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09/19/07

Eagleswood backs state dredging of Westecunk Creek

BY HARTRIONO B. SASTROWARDOYO
MANAHAWKIN BUREAU

Residents fear location of material, noise

EAGLESWOOD — The Township Committee at a special meeting Monday night passed a resolution supporting the long-planned $1.75 million state dredging of Westecunk Creek, calling for the project to "begin as soon as feasible as possible."

"The money is there. The site is available. It would be nice to move it along," said Mayor James R. Pine. State Department of Transportation and state Department of Environmental Protection officials present at that meeting forecast a start date no earlier than June 1, 2008.

Most of the contention, though, has been not over the project itself but on where to put the material, known as dredge spoils, culled from the bottom of the waterway. The state plans to use 17.2 acres of an almost 26-acre lot at the end of Dock Road to place the spoils, a parcel that had been used for materials from previous dredgings of Westecunk Creek.

"If you didn't know, you wouldn't realize that it had been used for that before," said Trudy Jeffries by telephone on Tuesday. Jeffries, who attended the meeting, is a resident of The Coves section of Stafford who is looking to purchase property in West Creek.

Most of the 75 seats in the room at the Eagleswood's municipal building were taken at the meeting, and some people chose to stand in back.

Some residents, opposed to where the spoils would be placed, have formed the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge Residents Association to block that part of the project. A DEP spokesman has previously said that the lot in question belongs to the DOT and is not part of the refuge. In addition, Benjamin Keiser, acting manager with the DEP's Bureau of Coastal Engineering, said on Monday that the agency "did not see, verify or notice" that the parcel contained wetlands, either.

The association, as well as other residents also fear the anticipated noise and smell, and that the Dock Road parcel will be used to place spoils from other projects. Keiser said that the use of the Dock Road site would be limited to those projects within a four-mile radius, and that currently, only a dredging of Parker Run in Little Egg Harbor would use the Eagleswood site.

Answering another question, Keiser said any material removed from the Dock Road site in the future would occur only with the approval of the state DOT as well as Eagleswood' Township Committee. Pine concurred.

"I would rather see that (lot used for spoils) rather than townhouses," Jeffries said, alluding to one proposed use for the property. "See what happens to your peace and quiet when that happens."

David Fox, 53, said following his public comments that the meeting was "a dog and pony show." Fox is in favor of the dredging but has concerns over the noise, among other issues. He proposed that the state agencies either construct a 200-foot-wide buffer from the street to where spoils are to be placed, or swapping the land with a parcel behind the Route 72 Causeway's famous falling-down shack, which Keiser said was not feasible because the Stafford land was part of the wildlife refuge.

"They're going to do what they please," said Fox on Tuesday, adding that he spent seven years building a home for himself on Dock Road.

"They don't want to hear about a buffer zone. They don't want to hear about a land swap. They just want to do it. Put it (the spoils site) across from Keiser's or Boehm's (Genevieve A. Boehm Clifton, a program manager at the state DOT Office of Maritime Resources) home and they wouldn't like it either," Fox said.

Stuart J. Lieberman, a lawyer with Princeton-based Lieberman and Blecher and spokesman for the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge Residents Association, called the meeting "interesting."

"There were a lot of things said, a lot of deception and misinformation," Lieberman said Tuesday, citing as one example the state purportedly increasing the capacity of the spoil site from 280,000 to 295,000 cubic yards.

"The notion that residents should feel some measure of relief is silly and inconsistent with reality," Lieberman said. He added that not only does the group "100 percent" support the dredging of Westecunk Creek, but also that another site should be found for the spoils.

"They should not use the most pristine, beautiful part ofNew Jersey to do it," Lieberman said.

Notice filed

The meeting had been planned before a tort-claim notice had been filed on Sept. 13 against the DOT and DEP, said Elaine B. Kennedy, township administrator. The notice is a legal necessity in which a public entity is notified that a person anticipates filing a lawsuit against them. Such a notice had been filed by four Dock Road residents — Gamal El-Zoghby, 71; 59-year-old Martha Steinberg; Michael Knight, 44; and 45-year-old Ricardo Valdes — all noting that "the actions by the government in this regard is environmentally reckless."

Each of the four, who has retained Lieberman to represent them, is seeking $5 million in damages because "the NJDOT's actions have caused, and will continue to cause, a permanent nuisance, a temporary nuisance, and a diminution in claimant's property value," according to the suit. The suits also claim that ongoing use of heavy machinery would also destroy their home's foundations as well as harm the environment.

Keiser said at Monday night's meeting that the agency had not received a copy of the notice and as well, would not comment or answer questions related to it, on advice from their lawyer.

"It's disheartening that they would not speak with me," Lieberman said. "It's a public meeting, the government should answer questions all the time."

He added, "It confirms what everybody knows: it's all smoke and mirrors and deception. No one is going to put up with it."

While the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge Residents Association's proposed solution of placing the Westecunk Creek spoils somewhere else seems simple enough, the reality is that people elsewhere may not want the spoils either.

Elsewhere at the Jersey Shore, the 2.4-acre McCarter Pond in Fair Haven is under consideration to be dredged, with borough officials on Sept. 10 voting on using excess road funds for the project. Also under consideration is the usage of part of the 77-acre Fair Haven Fields off Ridge Road, where spoils from that project would be temporarily placed. (After the spoils dry, they would ultimately be brought to a landfill to be used as capping material.)

"We have, in the past, taken the strongly held opinion that that's not a good solution," said Richard Fuller of Fair Haven, chairman of Friends of the Fields.

"As a resident, I want a viable McCarter Pond. And, as a resident, I'm concerned that the odors will affect those who live in the area," Fuller said.

In June, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., called for the state DEP not to use 20 acres of the 350-acre Palmyra Cove Nature Park in Palmyra, Burlington County, as a site for dredge spoils. In a prepared statement, Lautenberg said "the Army Corps' proposal to dump dredge spoils in this park would be devastating and the environmental impact of these spoils would be enormous."

Nevertheless, the Corps and the state agreed in mid-August to use the designated site, which can hold approximately 55,000 cubic yards of dredged materials, in Palmyra Cove on a limited use, for emergency maintenance dredging. The Corps, in a statement, said the Delaware River channel from which the spoils are to be taken has not been dredged since 2000 and impedes vessels bringing cargo to ports inNew Jersey andPennsylvania. The Corps pledged to work with park officials to come up with a plan ensuring the project would have minimal impact on natural habitats.

Hartriono B. Sastrowardoyo: (609) 978-4581 or [email protected]