There aren’t too many complaints about Ocean County’s northern barrier island. Sure, occasionally a motorist drives the wrong way, or folks don’t want to leave the beach when the lightning alarm sounds – but most often, seasonal residents, especially, bring up the fact that there aren’t too many dog-friendly open spaces around.
Some towns allow dogs to roam the sand during the winter, but beaches are off-limits to man’s best friend during the summer. The same goes for boardwalks (Seaside Heights had a short, but failed, experiment) and most parks. A notable exception is Lavallette, where dogs are allowed in some areas as part of the borough’s “Goose Patrol,” a program that caught on to humanely keep Canada geese from leaving their droppings behind. The scent of dogs prevents the geese from congregating in one area, the waste problem goes away, and the dogs get a place to stretch their legs – everyone wins.
The Goose Patrol program, however, has its limits. Only a certain number of dogs can be permitted in the program to prevent overcrowding, and priority is generally given to year-round residents since officials want to keep the geese away all year long. What the island needs is a dog park for everyone, one Lavallette councilman said Monday night, and he’d like to approach neighboring towns about lobbying for space at a potentially perfect location.
Lavallette Councilman James Borowski proposed Monday night that his town, plus Toms River and potentially Brick, approach the Ocean County Utilities Authority about using a portion of the 6.5-acre former treatment station – now overwhelmingly vacant land – for a dog run, even if it’s seasonal. The OCUA tract is located in Ortley Beach between Fielder and 8th avenues to the south and north and Washington Avenue and Route 35 to the west and east, respectively.
“I agree that’s a great spot,” said Mayor Walter LaCicero. “There is definitely more need and more requests than we can accommodate right now, especially for people who are not full-time residents of Lavallette.”
The problem, as Shorebeat readers are likely aware, is that OCUA has spent years turning down requests from both members of the public as well as local municipal leaders to use the land for recreation or open space. As recently as last month, Toms River Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill said the little-known county sewerage agency led by former Lacey Township Mayor John Parker “won’t budge” on the issue. In 2016, the Ortley Beach Voters and Taxpayers Association rallied a large number of residents to attend an OCUA meeting, but to no avail. Similar proposals dating to before the existence of Shorebeat likewise did not produce positive results.
Parker, at the time of the 2016 rally, spoke about how he did not want the authority to “lose” the property, though the OBVTA’s proposal would have allowed the land to remain owned by OCUA. Parker has historically wielded significant political influence in Ocean County and, in turn, over board members. Years later, however, and with a multi-town effort, officials hope there may be some way to influence board members to finally allow the public to benefit from the site, which shut down operations years ago and now utilizes just about 20 percent of the property to pump sewage through a submarine pipe to a modern treatment station in Berkeley Township.
“I would propose that this governing body joins arms with Toms River,” said Borowski. “I think that a dog park, specifically-designed in a small spot of that facility, might be something we could convince the [commissioners] to go with.”
LaCicero said his only concern would be lessening the number of Goose Patrol members, however there is already a waiting list for the program.
“Toms River just opened [a dog park] on the mainland this spring, so I’m sure they would be behind it as well,” the mayor said.
Shorebeat will follow up with the Ocean County Commissioners at their next meeting on the issue, though the land is owned by OCUA, which is semi-autonomous from the larger county government.
The site lays largely dormant, and OCUA does allow Toms River Township to use a small portion for beach employee parking and equipment storage. The entire parcel was, at one point, owned by the Toms River MUA before it was sold to OCUA as towns switched to a county-wide system.
“The township sold it to them for a pile of dough, and when they consolidated, they didn’t need the site anymore,” said Hill. “At one time it was a big treatment plant, but then they decided to put everything into a main underneath the bay and they no longer needed the treatment facility.”
Hill has said that Toms River would also be open to an agreement where the land is used seasonally for recreation and would remain under OCUA ownership.
LaCicero, for his part, would like to see both spots open to the four-legged friends of residents and visitors.
“I certainly don’t want to discourage participation here in town,” he joked. “We don’t want the geese to get too smart and return.”