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04/6/07

Environmentalists attempt to stop plan to store dredge spoils on valuable wetlands

By HARTRIONO B. SASTROWARDOYO
MANAHAWKIN BUREAU

Work on creek set for September

EAGLESWOOD - A Princeton law firm has been retained by a local environmental group opposed to a state plan to store dredge spoils from Westecunk Creek on land adjacent to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

"What they (the state) want to do is completely fill that wetlands with 12 feet of sludge in the most valuable piece of real estate, right on the bay," Stuart J. Lieberman said Thursday.

Lieberman, of Lieberman and Blecher, is the spokesman for the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge Residents Association. The group is "completely" in support of the dredging project, but against using nearly 26 acres toward the bay end of Dock Road as a place to store dredge spoils, material removed from the bottom of the creek, he said.

Lieberman did not give a total for the number of members in the association but said that it was composed of people who live in the vicinity of the property.

Westecunk Creek, also known as West Creek, and Dock Road border the site to the north. It is bordered by Upper Thorofare Creek on the west and Little Egg Harbor Bay on the east, with the refuge on its south. The state plans on dredging the creek in September.

When Westecunk Creek was dredged in the 1960s, spoils from that project were placed on the same site that has garnered concern from the association.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, as part of a $1.75 million project slated to begin in September, wants to again use that land to store spoils. Funding of the dredging project is through a partnership with the state Department of Transportation's Office of Maritime Resources.

The association wants the DOT, which owns the land, to test it for contaminants. Agency officials plan on testing the site for contaminants in May, said Erin Phalon, a DOT spokeswoman. She added the property is not part of the Forsythe Refuge.

"It is not part of the refuge and was not when DOT purchased it from a private owner" in September 2006, Phalon said.

The DEP has not yet issued a contract for the dredging, said Larry Hajna, a DEP spokesman. He added the agency will be exploring options that will address the residents' concerns.

In addition, "any future dredge materials stored on that site will be clean," Phalon said.

But that's not good enough for the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge Residents Association, Lieberman said, fearing that once dredging materials are again stored there, the site will become a location where dredge spoils from other areas will be stored.

"There are certifiable dredge spoilage places in New Jersey. They can barge it anywhere but here," Lieberman said. "This is a horrible project. With all the wetlands statutes, why make (the Dock Road property) a landfill?"

Hartriono B. Sastrowardoyo: (609) 978-4581 or harts@app.com