On October 21, 2011 the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) Office of Dredging and Sediment Technology (ODST) issued a permit to the Bureau of Coastal Engineering (BCE) for the construction of a Confined Disposal Facility (CDF). The permit would allow the BCE to dredge the Westecunk Creek State Channel in Eagleswood Township and store the dredged material in a CDF. However, this permit was issued despite the BCE’s inability to perform the following required regulatory analyses:
- Conducting an alternatives analysis for project designs that align with current coastal and wetland rules
- Conducting a Habitat Impact Assessment (HIA) for the potential impacts of the CDF on the threatened and endangered species habitats on site
- Considering potential beneficial reuse applications of the dredged material
These regulatory analyses are required for several reasons:
An alternatives analysis ensures the project design – in some form – will meet the needs of project stakeholders and comply with the appropriate rules and regulations. In this case, the BCE’s failure to consider alternative project designs is an issue of heavy lifting. To comply with current coastal rules and to maintain harmony between the wildlife of the Barnegat Bay ecosystem and its inhabitants is not an easy task. What is easy, is adhering to precedent and constructing a CDF. What is necessary for protecting the Barnegat Bay and its inhabitants, is departing from precedent and considering alternative project designs that mitigate the impact of dredging on the Barnegat Bay ecosystem.
The purpose of an HIA is to ensure that projects implemented by the NJDEP will not negatively impact ecosystems, their services, and the wildlife they support. The BCE’s failure to conduct an HIA at the intended Eagleswood CDF site is to purposefully maintain ignorance of the site’s status as breeding grounds for species of endangered osprey and herons. It is also to ignore the site’s proximity to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and the CDF’s potential impacts on this critical landscape and recreational area.
Beneficial reuse applications of dredged material ensure that Barnegat Bay’s natural resources are redistributed and reused where they are most needed: in the Barnegat Bay. The Barnegat Bay historically has had low sediment levels and slow rates of sediment replenishment, making sediment retention of primary concern for this ecosystem. Given climate change, rising sea levels and subsequent damage of local property, and the continued impairment of the Barnegat Bay ecosystem, such beneficial reuse applications are essential for the future of local inhabitants and wildlife. The NJDEP’s decision to ignore beneficial reuse applications of dredged materials at Eagleswood is both a decision to jeopardize the future of the Barnegat Bay and to refuse ownership over its previous commitments to beneficial reuse. After all, the joint NJDEP and NJDOT Memorandum of Agreement (2006) and the NJDEP’s 2015 updates to the Coastal Zone Management and Coastal Permit Program Rules were designed specifically to promote and enforce beneficial reuse of dredged material whenever possible.
There is no reason not to reuse the dredged material. Reused dredge material can improve the resiliency of the shoreline, breakwaters, and tidal wetlands to climate change; create dunes for storm buffer restoration; rehabilitate tidal marshes through thin-layer dredged material placement; restore diamondback terrapin turtle nesting habitats.
Overall, the construction of the CDF at Eagleswood is not only an environmental atrocity “permitted” by the very governing body (NJDEP) that is tasked with the protection of the NJ environment. It is also a symbol of the larger issues of oversights in the internal NJDEP permitting process and failures to integrate environmental considerations into the project design and its implementation. If the NJDEP is serious about protecting the NJ environment, they will alter their current project designs to include beneficial reuse of the dredged material to support the Barnegat Bay ecosystem and its residential inhabitants.