By Bob Martin
Gov. Christie is making an unprecedented commitment to restoring Barnegat Bay. He has pledged the state’s resources to a long-term effort to revive this ecological treasure that is vital to New Jersey residents and the state’s tourism economy.
The governor has made Barnegat Bay a top environmental priority, directing the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a comprehensive, science-based plan to deal with the complex issues of Barnegat Bay, to prevent further degradation and take long- and short- term steps to restore this incredible New Jersey resource.
The governor laid out a clear course of action to reverse decades of ecological decline – a decline that began long before he was elected but which he is committed to improving.
We have taken the governor’s directive very seriously at the DEP. Teams of DEP scientists and staff – in collaboration with universities and colleges, educators, scientists, and Barnegat Bay area students and residents, local and county officials, legislators, environmentalists and business interests – are working hard on all facets of the governor’s Comprehensive Plan Barnegat Bay Restoration Plan.
Ten science projects are now under way in Barnegat Bay, as we gather science and data needed to guide future courses of action, to develop measures to protect the health of this ecologically and economically vital bay long after the Christie Administration and current DEP leadership have departed the scene. Just this month, the second intensive water monitoring initiative on Barnegat Bay took place, featuring dozens of DEP employees and partners.
Information they obtain will help us make informed decisions regarding the future of Barnegat Bay and may be a model of action for other impaired bodies of water in New Jersey.
While we gather data for long-term solutions, we are working on immediate actions to improve Barnegat Bay:
The toughest-in-the nation fertilizer use law has been enacted, and residents and landscapers are being educated on reducing impacts of fertilizer runoff;
Millions of state dollars are going to Barnegat Bay towns for stormwater basin improvements, to deal with polluting runoff. That infrastructure work is under way;
3,000 acres of Barnegat Bay watershed have been preserved since the governor announced his plan, with a target of 50,000 acres;
The Barnegat Bay Water Quality Monitoring Network was created and has been aggressively obtaining scientific data on pollutants entering the bay;
A boating education and compliance effort is under way in Barnegat Bay to deal with ecologically sensitive areas impacted by improper boating or watercraft use;
Two successful Barnegat Bay Blitz efforts were held, with DEP staff joined by thousands of students and residents to help clean up the bay (some critics of the governor’s plan refused to participate). Another blitz is set for Oct. 18.
Despite decades of gradual decline, Barnegat Bay remains a vibrant source of recreation for thousands of residents and visitors who boat and fish in its waters, and enjoy its natural beauty. We intend to ensure this ecological and recreational gem gets the care it needs so it can be enjoyed by future generations, and we are doing so very publicly.
A full update on the governor’s 10-point plan is available at the DEP’s website, a site that is updated regularly. Visit http://www.nj.gov/dep/barnegatbay/ to get a firsthand look.
Some critics of the governor’s Barnegat Bay initiative have complained in recent days that we are not taking tough steps needed to restore the bay. The critics are a bit hysterical. They are demanding creation of a regional stormwater authority, immediate imposition of maximum pollutant runoff standards, federal government intercession, and even a moratorium on development in Ocean and Monmouth counties.
Thankfully, cooler heads are prevailing. Efforts to gather science and data needed for long-term decisions are moving ahead. Taking the next steps aimlessly, minus key science, will not benefit the bay.
Gov. Christie started the ball rolling on the Barnegat Bay restoration effort on Dec. 9, 2010, with a landmark announcement of an agreement to close the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant a decade ahead of its license expiration. That was just the beginning. We have not stopped working at it since.
Barnegat Bay’s problems did not occur overnight. Long-term solutions also will not happen overnight. But efforts now under way, involving not just the DEP but the people who live and work and play in the Barnegat Bay watershed, make the environmental future of Barnegat Bay much brighter.
Bob Martin is the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.