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UPDATED STORY: How Residents Can Help Cut Bay Pollution and Comply with New Fertilizer Law

Willie deCamp of Save Barnegat Bay explains how nitrogen pollution can be reduced

Anybody who thinks cutting back on the pollution of Barnegat Bay is a lot of extra work needs to think again.

Two of the best ways to help stem the accumulation of nitrogen in the bay and other area waterways is to stop fertilizing and let your weeds grow.

And with the energy left over from having two less chores, it would be great to plant some native flowers and plants that need almost no watering or care.

"Native plants," meaning the kind that prosper in the local climate, include cone flowers, brown-eyed susans and beach plum plants.

Vegetation, including weeds, helps absorb nitrogen before it pours into the waterways. So if it's possible to let some of them grow, controlling the height of some with mowing rather than pulling, it would be a good idea.

Sound grueling so far?

Willie deCamp doesn't think so, but it sure has been a lot of work for more than 25 years trying to convince people to stop some bad habits to save Barnegat Bay.

"Try not fertilizing and see if your whole world collapses," he told a small group gathered at Point Pleasant Borough Hall on Thursday night.

The chairman of Save Barnegat Bay has been preaching for many years that if area residents just took a few simple steps to prevent further pollution, it would make a big difference.

The reward is that the air and waterways would be cleaner, there would be less accumulation of nitrogen and algae in the bay, rivers and ocean, and fewer stinging sea nettles.

"The nettles have caused a lot of misery, but they've raised a lot of awareness too," he said, referring to the clear jellyfish, with red inside, that often sting bathers, leaving behind painful, red marks.

The proliferation of the nettles has intensified in the bay and Manasquan and Metedeconk rivers, with some recent complaints of stings from oceangoers as well.

Awareness has been even been on the upswing in Trenton, where a law written by deCamp and his colleagues was recently passed.

The law bans the sale and use of products with insufficient levels of slow-release nitrogen. Slow-release nitrogen is less polluting than what's in traditional fertilizers.

The new law "holds landscapers to a lower standard," deCamp said, adding, "That's politics.'"

But landscapers and lawn maintenance companies do have to go through training and certification, all designed to have them use types and amounts of fertilizers that are less polluting.

Even if the law is fully enforced and residents as well as landscapers are cooperating, there is no telling how long it will take to restore the bay.

"Barnegat Bay is really in trouble," deCamp said at Borough Hall. "We don't know, there is no science to tell us, how long it will take to restore the bay if we stop dumping nitrogen into it."

Air pollution captured in rain, along with pesticide and pet discharge, stream into Barnegat Bay, the Manasquan River, the Metedeconk River and the ocean, cause accumulations of nitrogen which creates more algae and attracts stinging sea nettles, deCamp said.

"When people see their children come out of the water crying because they've been stung, that makes them realize what's going on," he said.

Some other steps residents can take is to have their soil tested, which may show that the level of fertilizer is too high and to drive less because fossil fuel discharge in the air gets captured in rain water, which later washes into the bay and other waterways.

And residents need to push elected and appointed officials to curtail development, deCamp said.

DeCamp said he opposes a pending state bill that would allocate tax credits to residents who have stone yards instead of lawns. While fertilizer isn't needed for concrete or stone, those "yards" also lack sorely-needed plants to help catch the nitrogen run-off before it washes into waterways, deCamp said.

Borough Mayor William Schroeder and Councilman Chris Leitner said they want to incorporate deCamp's tips into municipal planning.

"We're in the process of updating our master plan and we'll take what you said to heart," said Schroeder.

"We may be able to offer fast-track approvals to applicants who are going to plant or build a certain way," Leitner said.

DeCamp said he was glad to hear that, adding that usually when he speaks around the region, elected officials are not usually in the audience.

"It's impossible to talk to the county freeholders about any of this," he said. "When I walk out of here tonight, I'll say to myself, the same thing I always say to myself, 'These folks know more about Barnegat Bay than the freeholders.' "

DeCamp was the first in a series of speakers hosted by the Point Pleasant Borough Climate Action Committee and the Point Pleasant Borough Environmental Commission.

Save Barnegat Bay is a nonprofit organization which is supported by about 1,500 families and businesses annually.

Save Barnegat Bay’s mission is to restore and protect the ecology of Barnegat Bay, and it was the primary author for New Jersey’s 2010 law governing lawn fertilizer.

The new law, which is the first such statewide legislation in the nation, is designed to help limit nitrogen and phosphorus in all water bodies.

Bills modeled on Save Barnegat Bay's law are currently before the legislatures in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

For more information about the new pesticide law and other environmental advocacy, visit the Save Barnegat Bay website. For information on how to become a Barnegat Bay Buddy, a joint program through Save Barnegat Bay and Clean Ocean Action, see the Barnegat Bay website or the Clean Ocean Action web site.

Future speakers in Point Pleasant include:

  • May 24th : Mike Romanowski – Mosquito Control
  • June 28th: Jim Merritt – Sedge Island
  • July 26: BPU – Board of Public Utilities
  • August 23: NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • September 27th: Jacquelyn Rhoades – Pinelands Preservation Alliance.


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