September 4, 2007

An almost-perfect holiday

Asbury Park Press, 9/4/2007
An almost-perfect holiday

Asked how their weekend sized up as the cherry on an unusually cooperative summer, many beachgoers wedged in the popular section between Normandy Beach and Lavallette couldn’t give a higher rating.

No rain. Breezes to counteract the heat. Traffic that wasn’t insane.

Then comes the exception: It was perfect . . . apart from the water.

Starting late afternoon Sunday, as medical waste and raw sewage began showing up in the tide to rest near sand castles and beach chairs, hundreds of people were forced off Brick, Toms River and Lavallette beaches.

As disappointed sunbathers like Dana Cimera, 17, went home to watch TV, others spent Sunday morning getting boogie-boarders out of the water and picking up the smorgasbord of garbage, which ranged from syringes, tampons and blood kits to spongy fecal matter, whole tires and coolers.

“The water’s generally dirty and stinky today; I don’t know what’s going on,” Mantoloking lifeguard David Forsberg said late Sunday morning. Moments later his boss, senior lifeguard Bob Harris, arrived with a plastic bag containing two hypodermic needles and what looked like a urine sample.

At 7:30 a.m. Monday, the Ocean County Board of Health had four inspectors combing the shoreline from Point Pleasant Beach to Island Beach State Park while a state Department of Environmental Protection helicopter searched for off-coast garbage slicks. By noon, the board reopened all beaches.

“We walked the whole thing and the beaches were all cleaned up with no indication of trash in the water,” Robert Ingenito, the county’s environmental health coordinator, said.

It is now the DEP’s job to find out the source of the refuse, which may have come from sewage overflow out of New York and northern Jersey discharge locations. A call to the agency went unreturned.

On a brighter note

Though the garbage presence may have tainted the Labor Day experience, it by no means ruined it. A low-80s air temperature with frequent breezes and a 70-degree surf caused most of the thousands swarming the beaches to gush about what retired North Lavallette year-arounder Lewis Barna called, “California weather.” Today is supposed to be just as sunny, reaching a high of 81 degrees with possible showers in the late evening.

“It hasn’t been a damper,” Monty Harris, of Wayne, Pa., said of the shore trash that forced his two young children as well as nieces and nephews from some perfect boogie-boarding waves in Mantoloking. “We’ll only be here a short time longer, most of the kids’ friends have already left, and it’s a beautiful day.”

Except for a shooting in Brick, reports of crimes Monday were few and minor. Traffic was predictably slow heading north on the main arteries but not as snarled in some places as in the past. By 3 p.m., the Garden State Parkway was slow through Lacey. And at the Forked River service area, homebound cars competed for spots.

Sharing Roberta Kalamasz’s ride to Pittsburgh were numerous animal prizes won at the Wildwood boardwalk, now stuffed in the back of her pickup.

“It was our first time there (as a family),” she said. “I’ve been there when I was little.”

Meanwhile, in Ocean Grove, local residents and visitors were spending their last moments of the summer beach season on the sand or the boardwalk.

“Good to get out of the city for the weekend,” said Joseph Laspine, 46, of Mahwah, as he pushed a cart packed with chairs and other beach equipment.

“Sad to see summer go”

About 4:30 p.m. at the Surf City Municipal Bathing Beach on Barnegat Avenue, a group of children were in the water while a dozen adults were stretched out on lounge chairs or on the sand, enjoying the last remains of the summer despite the late afternoon hour.

Mike Van Zyl, 43, of Delanco, was battling his 3-year-old son, also named Mike, with a foam noodle.

“I’m really sad to see the summer go. It was too short,” Van Zyl said.

Those in Monmouth expressed similar nostalgia for the season’s end.

On the shores of Sandy Hook, Helmetta resident Wilma Rios and her two friends, self-described beach bunnies, were flat-out depressed. “It’s not officially over, but it’s over,” Rios said.

“I am not looking forward to going back to work,” her friend, Jean Stefani of Tinton Falls, added.

On the business side, shop owners gave mixed reviews for the summer.

Pete Cupper, owner of Charlie’s Cafe in Mantoloking, swore it was one of his busiest seasons. “We were just commenting on how much corn we’ve gone through,” he said of his produce stand.

But others like Louise Hammer, form Lavallette’s Crab’s Claw inn and restaurant, were more reserved.

“July was uneven, let’s put it that way,” Hammer said. “The weather was good, the water was beautiful, the people were here – I don’t know why it was like that.

“Now we’ll see a dramatic decline in business starting tomorrow – summer’s over,” she added.

On the Seaside Heights boardwalk, crowds dotted with every sort of character moved past vendors as others squeezed between the piers for some sand space.

Steve Whalen, who runs Lucky Leo’s arcade and game stands, agreed that July was “soft, but August bailed us out.”

Plus, it was leagues better than last Labor Day, when hurricane weather prevented him from opening on both Friday and Saturday. He did, however, have his theories for why business was sluggish: higher real estate, a tighter dollar and “people less frivolous with their cash.”

Glitzy competition

“Let’s face it, there are a lot of other places people can spend their money,” he said, referring to Atlantic City and Six Flags. Decades ago when their father, Leo, ran the attractions, those other entertainment draws didn’t exist. They were also the days when Steve and his brother Tom, as teenagers, surfed in the morning, ran the boardwalk at night and slept in the back of a vending stand.

“This is all we’ve ever known,” Steve, now 54, said. In March he plans to open a bar and bistro next door, its walls adorned with faded black-and-whites of Boardwalk greats like Stanley Tunny, Bobby Bennett and Tommy Go-Go.

As for Lucky Leo’s future, Steve’s daughter Kelly, 27, is already running the arcade while her sister, Patty, 22, operates two of the clothing stores.

“We’ve been her 54 years; we’re not going anywhere,” Steve said.

Staff writers Hartriono B. Sastrowardoyo, Sametta Thompson and Tristan J. Schweiger contributed to this story.
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July 5, 2007

Advocates: State funds needed to save Takanassee

Atlanticville, 7/5/2007
Advocates: State funds needed to save Takanassee

Voters urged to approve Garden State Preservation Trust
Staff Writer
Environmentalists, activists and local officials gathered on the Long Branch oceanfront last week to advocate for state funding that would preserve the historic Takanassee Beach Club property.

To save the Elberon beach club property from being developed, the activists asked voters at the June 26 press conference to approve a preservation bond initiative on the November ballot to support public acquisition of the Ocean Avenue site.

“We are here to urge voters to vote yes in November,” said Long Branch Councilman Brian Unger at the press conference, which was held on the public sidewalk fronting the beach club property.

The $200 million Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT) bond, if approved, would make state funding available which could be used to help acquire the beach club, which is assessed at $10.7 million, according to Unger.

“Takanassee is so important to the Shore and to the entire state in so many ways,” said Unger, who has spearheaded efforts to preserve the site.

“We have to move quickly with acquisition plans when the time is ripe,” Unger added.

Private developer Takanassee Developers is the contract purchaser of the site, and an application for a Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (CAFRA) permit is currently pending before the state Department of Environmental Protection.

DEP spokeswoman Karen Hershey said Monday that the agency had not yet ruled on the CAFRA permit and had requested additional information from the developer.

“We have requested a cultural resources report,” Hershey said, adding that the report is required due to historic structures located at the beach club property. which date to the late 1800s.

“We want to know how they plan to address those historic structures,” she said.

Also at the conference was Mayor Adam Schneider, who said, “One of the things that is sadly true is over the course of the last 20 years, the cost of land has skyrocketed.

“And the funding available [to preserve sites] has not,” he said. “The funding is absolutely essential to the future of the state.”

Other activists at the conference included representatives of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, American Littoral Society, Surfrider Foundation, Elberon Voters and Property Owners Association, the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, a Monmouth County Freeholder candidate and historians.

Representatives for Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6) and Assemblyman Sean T. Kean (R-11) were also present at the conference.

John Weber, the East Coast regional manager of the Surfrider Foundation, said at the conference that the Takanassee property is located on a stretch of the New Jersey coastline where there are only a few public beach access points.

“Access is not just a way to get on the beach,” Weber said. “It is restrooms, it is parking. This would be perfect for a great public park if we can get the money to purchase the property.”

The 5-acre Takanassee Beach Club property currently owned by Ginger Peters, her brother Scott Peters and their sister-in-law Kristen Peters, has been owned by the family since 1680.

After a court-ordered sale of the property, private developer Takanassee Developers is the contract purchaser of the site.

The developer has applied to the state’s coastal land-use agency for a CAFRA permit to build 21 luxury homes on the property.

A principal in Takanassee Developers is Isaac Chera of Elberon, who is being represented by Jerold Zaro, a partner in Long Branch City Attorney James Aaron’s law firm, Ansell Zaro Grimm & Aaron.

If the DEP denies permission for the private housing development, Chera can choose to drop the project, appeal the decision or re-design building plans, according to a press release from the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.

However, the release states, Chera has failed to deposit a required $1 million down payment and Scott Peters has filed a lawsuit to have Chera’s purchase contract invalidated.

According to Scott Peters, his sister, Ginger Peters, took her two family members to court almost three years ago to force the sale of the Takanassee property.

Ginger Peters, who has cerebral palsy and spinal stenosis, contends the sale is necessary because she needs funds for medical expenses.

According to Scott Peters, who opposes the sale, Superior Court Judge Alexander D. Lehrer ruled in favor of Ginger Peters and ordered the sale of the property. Peters noted that before being appointed to the bench, Lehrer was a partner in the Ansell law firm, which is representing the developer.

The press conference was hosted by The New Jersey Sierra Club and the environmental group’s director, Jeff Tittel, said that the forum was a chance for activists to press their case for public acquisition of the beach club.

“This bond act is critically needed to help keep the Green in Green Acres,” Tittel said. “Without it, we would run out of funding and important sites like Takanassee would be lost to development.”

In a prepared statement read at the conference, Pallone said, “Takanassee represents a perfect example of what Green Acres funding should be used for.

“By voting in favor of the November ballot initiative we will be sending a strong signal that the Takanassee Beach Club is exactly the type of area we should be using federal, state and local preservation funding to protect.

“And that New Jersey is serious about open space and historical preservation issues,” he added.

What is now the Takanassee Beach Club was a lifesaving station operated from 1876 to 1928 as one of the 42 lifesaving stations situated three-and-a-half miles apart along the New Jersey shoreline from Sandy Hook to Cape May.

The property still contains the three original buildings, which were constructed between 1878 and 1903.

Crews of the lifesaving station patrolled the Long Branch beaches until 1928 when the Coast Guard deactivated the station and the site became the Takanassee Beach Club.
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June 30, 2007

Beach sweeper strays, killing endangered bird

Asbury Park Press, 6/30/2007
Beach sweeper strays, killing endangered bird

State and federal officials are investigating the death of an endangered piping plover chick found Sunday in a Sea Girt beach-raking machine, officials said Friday.

It is the “first incident of its kind confirmed in New Jersey in recent memory,” said Darlene Yuhas, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Another plover chick is missing, and the plovers’ parents evidently abandoned the nest, which had an egg in it, Yuhas said.

“We feel terrible that . . . this bird was killed,” said Sea Girt Borough Councilman Raymond D. Bogan.

The mayor and Borough Council have directed the public works department to investigate what happened and “take whatever corrective measures are necessary and make sure it doesn’t occur again,” Bogan said.

The DEP has issued Sea Girt a notice for violating a coastal permit and “they likely face . . . additional enforcement action, but we’re still assessing what that will be,” Yuhas said.

The piping plover incident follows efforts by the DEP, volunteers and others to re-establish and protect a beach nesting area for plovers and endangered least terns on the boundary of Sea Girt and Spring Lake near Wreck Pond.

The site, a disappointment last year, has been very active this year.

“I am greatly saddened by the situation,” says an e-mail from Nancy Maclearie-Hayduk of Spring Lake Heights, a volunteer who oversees other volunteers who monitor the site.

She found the dead chick after searching the debris in the beach rake equipment, her e-mail says.

“In the face of all of the obstacles these (plover) chicks have to overcome, a beach rake should not be one of them,” Maclearie-Hayduk said in her e-mail. “It is little wonder that they are endangered.”

Last year, New Jersey had 116 pairs of piping plovers, according to Yuhas.

Plovers are the size of robins and blend in with sand, according to the DEP Web site.

Nearly 1,000 pairs of least terns, which are gray and white and have yellow bills and black-capped heads, were spotted in 2002, according to the DEP Web site.

Law enforcement officials in the DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s New Jersey Field Office in Pleasantville are investigating the plover incident and coordinating efforts, Yuhas said.

Under DEP coastal rules, mechanical raking is not allowed from April 1 to Aug. 15 in beach areas designated as endangered bird nesting areas, she said.

The DEP reminded Sea Girt about the raking restrictions in a June 6 memo, Yuhas said.

In her e-mail, Maclearie-Hayduk said she “had been at the beach the evening before (the Sunday incident) observing the plover chicks.”

“When I arrived in the morning, the first thing I noticed was that the beach was freshly raked,” she said. “After an extensive search of the site, the chicks could not be located. I then searched the debris in the beach rake equipment.”

“The chick was approximately a day old and part of a brood of two chicks,” Yuhas said. “The second chick was also discovered missing but hasn’t been recovered,” and based on brood behavior, “it’s likely that it met . . . the same fate as the recovered dead chick.”

Bogan said “I don’t know what happened to the second bird, and I don’t think it would be responsible for me or anybody else to speculate.”

He understands that the abandonment of the nest happened after the baby plover was found.

The borough has had a policy for some time “in which we don’t go anywhere near the no-rake area,” and it sounds like a public works employee made a mistake, Bogan said.

“It is not a purposeful act,” he said.

The DEP invests “a great deal in protecting these birds . . . and we did issue that memo . . . reminding them of the raking restrictions, so frankly, it’s sad,” Yuhas said, stressing that many volunteers help protect the birds.

This story includes material from previous Asbury Park Press articles.
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June 14, 2007

Historic beach club must be preserved

Asbury Park Press, 6/14/2007
Historic beach club must be preserved

A historic icon of the old Jersey Shore – Takanassee Beach Club, which has benefited the citizens of Long Branch and Monmouth County for generations – could be another priceless coastal site lost.

The Peters family, owners of Takanassee for generations, has provided a priceless public benefit to beachgoers and history buffs. The only way Long Branch could afford to acquire this property would be if Gov. Corzine and the Legislature replenish the Green Acres funding mechanism. My bet is they will.

Silence on this public issue enables and emboldens those who support a developer’s plan to raze the historic structures of Takanassee and build luxury homes. We have enough luxury development on the Long Branch coastline.

When the developer’s lawyers accuse me and other elected officials of using the Takanassee controversy for “political purposes,” they intend to stifle debate and intimidate opposition. They resort to the oldest – and most transparent – lawyerly tactic: Instead of arguing the substance of the issue in dispute, accuse your opponent of having nefarious ulterior motives.

But preservation of Takanassee is my badge of honor. The people of Long Branch elected me to pursue public policies that reflect my commitment to environmental preservation, accountability, transparency and fiscal responsibility in city government.

Politics is nothing more or less than debate and compromise on forming public policy. And public policy is a useful tool to preserve Takanassee from yet another private enclave that deprives the public of recreational opportunities.

So, I hope my colleagues join me to preserve this sliver of history and good old Jersey Shore fun. Should we succeed, we aim to pay an absolutely fair appraisal price to the Peters family, as provided by law.

Brian Unger

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June 7, 2007

Brown tide must be studied as ecosystem failure

Asbury Park Press, 6/7/2007
Brown tide must be studied as ecosystem failure

There is a coastal mayor named Larry Vaughn whose name you probably won’t remember, but you will remember his message. He is the fictional character in the movie “Jaws,” the one who declares that the movie’s tourist-dependent beaches will not be closed on July 4th weekend. We all know what happens next.

Just before the Memorial Day weekend and with little scientific basis, state officials made the prediction that “water quality is expected to be good this summer.” On Memorial Day weekend, a brown algae bloom appeared and stretched from Sandy Hook to Avon, eventually reaching Manasquan after the weekend.

Our coalition of 10 environmental groups pointed out that brown tide is an indicator of poor ecosystem health. Furthermore, we were surprised by the state’s reaction that these algae blooms are normal. State Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson then admonished the Coastal Ocean Coalition and paid homage to Mayor Vaughn by saying, “It’s just unsettling that they would choose to sensationalize the algae bloom . . . at the start of the beach season.” She then suggested the coalition has an agenda.

We certainly do have an agenda, and we have been bringing it to the Statehouse and the Legislature for almost two years now. It is called ecosystem-based management. It is one of the major recommendations of both the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

Ecosystem-based management looks at all the links among living and nonliving resources, rather than considering single issues in isolation. Instead of developing a management plan for one issue, it focuses on the multiple activities occurring within specific areas that are defined by ecosystem, rather than political, boundaries.

Ecosystem-based management would move environmental protection away from the practice of managing species by species and using single parameters to determine environmental health. The current system puts environmental programs into “silos,” isolated from all other programs. This is not the way the natural world works. As the grandfather of the environmental movement, John Muir, said, “Tug on anything at all and you’ll find it connected to everything else in the universe.”

Sen. Ellen Karcher, D-Monmouth, is sponsoring a bill, S-2645, that would encourage the state to use ecosystem-based management. It has already been discussed by the Senate Environment Committee. Other states such as New York and California have adopted this approach to managing their coastal resources. It is up to our Legislature to bring this policy to New Jersey, and it is up to the governor to sign it into law. Once enacted, our preparation for and our response to an event like an algae bloom would be much different.

This recent bloom is most likely a sign of an abnormal nutrient load somewhere in the watershed. It illustrates the limitations of the current monitoring system. We are not suggesting that this particular type of algae bloom is harmful to human health. At its worst, it is aesthetically repulsive. But it is potentially harmful to shellfish, bottom-dwelling finfish and marine plants, and that is where the single parameter monitoring system fails.

It is possible that a severe algae bloom like this could send all the tourists and beachgoers packing for other shores, yet the state’s test for one type of harmful bacteria, enterococcus, would declare our water quality good. Ecosystem-based management would recognize that tourists are not the only species residing at the shore. It would employ parameters that actually measure biological conditions along the coast, not surrogate indicators like dissolved oxygen or single purpose parameters like enterocci bacteria. The result would be a more complete picture of coastal health. This would be good for both the tourist economy and the coastal ecosystem.

We would like to bury the spirit of Mayor Vaughn and use an event like an algae bloom to have a frank discussion about the health of our coasts and oceans – even if it is tourist season. But more importantly, with a policy of ecosystem-based management, we would be assured we have the best policy in place to prevent it and deal with it.

John Weber is the Northeast regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation, a member of the Coastal Ocean Coalition.
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