2013-02-21 / Front Page
State to remove Sandy debris in waterways
Cleanup expected to be completed by June 1 opening of boating season
With the start of boating season fast approaching, New Jersey will conduct a statewide cleanup of debris dumped in tidal waterways by superstorm Sandy. “It is Sandy debris we are looking at, stuff that was washed out by the storm that is causing a navigational problem or an environmental or ecological problem,” Larry Ragonese, press director for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), said in an interview last week.
According to Ragonese, the agency will hire three companies to locate debris using sonar technology and remove it from state tidal waterways, including the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers and tributaries, and the Raritan and Sandy Hook bays.
“We’re anticipating a full-court press on waterway debris for the next several months,” he said. “We’d like to get as much of the recreation and commercial fishing waterways open for the summer season — so you are not doing some joy-riding on your boat on June 28 and run into some ship that is underwater.”
Ragonese said the state has not previously conducted such a widespread cleanup of the waterways.
“They will be using sonar [and] some other measures to determine what materials are underwater as well. … We are going to be choosing major companies that are up to that kind of task,” he said.
The project was discussed during the Feb. 7 Oceanport Borough Council meeting, where Richard Gruskos, chairman of the borough’s Water Watch Committee, explained how the cleanup would be done. “There will be barges sent out with cranes on them to collect the debris, [then] put it on another barge and take it to a transfer point,” he said.
Gruskos, who recently attended a DEP meeting about the cleanup, said all borough boat ramps and marinas will be eligible to be used as transfer points, and suggested the borough contact all waterfront property owners about the project.
Oceanport is located along the Shrewsbury River, which Gruskos said is used for recreational activities including crabbing, fishing, duck hunting and picnicking. The river is also used by commercial crabbers and clammers.
In the Bayshore region, Middletown Administrator Anthony Mercantante said some residents have already identified debris in the waterways.
“There are not a lot of details on specific levels or kinds of debris at this point,” he said in an interview. “There has been debris identified in waterways including Compton’s Creek and Ware Creek.
“Some of the fishermen have raised concerns that there was debris in the rivers,” he added. “At the Belford Seafood Cooperative, we got reports of a couple of Dumpsters in the water, but they have since been removed by the ferry companies.”
Ragonese explained the parameters of the cleanup.
“Basically we will be working the tidal waters from Bergen County all the way down to Cape May, and then up the Delaware Bay to the Delaware Memorial Bridge,” he said. “The goal is to get these companies out into the bays, the inlets, the tidal portions of the rivers and lagoons.
“Wherever we have debris … the goal is to do what we did on land.”
According to Ragonese, the DEP expects to find sections of boardwalks, benches, decks, sheds, household items and appliances, even automobiles and boats, in the water.
Another phase of the project will be adding sand to shore up waterways damaged by the Oct. 29 storm, which has left land areas susceptible to flooding.
“Anything [will be removed] that was Sandy-related, that blew off the coast, and in addition it will include sand where we have issues with a lot of shoaling in inlets that’s causing some localized flooding,” Ragonese said.
One issue raised during the Oceanport meeting is the preliminary maps available on the DEP website that do not show a lot of debris in the Shrewsbury River.
Gruskos said the mapping is not representative of the type of debris the borough has already identified in the river.
“There are some items that are just amazingly dangerous in my mind,” he said. “There is one dock that has got about a foot of concrete with a metal band around it that is wedged up in the air.”
However, Ragonese explained that the maps are only representative of visible debris, and the Shrewsbury River will not be neglected when the debris removal actually takes place.
“That [map] is really preliminary; we are not really going to know what’s out there until we get into the waters,” he said. “The land is much easier to gauge; you look down the street and there it is.
“The waterway debris is much less definite, so there is some good guessing going on,” he added. “As we get out there I think there will be some surprises as to what we are finding.”
Although Ragonese said he expects that the majority of items recovered will be labeled debris, if any boats are located in the water, the DEP will attempt to find their owners.
“What we did previously was, we identified 1,400 abandoned vessels in the waterways, and we’ve been able to get out about 1,100 of those vessels.
“If we are out there and find a boat that has sunk and it is now a wreck that is underwater, we’ll be towing it in as debris,” he added. “If we find some where we can actually find the owners, we will treat them the same as we did previously.”
Ragonese said the DEP does not expect a lot of environmentally sensitive materials will be left in the waterways.
“Any pollution that occurred because of spillage of materials that blew into the waters has already occurred,” he said.
For more information on the DEP’s debris removal project and to view maps of local waterways, visit http://www.state.nj.us/dep/special/hurricanesandy/wwdebris.htm.