establishing a maximum daily pollution limit in the bay, when it should commit to establishing one.

The plan encourages a good research agenda, but does not include funding.

Its proposal to establish a Special Area Management Plan is positive. However, without a regional planning entity to manage the process – akin to those already working so effectively in the Pinelands and Highlands, with legal powers, scientific expertise and representation from all stakeholders – the plan would lack teeth and credibility.

Indeed, no specifics on the management plan or its implementation were provided by the governor.

Given New Jersey’s poor fiscal health, it comes as no surprise that the governor’s plan is light on funding details. New Jersey’s political landscape is littered with promises and plans that died on the vine for lack of funding. The effectiveness of many of the plan’s 10 points is wholly dependent upon funding, but in most cases there are no indications that the money will be there.

Governor Christie’s plan is a step forward in protecting the bay; but unless the holes in the plan are plugged, it’s unlikely to achieve the governor’s goals.

For a point-by-point assessment of the Governor’s Barnegat Bay plan, visit

You can help by letting Governor Christie know that you support full funding to allow the Barnegat Bay plan to be implemented. Contact the governor by phone at 1-609-292-6000, on the web at or by mail to Office of the Governor, P.O. Box 001, Trenton, NJ, 08625.

And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at or contact me at, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.

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