A prominent environmental group is blaming regulations waived in the wake of Superstorm Sandy for the plume of silt that has appeared in Barnegat Bay off Seaside Park, while state officials have said they identified what caused the plume and have a plan in place to prevent it from recurring.
State officials worked Tuesday to assure those who live near the plume that it did not consist of sewage or other pollutants.
“I need to be crystal clear on this, the water coming from the pump on 8th Avenue was most certainly not sewage,” state Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox said. “The Department of Environmental Protection and Ocean County both tested the water and found it safe. The public’s health and safety is always our first concern.”
The department said in a prepared state that officials investigated the cause of the plume to ensure everything is operating properly and found it was a combination of silt built up in the system from the months of construction activity in the area and silt from the bay floor that was turned up by the force of the water exiting the outfall pipe.
The DOT is in the process of cleaning manholes and pipe joints and applying hydro-cement to ensure there are no leaks in the system. While this work is ongoing, the drainage system and pump stations remain operational.
“As we seal and inspect the system, some water is still being cleared from the pumps throughout the day, much like a basement sump pump,” the statement said.
Once the pipe sealing is complete, the pumps should run less frequently, officials said. In addition, the DOT will be laying a broken stone and concrete matting on the bay floor to prevent the bay bottom from being disturbed.
The Sierra Club, however, blamed the pump debacle on waivers received by the state Department of Transportation in the wake of Superstorm Sandy that allowed the agency to forgo the creation of an environmental impact statement before the highway rebuilding project began. The organization also said the state did not have a proper stormwater management plan in place.
“The Department of Transportation has done next to nothing to help mitigate stormwater runoff and is actually increasing pollution with their failed drainage pump stations,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter. “Runoff from the road including oil, gasoline, and antifreeze are major sources of pollution. They could have fixed pollution and flooding problems by offering a new plan for stormwater management, but instead they came up with ineffective drainage systems.”
State officials contradicted that claim by pointing out numerous environmental measures put in place with the pump system.
“To help reduce runoff pollution to the Barnegat Bay, the new drainage system includes 76 manufactured treatment devices, or MTDs, that separate trash, oils, and sediment out of the water before it flows to the bay,” the DOT’s statement said. “This is the first time runoff into the bay will be filtered and cleaned, improving the quality of water discharged into the bay.”
The pump system is designed to switch on during storms and remove water from the highway. The system is designed to remove water in a “25 year storm,” an improvement over the previous system, which could only handle a two year storm, the DOT said.