Getting Barnegat Bay cleaned up from Hurricane Sandy may take longer than Memorial Day, but the state and Governor Chris Christie have made it clear that getting it ready for tourist season is a priority, Ocean County officials said this week.
Freeholder Director John P. Kelly on Wednesday said he and County Administrator Carl Block had a conference call with DEP Commissioner Bob Martin and some of Martin's staff last Friday, and received assurances that the state sees the cleanup of the bay -- including the removal of sand washed in from the ocean -- as its responsibility.
Those assurances were echoed in the governor's words during his State of the State address, "and that gave me a good feeling," Kelly said at Wednesday's preboard meeting of the County Board of Freeholders.
Concerns about debris in the bay have been high on the freeholders' list since the early days after the storm moved through, with concerns about navigational hazards from sunken boats to destroyed homes believed to be littering the bay.
Christie's words were precise, Kelly said, reading from the address: ... nearly 1,400 vessels were either sunken or abandoned in our waterways during Sandy. In Mantoloking alone, 58 buildings and 8 cars were washed into Barnegat Bay. We will remove this debris and dredge the bay to reduce the risk of flooding and to improve the health of the bay."
Block said the details are still being worked out, and the state has asked the county to set priorities for the cleanup. Some of the work is expected to include using side-scan sonar to map the debris, so that bigger items can be removed.
Block said the immediate plan is to set priorities for the cleanup, and said there will be input sought from affected communities.
Removing the sand that washed into the bay from the ocean will be a big one, to reduce the flooding that has been taking place on the mainland side of the bay, Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari said.
People are getting worried because of all the floods, Vicari said. "They just got repairs done and got flooded again. Many of them are asking me, 'Is this the new normal?' and they're not sure they want to stay."
The amount of sand in the bay has raised base level of the bay, resulting in it taking less water coming into the bay to cause flooding, similar to what would happen if you fill a bathtub with sand and then add water -- it will take less water to cause it to overflow, Vicari said.
The inlets and navigational channels, especially the Intracoastal Waterway, are the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard, Kelly and Block said, and will be cleaned up the Army Corps of Engineers, which will return them to their pre-Sandy naviational depths.
The plans to clean up the bay "send a critical message to the tourism industry and the boating industry," Freeholder Gerry P. Little said. "If navigable channels are not clear, the boating industry is dead in the water."
The state will handle the rest of the bay, which given its size and the expected amount of debris, will take a lot of work.
Kelly said he expects that the governor will see to it the project moves along quickly. The goal is Memorial Day, Kelly said, "but we recognize the limitations."
"The state has the same desire as the county," Kelly said, "but we have to be understanding that it may not be completed by Memorial Day."
Having some work done should help struggling businesses, especially the marinas, which are having a hard time getting banks to loan them money to get through these times, Vicari said.
"It's been very difficult for them to get money (to make repairs)," Vicari said. "At least now they know it's going to happen."
Brick Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis said he was overjoyed when Christie announced the bay cleanup in his State of the State address this week.
"That takes a big load off the mind of a lot of our residents and businesses that depend on Barnegat Bay for their livelihoods," he said.