McKEON: MULTI-BILL PACKAGE TO TURN THE TIDE IN BARNEGAT BAY

TRENTON) – A joint panel of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee and the Senate Environment and Energy Committee chaired by Assemblyman John F. McKeon and Senator Bob Smith on Thursday approved a multi-bill package to reduce contamination of the Barnegat Bay.

The four-bill package would establish a standard for fertilizer-to-turf ratio. It would also prevent dirty water from flowing into the estuary by repairing malfunctioning stormbasins meant for retention and cleansing of rain water.

One of the measures would reverse the impact of compaction which deprives soil of the ability to absorb water. By requiring developers to restore the natural qualities of soil, it would prevent stormwater from leaching into the estuary.

“Today, we are turning the tide to stop the degradation of Barnegat Bay and breathe new life into its waters. This multi-bill package gives us the tools we need to reduce further contamination of an ecological treasure that is an important economic driver for our state,” said Assembly Environment Chairman John F. McKeon (D-Essex). “By requiring the use of slow-release nitrogen and ensuring more effective stormwater management, these measures will significantly reduce pollution run-off.”

Nutrient run-off is considered the central threat to Barnegat Bay. Some 1.4 million pounds of nitrogen, enough to fill 70,000 twenty pound bags of fertilizer, reportedly flow into the bay every year. Scientists predict that in the absence of preventive action, Barnagat Bay’s ecosystems would collapse within a generation.

Witnesses told the joint panel that rapid overdevelopment and elevated levels of phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer run-off in the 660-square-mile watershed had led to degradation in water quality and the destruction of vast quantities of diverse plant and sea life.

One of the three bills McKeon sponsored would require all lawn fertilizers to contain at least 30 percent of its nitrogen in slow-release form. This bill (S-1411\A-2290) would also prohibit the sale of phosphorus containing fertilizers – with some exceptions.

“The testimony we heard today reinforces that we need to move forward with urgency to prevent any further deterioration from nutrient pollution,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora. “The bay is vital for the economic health of our state. This package of bills will help us revive this valuable waterway.”

The bay, which is the state’s largest enclosed estuary, provides more than $3.3 billion to the region’s economy, with tourism being a major draw. The watershed area, that includes Ocean and parts of Monmouth County, hosts more than 1.4 million people every summer including an estimated 500,000 visitors.

“We heard testimony that much of the shoreline has been lost and many wetlands have been destroyed,” said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt. “Today, we are taking an important step to arrest the decline of one of our state’s most valuable and unique watersheds.”

There are an estimated 2700 stormbasins in Ocean County but a large number of these are malfunctioning, causing water to leak into the watershed without being cleaned, witnesses told the panel.

One of the approved measures – the storm water utility authority bill – would empower Ocean County officials to oversee restoration of more than 2,700 retention basins that need to be retrofitted to handle heavy rainfalls. This measure (S1815 – A-2577) would also authorize the County to charge a fee to developers or issue bonds to help finance the retention basin projects.

“A simple step of more effective storm management would help significantly reduce contamination of the bay,” said Assemblyman Peter Barnes. “These well thought out measures reverse decades of neglect that has caused us to get to where we are in Barnegat Bay.”

One of the four bills approved by the joint panel was the Senate version of the soil restoration bill (S-1410\ A-2501). The Assembly version, sponsored by Assemblyman Upendra J. Chivukula was already approved by the Assembly Environment Committee.

“By developing standards to restore the content and density of soil during construction projects, this measure makes developers responsible for restoring the natural ability of landscape to prevent storm water and pollution runoff,” said Chivukula.

Witnesses also told the panel that the explosion of harmful creatures like stinging jellyfish that feed on nutrient pollution and other sea life, threaten the survival of species native to the bay, including seagrass, clams, and shellfish. This hurts the area’s lucrative fisheries industry.

“By reducing the amount of nutrient pollution, we would help reduce the growth of these creatures that can cause great discomfort to visitors to the bay and act as a deterrent,” said Assemblyman Charles Mainor.

“Today’s approval of the package of measures to help restore Barnegat Bay is a bold first step that would make New Jersey one of the first states in the nation to enact aggressive legislation to control nutrient pollution from fertilizer runoff. We look forward to working with our fellow lawmakers and stakeholders to implement these measures and save the bay,” McKeon said.

The Assembly and Senate Environment Panel hearing was held on Thursday, August 12 at 10 a.m. in the LMH Room, Town Hall, 33 Washington Street, Toms River, New Jersey.

Three measures were approved unanimously by the joint panel. A2290 was approved in a 5-02 vote and S1411 in a 4-O-1 vote.