by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
Just a few days after being named recipient of the 2011 “Guardian of Barnegat Bay” award, Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have given towns more options for fighting the main source of pollution choking the bay.
Barnegat Bay is an iconic part of the Jersey Shore – the gentler coast where kids too small to brave the ocean waves can swim, and where older kids can sit on the dock and catch blue claw crabs. The Toms River, Metedeconk River and others empty into the 30-mile bay, which was designated an “estuary of national significance” in 1995. Barnegat Bay contributes an estimated $3.5 billion per year to the economy of the state we’re in.
But the environment and the economy of the bay are in danger. Eleven of 19 key health indicators show no improvement or even decline. Because of nutrient runoff from fertilizers, you may notice more algae and more stinging jellyfish during your trips to the bay.
Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey now trace nearly two-thirds of the nutrient pollution flowing into Barnegat Bay as coming from Ocean County’s northern suburban region. Following a pre-recession building boom that saw Ocean County’s upland forests losing 1,700 acres per year to development – the highest rate of any New Jersey county – about one-third of the bay’s watershed land area has been covered with parking lots, roofs and fertilized landscaping.
Compounding the problem is a stormwater management system in desperate need of repair and improvement. Over 2,700 detention basins in the Barnegat Bay watershed don’t adequately remove pollutants running off pavement and lawns before discharging into the bay.
Senate Bill 1856 (S-1856) would have helped the Ocean County Planning Board and the county’s 33 municipal planning boards with stormwater management. The bill would have allowed – but not required – fees on new development that increases pollution in the bay. The funds collected would have been used to improve the stormwater management system.
Governor Christie’s Barnegat Bay cleanup plan does include some funding to fix this problem, but not enough. Municipalities have applied for $40 million, four times the amount the state has committed for repairs and improvements this year. Bill S-1856 would have addressed this funding gap without tapping the state budget – and you, the taxpayers.
Unfortunately, former commitments don’t seem to apply when developers are involved. The Governor’s veto ignores the seriousness of situation in Barnegat Bay, as well as mounting research establishing stormwater runoff from development as the greatest threat to water quality. It also flies directly in the face of his promise to make cleaning up the bay a “top priority.”
The bill for neglecting Barnegat Bay will come due in time. Many local residents are already squeamish about swimming in the waters of the bay or rivers feeding it. Maybe the final straw will be when the local economy begins to suffer as tourists opt for cleaner waters elsewhere. At that point, the taxpayers will be the only ones left to pay.
Ask Governor Christie to fulfill his promise to clean up Barnegat Bay – for the good of the environment AND the good of the state’s economy. Contact him at www.state.nj.us/governor/contact or 609-292-6000 and ask him to start by reinstating S-1856.
For more information, visit the “Protecting Barnegat Bay” section of the American Littoral Society’s website at www.littoralsociety.org/Protecting_Barnegat_Bay.aspx and the Save Barnegat Bay organization’s website at www.savebarnegatbay.org.
And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at email@example.com.
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