standards for soil restoration and that
storm-water retrofitting “has not gone far
enough to make any substantial difference
to the bay as a whole.” Of the 2,500 basins,
only 10 have been retrofitted.
“When push comes to shove,” he con-
cludes, “saving the bay means protecting
the land, and we have not seen a willing-
ness to make the hard choices necessary
to protect the land in Ocean County.”
Christie has taken heat from other
quarters for not getting tougher on water
quality and for underfunding the storm-
water basin project.
The Democrat-controlled Legislature
approved a bill in 2011 that would have required the DEP to establish Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for pollutants
in water entering the bay through runoff.
Christie conditionally vetoed the measure.
“That was very disappointing,” says
Dillingham. “TMDLs are basically pol-
lution budgets that allow the DEP to
say, ‘Okay, this is specifically how much
pollution the bay can handle.’ It was an
incredibly powerful tool in saving the
Chesapeake Bay and would have been an
equally powerful tool for Barnegat.”
In August 2011, the Legislature ap-
proved a bill aimed at aggressively im-
proving Ocean County’s storm-water
basins. According to state Senator Bob
Smith, a Democrat and chairman of the
Environmental and Energy Committee,
the bill would have levied annual fees on
businesses and homes with large, imper-
vious surfaces in the county’s 33 commu-
nities. The money would have been used
to retrofit basins and establish a storm-
water utility in the county.
ULTIMATELY, THE FATE OF Barnegat Bay
rests with the public as much as with
politicians. Over the past four decades
numerous nonprofits and grassroots
partnerships have sprung up devoted
to restoring the bay and raising public
awareness about the need to do so.
The Rutgers Cooperative Extension of
Ocean County started an initiative in 2005
in partnership with the NJ DEP, known as
the Barnegat Bay Shellfish Restoration Program. In 2007, the BBSRP created a companion nonprofit known as ReClam the
Bay, composed of more than 100 volunteers
who each year help repopulate the bay with
farm-raised clams and oysters and inform
the public about the bay’s health and ways
to reduce watershed pollution.
“People definitely know what’s at stake
now,” says Gef Flimlin, a marine extension
agent with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension. “Remember, people didn’t move
to Ocean County to go skiing or horseback
riding. They moved here because of the
bay and the ocean. They understand that
this is a priority and that it’s our responsibility to play a part in protecting it.” ■
Nick DiUlio is South Jersey bureau chief
for New Jersey Monthly.
Sandy Left Her
Mark Here, Too
Tons of submerged debris and
displaced sand from the hurricane continue to menace the bay.
As if Barnegat Bay didn’t already have
enough to deal with, Hurricane Sandy last fall
compounded some of the bay’s ecological
problems while adding a few new ones.
The first issue is debris. Since February,
the state has removed thousands of cubic
yards of storm-tossed junk from the bay.
Cars, shattered boats, furniture and even
entire houses were washed away by the
fierce winds and raging floodwaters.
“The amount of debris that’s out there is
rather overwhelming,” says Kerry Kirk Pflugh,
spokeswoman for the state Department of
According to Pflugh, most areas of the
bay are safe for boating, fishing and swimming, but debris cleanup will continue
throughout the summer (along with water-quality tests), at a cost to the state of several
million dollars. What’s more, the state has
asked boaters to use caution this summer
while navigating the bay and its surrounding
waterways in order to avoid running into submerged debris that has yet to be removed.
“The effort to remove all of this junk
has been tremendous, but a lot of stuff will
be missed,” says state Senator Bob Smith,
chairman of the Environmental and Energy
Committee and a longtime bay advocate.
Sandy also had an ecological impact.
According to Mike Kennish, research professor at Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine
and Coastal Sciences, Sandy’s storm surge
carried tons of beach sand from the barrier
islands and deposited it into the bay, potentially damaging the bay’s sea-grass beds.
“Too much sand will cause a lot of these
sea beds to die off, and if that happens it will
have a very negative effect on the organisms
that live in them,” says Kennish. “It’s a chain
reaction that could wind up compounding the
problems the bay’s already facing.”
For the last decade, Kennish and his col-
leagues have conducted studies on the
bay’s ecosystem. This year, their studies will
include how Sandy impacted the bay’s ecol-
“We won’t know for sure how this storm
affected the bay for another two or three
years, maybe more,” says Kennish. “This isn’t
just about going out there, vacuuming the
bottom of the bay and calling it a day. This
was a real tragedy, and the impact is going to
be felt for years to come.”