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(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 will hold a Thursday morning hearing to take testimony from stakeholders and members of the public on the declining health of Barnegat Bay.

This annual joint hearing focuses on issues concerning the Jersey shore, a major contributor to the state’s revenue from tourism and commercial fisheries. Barnegat Bay, the state’s largest enclosed estuary provides more than $3.3 billion to the region’s economy. Thursday hearing is the second consecutive annual joint panel on the bay by the Assembly and Senate environment committees.

The Assembly and Senate Environment Panel hearing is scheduled to be held 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 12, in the LMH Room, Town Hall, 33 Washington Street, Toms River, New Jersey.

Rapid overdevelopment and elevated levels of phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer runoff in the 660 square mile watershed have led to degradation in water quality and the destruction of vast quantities of diverse plant and sea life. The explosion of harmful creatures like stinging jellyfish that feed on nutrient pollution and other sea life, threatens the survival of species native to the bay, including seagrass, clams, and shellfish. This hurts the area’s lucrative fisheries industry.

“The future of the Barnegat Bay demands that we take action now to reverse decades of neglect and contamination which are choking the life out of this once-teaming natural asset,” said Senate Environment and Energy Committee chairman Bob Smith (D-Middlesex\Somerset). “From an ecological and economic point of view, we cannot afford to lose the bay to pollution and laissez-faire legislation. The bill package we’re hoping to advance tomorrow is an appropriate compromise which will hopefully, go a long way to protect the bay for generations to come.”

The watershed area, which includes Ocean and parts of Monmouth County, hosts an estimated 1.4 million people every summer including nearly 560,000 residents.

“We are returning to Tom’s River with a package of measures to stop the degradation of Barnegat Bay and breathe new life into its waters. By requiring the use of slow-release nitrogen and controlling the amount of fertilizer used, the measures we are proposing would significantly reduce pollution runoff and the contamination of the estuary,” said Assembly Environment Chairman John F. McKeon. “The testimony we heard last year led to stakeholder meetings and the crafting of legislation to help repair and restore this valuable waterway, a source of significant revenue for the state from tourism and commercial fisheries.”

The joint hearing will review legislation considered critical to protecting and restoring the bay.

These include measures that would:

  • reduce nutrient runoff, the central threat to the health of the bay;
  • decrease the amount of chemicals leaching into groundwater; and
  • require the repair and retrofitting of faulty basins in which stormwater is collected and decontaminated.

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.

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, the Barnegat Bay’s ecosystems would collapse within a generation.

“We are committed to restoring Barnegat Bay to the ecological and geological wonder it once was and look forward to hearing from stakeholders and members on the public on Thursday on how we can achieve this goal,” McKeon concluded.

The joint hearing will consider the following measures:

  • S-1411/A-2290 — Smith; Beck/McKeon — Establishes standards for fertilizer applications including:
    • ratio of fertilizer to turf;
    • use of slow-release fertilizers;
    • prohibits application during periods of heavy rainfall;
    • sets buffers between the turf on which the fertilizer is applied and
    • waterbodies.

  • S-1815/A-2577 — Smith/McKeon — “Ocean County Stormwater Management System Demonstration Act”
  • This bill would:

    • retrofit and repair stormwater basins;
    • authorize the creation of a stormwater management authority by Ocean County which contains most of the Barnegat Bay watershed;
    • permit Ocean County Utilities Authority to maintain a utility to manage the stormwater runoff of the county; and
    • authorize Ocean County to finance the creation, operation and maintenance of the stormwater utility system through the imposition of user fees and issuance of bonds.

  • S-1856/A-2606 — Smith/McKeon — Authorizes measures by Ocean County Planning Board for control of stormwater runoff
  • This would include:

    • developing a comprehensive plan for identifying and fixing existing sources of pollution;
    • pollution;
    • assessing a fee on any new development within the Barnegat Bay watershed to help in the funding; and
    • develop a stormwater and pollution management plan designed to reduce siltation caused by stormwater runoff.

  • S-1410* — Smith; Bateman — Soil Erosion and Sediment Control Act
  • * The Assembly version A-2502 — Chivukula/McKeon has already been approved with amendments by the AEN Committee.
    Subject to possible amendments, this measure would:

    • define “soil restoration measures” to mean those measures taken to ensure, to the maximum extent possible, restoration of the optimal physical, chemical, and biological functions for specific soil types and the intended fund use;
    • require post-construction restoration of optimal soil conditions;
    • require the State Soil Conservation Committee (Committee) to adopt standards to include soil restoration measures to optimal soil conditions following the completion of construction projects;
    • authorize the Committee to establish procedures for post-construction inspection to certify compliance with these soil restoration standards;
    • require plans for soil restoration to be included in any plan for soil erosion and sediment control submitted to the Committee for approval in connection with any development project subject to the act; and
    • requires that the Committee establish a training and certification program for project supervisors identified in the plan as responsible persons in order to ensure compliance with soil restoration standards.