Environmental Groups, Homeowners Sue NJDEP For Approving Massive Dredge Spoil Pile within the Barnegat Bay & Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge Ecosystem

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Environment New Jersey

Trenton –Two of New Jersey’s largest environmental organizations, Environment New Jersey and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, joined a group of homeowners to announce the filing of a lawsuit in Superior Court Appellate Division challenging decisions by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to authorize construction of a massive dredge spoil facility to be located on Dock Road in Eagleswood Township, Ocean County.

The basis for the lawsuit (called an “appeal”) is the DEP’s failure to require the developer of the dredge spoil project, called a “confined disposal facility” (CDF), to comply with several key environmental laws. 

“With these environmental groups joining local property owners, it shows that this is not a simple ‘NIMBY’ complaint,” said Bill Potter, the lead attorney on the case, referring to the acronym for ‘Not in My Backyard.’  “This case raises critical issues as to whether DEP is carrying out its mission to protect the coastal environment.”

Among the environmental laws DEP violated is the Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA) which requires project applicants to submit detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as part of their CAFRA permit application.  The DEP claims the project is exempt from CAFRA because the site was briefly used for a small dredging operation in 1983, when the property was privately owed. It was then abandoned and it soon reverted back to a natural area. The site was purchased by the DOT in 2005. The site is surrounded by the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and the Barnegat Bay.

“This project stinks to high heaven,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “DEP is willing violating numerous environmental laws to site a massive dump next to a residential neighborhood and a wildlife refuge. The courts are our last option to stop this project.”

The lawsuit contends the project is egregious because it also violated the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) which prohibits siting a CDF – which resembles an open air landfill for dumping and “dewatering” potentially toxic and foul-smelling dredge spoils siphoned from river bottoms – near residential areas.  Hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of dredge spoils are proposed for a site directly across narrow Dock Road from a line of homes, literally on the edge of Barnegat Bay.

Even more egregious, after the impact of Hurricane Sandy, NJDEP has said there were no lessons learned from the storm that should be applied to the proposed dump project.

“DEP’s failure to acknowledge climate change impacts is especially galling,” said O’Malley. “Barnegat Bay got crushed by Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge – and this dredge spoil dump will be on the front lines of the next storm surge. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

“Experts have testified that the extreme height of the proposed dredge pile will be unstable, and accelerating sea level rise will only make matters worse,” said Dr. Emile DeVito of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “We should not continue to clear sensitive tidal estuaries of naturally-deposited sediments, nor rely on antiquated disposal approaches that have no long-term stability or resiliency.”  

Finally, the DEP granted permission to fill 7 acres of freshwater wetlands without requiring detailed consideration of alternative sites, based on the fiction that DEP was permitting the “renovation” of an existing CDF, although the site has not been used for dredge spoil dumping for more than 30 years and has become a de facto appendage of the adjacent national wildlife refuge.

The dredging project would remove at least 139,000 cubic yards of spoils from the nearby Westecunk Creek, which would be dumped at the end of Dock Road at a 26-acre site. However, the proposal goes beyond the dredge spoils from just the Westecunk Creek.

The DEP proposal is to make the proposed dredge spoil site a Regional Dredge Spoil Facility. This will mean that after the first 200,000 plus cubic yards of dredge spoils are dewatered, they will be excavated and trucked out of the site.  Then fresh dredge spoils from across the region will be dumped at the site to create an ongoing perpetual and industrial operation next to a wildlife refuge and residential community.

The Confined Disposal Facility is owned by DOT and would hold more than 225,000 cubic yards of dredge spoil material. The dump site sits less than 100 feet from seven homes in the area, and is literally across the street from the homeowners.

“The DEP is attempting to circumvent its own laws to do a project they are interested in,” said Mike Pierro, a co-plaintiff and Dock Street homeowner for more than a decade. “The project the DEP is proposing will ruin my property value, and threaten the quality of life and health of my family.”