Governor Christie’s plan for Barnegat Bay has some excellent items but overall is not adequate to save the Bay.
December 9, 2010
William deCamp Jr — 732-892-3465
Jennifer O’Reilly — 732-830-3600
but with Some Positive Elements
Save Barnegat Bay has today received Governor Christie’s plan for Barnegat Bay in the form of a two page document with an introduction and ten bullet points. With hopes that there are more specifics to follow, this is our reaction.
Before addressing the specifics of the Governor’s “Comprehensive Plan of Action” for Barnegat Bay, two major omissions must be observed. First, this “comprehensive” plan lacks any mention of the problem of air pollution and the excessive nitrogen falling in the rain. This reflects a startling lack of overall understanding as to the current ecological threats to Barnegat Bay. The raindrop falling with excessive nitrogen within it is what drives Barnegat Bay’s problems and must therefore drive the solutions. We cannot find that raindrop in this plan. Save Barnegat Bay has delineated Four Policy Goals for addressing excess nitrogen in Barnegat Bay. (See attached or visit www.savebarnegatbay.org.) The first and most important policy goal is to burn less fossil fuel so that less nitrogen will be in the atmosphere. The failure to in any way address the largest vector of nitrogen entering Barnegat Bay, atmospheric deposition, makes the plan disturbingly unscientific.
A second critical deficiency is the failure to address zoning and regulatory changes to restrain over-development. The plan’s enhanced land acquisition for conservation is extremely positive. But without zoning and regulatory restraints Barnegat Bay will continue its precipitous decline. The two essential factors defining the health of Barnegat Bay and of almost all other estuaries nationally are Clean Air Policy overlaid upon Land Use Policy. The fact that neither are mentioned in this “comprehensive” plan indicates that neither the Governor nor the Department of Environmental Protection adequately understands the ecological threats to Barnegat Bay. Although there is much within it that can be commended, this plan as now constituted cannot reverse the decline of the Bay. It is a pity that the Governor did not invite us to explain these basic concepts to him. And it is depressing that the Department of Environmental Protection seems not to have done so. There have been too many hearings and not enough listening.
Below we critique each of the ten points in the Governors plan. Some points, such as signing the fertilizer bill, signing the soils bill, and funding for stormwater management, are excellent. Others suffer from a failure to state where the money for implementation will be found — which is the essential test of political commitment — and from any indication as to how our state’s various bureaucracies will this time be successfully moved to accomplish what they have failed repeatedly to accomplish for over a generation. We note an absence of time lines.
We understand that in this era money is not a simple thing to find. Less forgivable, however, is the absence of will reflected in the vagueness of the points offered, their similarity to so many we have heard before, and, above all, their failure to address the centrality of the subject of nitrogen in accordance with what science now knows. The plan’s failing is not so much that its points are weak — some are, and some are not. It fails because it is not informed by an adequate understanding nitrogen in the big picture. When you get the concept wrong, you get the plan wrong. To all appearances the Governor has not willfully made the wrong choices but rather has simply spoken to the wrong people.
Notwithstanding all these difficulties, we do harbor high hopes and high expectations that the decline of Barnegat Bay can ultimately be reversed. Much solid legislation is moving through the legislature. With support from the Governor, new statutes addressing the Four Policy Goals — reducing fossil fuels; conserving land and reducing excessive development; re-conceptualizing stormwater management with a new focus on nutrient transport; and achieving adequate fertilizer reform — can cut through the bureaucratic morass that has for so long stifled progress. Barnegat Bay is in terrible trouble, but its future can be bright. We today know more about Barnegat Bay’s needs than has ever before been the case.
1 – Closing Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant: The fact that cooling towers will not be required at Oyster Creek is catastrophic for Barnegat Bay. In the nine years that will elapse between now and the plant’s promised 2019 shut down, a volume of water equivalent to 7,200% of the volume of Barnegat Bay will be strained of life by the plant’s obsolete “once-through” cooling system. (See attachment.) Who in government can allow this to happen and still claim to be a good steward of our natural resources? Given the power of the nuclear industry in our society, this may in fact be the best that a mere state government can achieve in a disagreement with a corporation as powerful as Exelon. But if this is the best that can be achieved, it is still nothing to celebrate. The claim that the guarantee of closure in 2019 is ironclad will have to be carefully evaluated. In the late 1990’s Oyster Creek’s management announced that the plant would almost certainly close in or around the year 2000. It did not.
2 – Funding Stormwater Mitigation Projects is an excellent start, especially considering the economic hard times. It is discouraging, however, that the plan gives no indication that the Governor or the DEP fully understand the 21st Century definition of what now constitutes good storm water management: In the 20th century good stormwater management consisted of an absence of flooding after a storm event. In the 21st century, however, the definition of good stormwater management consists of an absence both of flooding and of an unacceptable load of nutrients being delivered to receiving water bodies. The plan’s failure to highlight this change leaves us wondering whether the administration’s approach will be sufficiently up to date to meet the needs of Barnegat Bay.
3 – Reduce Nutrient Loading from Fertilizer: It is of major positive significance that the Governor will sign the fertilizer legislation when it comes to his desk. We would have preferred that he endorse the current amendments of Senator Bob Smith and Assemblyman John McKeon, especially with respect to the requirement that fertilizer sold in New Jersey contain at least 20% of its nitrogen in slow release form, not Scotts MiracleGro’s preferred 15%. We assume, however, that the 20% figure will be in the bill when it comes to the Governor’s desk and that the Governor will sign it in that form. We are grateful for that action.
4 – Requiring Post-Construction Soil Restoration: The Governor’s support of Senator Smith’s and Assemblyman McKeon’s legislation addressing soil health and ensuring that there is no soil compaction after construction is very positive.
5 – Acquiring Land in the Watershed is absolutely critical to the future of Barnegat Bay, because land in its undeveloped state allows plants to absorb the excess nitrogen in the rain water before it passes to the Bay to become algae food. What is absent, however, is any indication of other methods of restraining over-development. Land acquisition is a necessary but not a sufficient land use strategy for saving Barnegat Bay. Without zoning and regulatory changes the paved land surface will ultimately increase to the point where the bay cannot survive.
6 – Establishing a Special Area Management Plan cannot bring about positive change on a level needed to save Barnegat Bay. This is because the Barnegat Bay Partnership, through which the plan would pass, is a bureaucracy with a proven inability to promote change. When Senator Smith and Assemblyman McKeon offered a package of four Barnegat Bay bills, the Partnership only endorsed one, the soil compaction legislation, which had no opponents anywhere in the state. The Partnership did not endorse either of the bills addressing Barnegat Bay’s stormwater management crisis. The Partnership opposed strong lawn fertilizer legislation every step of the way. Three years ago when Save Barnegat Bay originated the concepts in the present fertilizer bill, S-1411 / A-2290, in the form of a model ordinance, the Partnership vigorously opposed it. When Senator Smith and Assemblyman McKeon adopted the concepts in Save Barnegat Bay’s model ordinance and incorporated them into their legislation, the Partnership repeatedly attempted to weaken the bill by supporting Scotts MiracleGro’s preferred and weak 15% requirement for slow release nitrogen content. The Barnegat Bay Partnership is controlled by its five official governing entities: the Ocean County Freeholders, the Ocean County Mayors’ Association, Ocean County College, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the US EPA. Any one of these entities can effectively veto any progressive idea should it arise in the Partnership. The Program Director of the Barnegat Bay Partnership was the last scientist in the United States to acknowledge that nitrogen rather than phosphorus is the primary problem of Barnegat Bay. To place the bay’s future into the hands of such a politicized bureaucratic entity can only continue the bay’s dangerous decline.
7 – Adopting More Rigorous Water Quality Standards: The Governor’s pledge that the DEP will “investigate the feasibility of of establishment of a TMDL (Total Daily Maximum Load) for the Bay” is inadequate. The DEP has a long history of foot-dragging with respect to the establishment of these numbers. The Governor should direct the Department to establish standards, not direct it to investigate the feasibility of standards. This is the difference between action and red tape.
8 – Educating the Public is always toward the good. It must be noted, however, that this item is wholly lacking in new methods or new funding.
9 – Producing More Comprehensive Research: More comprehensive research is needed for Barnegat Bay. But the plan does not say where the money is going to come from.
10 – Reducing Water Craft Impacts: Save Barnegat Bay spearheaded the effort to create New Jersey’s first Marine Conservation Zone around the islands inside Barnegat Inlet near Island Beach State Park. We support the creation of further such areas in flats and near tidal marshes. However, the current Marine Conservation Zone near Barnegat Inlet is neglected on account of a lack of funding. Again, where is the money going to come from? And who will do enforcement in these zones.
The way forward is for the Governor and the Legislature to enact legislation that addresses known needs of Barnegat Bay and thereby avoids empowering bureaucracies toward another generation of delay. Save Barnegat Bay hopes to play a constructive role in this process.