The DEP is using the third Barnegat Bay Blitz to give itself green cover as the Christie administration is advancing policies that will only make the Bay worse.
Despite mounting science from Rutgers University, the administration refuses to designate the Barnegat Bay as impaired. Instead they are actively working to rollback clean up action under Clean Water Act for the Bay. The administration is advancing policies that would allow for more development in the watershed including his State Strategic Plan, signing the Permit Extension Act, allowing more sewer service areas, and changes to the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan.
Instead of coming up with real polices to clean up the water going into the Bay, the Christie Administration is more concerned about photo ops and press releases than putting in place better protections.
The Sierra Club and other groups regularly hold clean ups and beach sweeps in the watershed and do not need to be part of this administration’s publicity stunts to give themselves green cover. We are glad the volunteers came out; they are doing the right thing. But the Christie administration is using those volunteers to cover up their failed policies. We work to protect the Bay every day; Bob Martin only does photo-ops while he puts in place policies that weaken protections for the Bay.
In the May Blitz nearly 1,000 DEP employees participated, more than one-third of the agency’s staff. Their time would have been better spent writing a cleanup plan for the Bay, developing a TMDL for the Bay or enforcing environmental violations. A TMDL, or Total Maxiumum Daily Load, is an action plan to reduce pollution impacting the Bay.
Rutgers Study and Pollution Reductions
In July the Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences (IMCS) released a report on the deteriorating health of Barnegat Bay. The report shows that pollution is worse in the Bay than previously thought as a result of nitrate and phosphorus pollution and eutrophication. Governor Christie has conditionally vetoed legislation that would have established standards to address that nutrient pollution and to clean up stormwater. With the Rutgers report there is enough data to declare the Bay impaired and to implement a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Bay. US EPA still believes a TMDL for the Bay could be implemented by 2013 and with the Rutgers study it should only take a year.
Delays by the administration to adopt a TMDL are now just an excuse to protect polluters. Instead of moving forward with the TMDL the administration is dragging its feet. The DEP is refusing to seek an impairment designation for the Barnegat Bay on the 303d list under the Clean Water Act, which would require that a TMDL be developed. The list is a report the state has to prepare for the federal government on the health of our waterways every two years. Unless a waterbody is listed as polluted and in need of cleanup no action needs to be taken and the DEP is trying to hide from its responsibility to clean up the Barnegat Bay by not listing it.
The administration has been caught trying to hide the science from Barnegat Bay from the Rutgers report. The report clearly shows the Bay needs to be listed as impaired and a cleanup plan needs to be developed. By excluding the Bay from the 303(d) list the DEP is trying to hide from cleaning up the Bay. Withdrawing the Bay this from the list does not help clean up the Bay, it further delays any action. The Bay is in serious trouble and the DEP does not want to spend the effort and resources needed to clean it up.
More Sprawl and Overdevelopment
The Governor is advancing policies that will result in more sprawl around the Bay. The State Strategic Plan will result in more sprawl and overdevelopment around Barnegat Bay that will directly affect the Bay. The Plan is not based on science, resource capacity restraints, or good planning. The Governor also signed the Permit Extension Act which will allow developers to evade updated environmental regulations and zoning for an additional two years by extending permit approvals.
The administration is working to roll back protections in the Pinelands portion of the Barnegat Bay watershed by opening the region up to sewers. In May the DEP and Pinelands Commission staff signed a Memorandum of Understanding placing villages, towns, and growth areas designated by the Pinelands Commission in sewer service areas, allowing for more dense development. The changes and pro-developer policies would be implemented through an updated Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, which the Commission is now developing. Changes to the CMP could expand areas defined as villages, towns, and growth areas, allowing for more sewers in the region.
The DEP is also adding more sewer services areas to county maps under a delay in the Water Quality Management Planning Rules. Ocean County can be changed to open up to 16,000 acres of environmentally sensitive areas to sewer service. This would result in an additional 125,000 people in environmentally sensitive areas in the Barnegat Bay watershed. When developments in non-sensitive areas, redevelopment areas and environmentally sensitive areas under 25 acres are included, the total additional people in Ocean County could be as high as 250,000 people.
Governor Christie is rolling back water quality protection rules and other environmental regulations that have actually protected and cleaned up the Barnegat Bay. The DEP is overhauling and weakening Category 1 protections, stream buffer rules, flood hazard area rules and the stormwater management rules which will put more non-point storm pollution in our waterways. The DEP began accepting Waiver applications in August, which would allow polluters and developers in the watershed to evade environmental standards.
Allowing more sewers and sprawl in the watershed will result in more non-point pollution entering the Barnegat Bay and other estuaries and will make it virtually impossible for the DEP to implement a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Barnegat Bay. Sewers will increase pollution from a number of new sources undermining the ability to develop and implement a TMDL for the Bay.
Bad Projects Move Forward
The DEP is allowing major development projects to go forward in the watershed without proper mitigation.
The Pinelands Commission is considering a proposal to expand the Robert Miller Airpark in the Preservation Zone. The facility has already grown and has reached its 50% expansion limit under the Pinelands plan. The Commission would enter into an MOA with Ocean County, allowing the County to transform the recreational airpark into a real airport. For the expansion, Ocean County would be allowed to destroy threatened and endangered species habitat without identifying replacement land or mitigation projects and measures beforehand.
After originally denying a new Wal-Mart on threatened species habitat on the Manchester-Toms River border, DEP Commissioner Martin entered into a settlement with developer Jaylin Holdings LLC to allow the project to move forward. The new store would be located on habitat for the state threatened Northern Pine Snake and a few yards down Route 37 from an existing Wal-Mart in Toms River. In exchange for destroying the existing pine snake habitat, Jaylin will permanently preserve 212 acres of land whose development potential is already severely limited by the Pinelands Commission and endangered species regulations.
Open Space Funds Dry
The Governor has released the final open space funding available, leaving the program broke with no proposed plan for a stable funding source. Under the Governor open space funding is dramatically down. The Green Acres Program funding is about 45% less than 4 years ago. Over the next two years, the Governor is only devoting $3 million to acquisitions around the Barnegat Bay, which will do little to help the Bay and sprawl and overdevelopment are the biggest threats to the Bay’s health. Open space funding would help limit this inappropriate growth and protect the most sensitive areas in the watershed.
The Barnegat Bay is the second most eutrophied Bay in the nation and action must be taken now to better protect it. Allowing the Bay to get worse will jeopardize the $3.3 billion a year coastal tourism industry and $100 billion in ratables around the Bay. We need policies and actions that will protect the Bay now, not more photo-ops from the Governor.