2007-08-16 / Front Page

Group wants study of bridge impact

Partnership to ask DOT to assess effect on environment

Staff Writer

Highlands bridgeHighlands bridge A newly formed Environ-mental Partnership of 14 local municipalities is asking for a full Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed replacement of the Highlands Bridge.

"There are many environmental questions that remain unanswered that we feel must be addressed before we can feel secure in the protection of this important area," said Councilman Thomas Scriven of Sea Bright, who represents that borough on the Environmental Partnership.

The partnership is a group comprising 14 municipalities that meets monthly to discuss environmental issues and concerns.

According to Scriven, the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers are important fishing areas as well as areas of both seeded and natural shell beds for clams and oysters.

"The surrounding wetland areas need absolute protections in place to deter damage from demolition and construction projects," said Scriven at an Aug. 6 meeting of the partnership held at the West Long Branch Borough Hall.

"Anything we look into requires a lot of research and discussion regarding all of our environmental concerns. The Highlands Bridge is most definitely a concern right now, and I don't think that the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) has the total picture of what's happening environmentally," said West Long Branch Councilman Steven Cioffi.

"We're coming into this a little later, and we may not be able to change things, but at least we can make an attempt to help the environment," said Mary Kinslow, West Long Branch Environmental Commission chairwoman.

Joseph Reynolds, co-chairman of the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council, was invited to attend the meeting to address the issue of the bridge replacement.

"The special nature of bridge construction raises the potential for environmental impacts including wildlife, beach access to Sandy Hook, safety during construction, and stormwater runoff," he said.

According to Reynolds, the DOT has plans to use the southern area of Gateway National Park as a staging area for all the construction materials for a three-year period.

"During the spring and summer, there are endangered and threatened birds that nest and feed in that region of Sandy Hook," he said.

Among the birds he named are the piping plover (federal and state endangered), least tern (state endangered), black skimmer (state endangered), black-crowned night heron (state threatened), and the red knot (state threatened).

"The noise and disturbances will have an undetermined detrimental effect on the mating and nesting processes, and I have raised the subject with the Gateway Park and the DOT teams," added Scriven.

Reynolds further explained that during construction, the fish migration and marine mammals at the bottom of the rivers are also in danger of being disturbed from increased turbidity and possible increased eddies in the current.

"How will the storage of construction materials for three years impact beach access for fishing, bird watching and other forms of recreation at the southern end of Sandy Hook?" asked Reynolds.

"The very nature of bridge construction and reconstruction creates unique hazards and issues for nonpoint source pollution, which takes place directly adjacent to and above vulnerable and sensitive water resources," Reynolds added. "Who will inspect and maintain sediment controls before, during and after storms while construction is going on?"

Reynolds also brought up the issue of stormwater runoff.

"This is also a major source of nonpoint source contaminants in the Shrewsbury River and nearby Sandy Hook Bay. What Best Management Practices (BMPs) will be used to treat road runoff or stormwater before it enters the water?" Reynolds asked.

"These concerns are what this partnership is going to address in a letter to the DOT as well as the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)," Cioffi explained.

Kinslow said that the letter will be sent on behalf of the Environmental Partnership and request that a full Environmental Impact Assessment be done on the DOT plan to demolish and replace the existing drawbridge with a stationary span.

The boroughs of Sea Bright and Highlands as well as a grassroots group, Citizens for Rational Coastal Development, oppose the DOT plan and have filed a lawsuit to block the project.

"Thomas Scriven and I are compiling the letter and it will be ready at the next meeting in September," continued Kinslow. "No matter what happens, we just don't want the environmental aspects to be disregarded."

The 14 towns participating in the partnership include Eatontown, Fair Haven, Little Silver, Middletown, Monmouth Beach, Oceanport, Ocean Township, Red Bank, Rumson, Sea Bright, Shrewsbury, Spring Lake, Tinton Falls and West Long Branch.

The group's meetings are closed to the public and are only open to the environmental chair of each town or one alternate. Members currently include, in addition to Scriven, Kinslow and Cioffi: Ed Dlugosz and John Batinsey, Eatontown; Ed Pitts, Fair Haven; Rosemary Brewer, Little Silver; Ken Lutz, Ocean Township; Louis DiMento and Laura Bagwell, Red Bank; J.T. King, Tinton Falls; Dr. William Kaloss, Oceanport; Dr. Mike Burke, Spring Lake; and Christina Latimer, Shrewsbury.

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