Star Ledger on Dery Bennett – page 2

Star Ledger on Dery Bennett – page 2

Beach access was an early hot topic for the society; in the winter of 1970, a Sea Bright policeman told an ALS member he could not walk the beach in the off-season because it was not adequately patrolled. ALS considered taking the matter to court, but ended up reaching an agreement with the town, and access was allowed.

It is almost startling to pass from the rows of small summer houses in Seaside Park into Island Beach State Park. Take some time for beachcombing. The usual Atlantic shore shells abound here: quahog, jingle shells, mussels, oysters, slipper shells and whelks. A fortunate beachcomber may find one of the small beautifully rounded greenish “moonstones.” Watch also for pieces of “sea glass,” frosted odd-shaped bits of glass worn by the sea into translucent reds, browns, purples, greens and yellows.
— “New Jersey Coastwalks”

He has had his share of enemies, mostly developers. A lobbyist who represented 15 shore towns once called Bennett “a lousy misanthrope.” Zipf recalled walking with Bennett out of a hearing room in Trenton and encountering lobbyist Hal Bozarth, who was smoking — legally, at the time — in the hallway. Bennett feigned a coughing fit, and Bozarth, according to Zipf, followed him to the elevator. “Let’s take it around the corner and see how funny it is,” Bozarth said, according to Zipf.

“I don’t remember that,” Bozarth counters. “People who know me know I wouldn’t do something like that.”

Bozarth, a lobbyist for the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, said Bennett promotes an agenda “that is frankly anti-manufacturing and anti-capitalist. He talks about the ocean as if it is more important than the economic viability of the state.”

When it comes to coastal issues, Bennett becomes all business. He spends much of his day fielding calls from residents up and down the coast on scores of issues. They’re going to build new beachfront condos — can we do anything about it? There are muskrats in my back yard — what can I do about them?

Bennett’s wiseacre response to the muskrat-beset homeowner: “Why don’t you sell your home to someone who likes muskrats?”

It is important to realize that Cumberland County borders on the Delaware Bay; it is part of the New Jersey seashore. Through the phragmites (marsh reed) on the right hand side as one approaches the point, you can see the East Point lighthouse. Finally you reach a few summer homes, a dead end, the point, open water, a feeling of the Bay. The Delaware Bay waterfront from Cape May upstream to Greenwich is little visited and well worth a trip. The names of the towns beckon the coastwalker — Shellpile, Othello, Bacon’s Neck, Jericho, Gum Tree Corner, Gandy’s Beach and Ben Davis Point. Enough said.
— “New Jersey Coastwalks”

Bennett is no longer ALS executive director, but he is as active in the organization as ever. He puts his newspaper background to good use as editor of Underwater Naturalist, the society’s magazine. He leads beach walks and Pine Barrens canoe trips. He works the phones. He makes himself heard. He makes everyone in Building 18 laugh.

Bennett’s door is plastered with dollar bills won in friendly bets with colleagues. He bet one staffer he couldn’t eat six saltine crackers without water in 90 seconds; Bennett won that bet. He bet someone that asparagus often makes your urine smell. Another dollar went up on the wall.

He tries to get out of the office for at least a half hour every day to walk, fish and take in the varied beauty of Sandy Hook. At Horseshoe Cove, just down the road from Building 18, he checks osprey nests with his binoculars, points out the World War II gun emplacements, shakes his head at litter on the beach.

He walks back to his trusty pickup, the one with the six buckets of compost in the back and the mini-landfill of junk and gunk on the floor. What, he is asked, is the one thing he has yet to accomplish in his life? There is no fooling around on this answer.

“Catch a 40-pound striped bass surf-fishing in the evening with a surface plug and nobody around,” he replies. “Then release it.”

Additional Insight:
Favorite spare-time pursuit, besides fishing: Broadway plays. He’s more a fan of actors (Al Pacino, Liam Neeson, Liev Schreiber, etc.) than particular plays.
Listens to: Conservative radio stations. “You got to keep an eye on them, find out what they’re thinking.”
Now reading: Four books at the same time, including “The Lay the Land” by Richard Ford; “The Secret Life Lobsters” by Trevor Corson; “The Greatest Story Ever Sold” by Frank Rich, and a book of columns by Maureen Dowd.
Philosophy of life: You’ve got to laugh. If you don’t laugh, you’re going go nuts.”
Lasting impression of cross-country car trip two years ago: Corn and beans. You don’t realize how big this country is and how much agriculture there is.”

“Used to be you could walk up and down the street with a sign and get something done. . . Now there are whereases and waivers and exceptions and parts per million to worry about.”
— D.W. Bennett

Published July 1, 2007

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