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State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
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Contact: Fred Mumford


(02/88) ALTANTIC CITY -- The state of New Jersey, along with federal and local officials, tested an emergency response plan today to protect back bay coastal areas near Absecon Inlet from a major oil spill. The state also announced a five-year protection effort for the endangered piping plover and other shorebirds with $1.5 million from an oil spill compensation settlement.

"Working in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard, Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and local emergency management coordinators, New Jersey is prepared to respond to secure our precious coastal environment from the threat of oil spills," said Governor James E. McGreevey. "The State Police and the Department of Environmental Protection are working aggressively to ensure the safety of this invaluable natural resource."

The oil spill prevention plan is part of an overall strategy developed by New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the state's 13 coastal inlets. DEP deployed 3,000 feet of oil-blocking booms based on plans developed using computerized Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping. Rice hulls were used to simulate the flow of oil. The results of the drill will be reviewed to determine if the booms were in the best positions to capture the oil taking into consideration the condition of the currents.

"The wildlife management areas behind the Absecon Inlet provide important resting and feeding habitat for tens of thousands of ducks, geese, wading birds, and shorebirds during spring and fall migrations," said DEP Commissioner Campbell. "These backbays need protection because they are located in one of the Atlantic Flyway's most active flight paths making them an important link in the vast network of state and federal wildlife management areas and refuges throughout the country."

Absecon Inlet is the gateway to the Absecon Wildlife Management Area, the Brigantine unit of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, and the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Preserve. Ecologically sensitive tidal salt meadows and marshes, interspersed with shallow coves and bays dominate the area. More than one-third of the flyway's Atlantic brant population winter in the area. The area also is important for its breeding populations of osprey, American oystercatcher, least tern, black skimmer and peregrine falcon; is a popular fishing ground for summer and winter flounder and a productive shellfishery.

Today's test is the fifth booming drill. The first test of the inlet emergency response plans was conducted in 1997 at the Great Egg Harbor Inlet in Longport with subsequent tests held at the Barnegat, Shark River and Cape May inlets. Future tests are planned for inlets at Beach Haven, Brigantine, Corson's, Hereford, Little Egg, Manasquan, Sea Girt and Townsend's.

DEP Commissioner Campbell also announced a $1.5 million natural resource damage settlement to compensate the state of New Jersey for injuries to the state's coastal environment when the 846-foot long Bahamian-flagged Anitra spilled 42,000 gallons of Nigerian light crude oil into the Delaware Bay during a May 1996 storm. Tarballs formed and washed ashore along the New Jersey coast from Cape May to as far north as Holgate. The largest concentration of tarballs washed up on beaches in Cape May and southern Atlantic County where migrating shore birds feed and the federally endangered piping plover nests. The Anitra spill went through both the Hereford and Townsend inlets.

"DEP serves as the trustee of New Jersey's natural resources," said Commissioner Campbell. "This settlement reflects the fact that DEP takes that responsibility seriously."

The settlement funds will be used for a five-year effort to help restore piping plover populations. Management practices will be instituted to reduce human disturbances and enhance nesting success on breeding beaches. Restoration work also will include clearing beaches of debris that prevent shorebird feeding, including sanderlings and red knots. The Department will work closely with municipal officials as part of the overall effort.

The settlement agreement is being formally prepared by the U.S. Department of Interior for all parties to sign in early 2003. A Memorandum of Agreement also is being drafted outlining the five-year protection effort. The Department uses monies from natural resource damage settlements for restoration projects and land purchases in the same watershed or general area of where the damage occurred.


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