As crews work to clear Barnegat Bay of debris left in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, an additional level of protection will be present in local waterways this summer: an expanded pumpout boat fleet.
"At one time, it was just to keep Barnegat Bay clean, but now our main concern is safety," said Ocean County Freeholder Joseph Vicari at a recent meeting.
Captains of the pumpout boats – which serve as mobile emptying tanks for the heads of boats on Barnegat Bay – will this year also be serving as lookouts for any debris that could be left in the water.
"This is another safety net that we have," said Vicari.
For 2013, a new boat will be added to the county-wide fleet and will be homeported in Brick Township.
With the addition of the new boat, the pumpout fleet will grow six total – two in Brick, two in Seaside Park and two in Tuckerton.
"We're very happy that they selected Brick Township to operate the boat," said township Business Administrator Scott Pezarras.
"There has been a great improvement to the quality of water on Barnegat Bay since it's been implemented," he said, referring to the pumpout program, which has been in existence for 16 years.
The county provides the boats to municipalities to operate, along with $20,000 annually per boat for expenses, with an extra $5,000 per boat each year for maintenance.
Pezarras has said the county's funding, which itself is mainly derived from federal grants, has always covered the cost of operating the boats.
Normally, the pumpout boat is based at the township-owned Traders Cove Marina site, but damage from Sandy may mean the expanded fleet will have to dock elsewhere temporarily.
"Given the circumstances this year, I think we're probably going to have to go around and beg for a slip, at least for the beginning of the season," said Pezarras.