DEP LAUNCHES STAKEHOLDER MEETINGS ON BARNEGAT BAY
(10/P34) TRENTON - The future health of Barnegat Bay, an ecological gem of New Jersey, will be the focus of a series of public stakeholder meetings to start tomorrow, using science to develop a comprehensive list of actions to be taken to protect the environmentally important region.
Governor Chris Christie has made a commitment to determine the best approach to address the ecological health of the bay and to consider how to deal with effects on the bay of cooling systems at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant.
“There is no question the bay is suffering,’’ DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said today. “It is one of my priorities to address this situation. The goal is to make informed decisions that can help us restore, protect and enhance the bay.’’
The Department of Environmental Protection, along with a large and diverse community of bay advocates, including residents, recreational fishermen, scientists, businesses and elected officials, have been working independently and together to identify the degree of impacts on the bay and come up with solutions.
Much of what they have learned will be offered on Wednesday, from 9 a.m. to noon at Ocean County Community College in Toms River, in the first of a series of at least three stakeholder sessions. Included will be presentations by the DEP, Barnegat Bay Partnership, Rutgers University, U.S. Geological Survey and the Exelon Corporation.
The goal of this first stakeholder session is to inventory all of the scientific work done to date related to the health of Barnegat Bay. The focus of the meeting will be a review of some of that science.
While there is agreement the health of the bay is in decline there are different strategies proposed to protect and restore it. The stakeholders’ process should help identify and prioritize steps needed to move forward with cost-effective and environmentally protective strategies.
“These are problems that have been long in the making,’’ said Commissioner Martin. “So we are looking for solid, long-term solutions for the bay.’’
The Barnegat Bay Estuary watershed encompasses most of 33 municipalities in Ocean County and four towns in Monmouth County. The 75-square mile environmentally sensitive estuarine system consists of aquatic vegetation, shellfish beds, finfish habitats, waterfowl nesting grounds, and spectacular vistas, as well as a population of more than 500,000 people, which more than doubles during the summer season.
There have been a host of studies done on the estuary for decades, and in 1995 it was designated as an estuary of national significance. Ecological problems have long been observed but identifying and quantifying the specific causes of its decline have proven difficult.
The DEP, scientists and Bay advocates have been working to find the causes of the decline. Meanwhile, the Department also has been working on issuance of a NJPDES permit for the Oyster Creek nuclear facility which draws from and discharges into waterways connected to the Bay.
Future stakeholder sessions are planned for the weeks of May 24 and June 14. Additional meetings may be scheduled as needed.
The May 24th session will focus on developing a comprehensive list of actions previously taken to protect or improve the bay. The June 14th meeting will be a brainstorming session to develop a priority list of research and implementation strategies to serve as a basis for future bay protection and improvement measures.