October 7, 2007

Swim Bans Decline

Asbury Park Press, 10/7/2007
Swim Bans Decline

Talk about unusual.

This beach season featured the biggest Memorial Day weekend algae bloom of its kind in years, and a release of partially treated wastewater from the Asbury Park sewage treatment plant.

It also included a record number of menhaden fish kills in Monmouth County estuarine waters and possibly the largest debris wash-up of its kind in 20 years — in Ocean County.

Meanwhile, officials did not have to close any ocean beaches to swimming because of high bacteria levels. But four beaches in southern Monmouth County were closed at least 20 times as a precaution following rain, according to state data.

Those beaches are near the outfall from polluted Wreck Pond.

“I think we had a great year,” said Virginia Loftin, a research scientist in the state Department of Environmental Protection who oversees the state-county-local Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program. “Water quality was excellent.”

Some activists disagree. Cynthia A. Zipf, who heads Clean Ocean Action, a Sandy Hook-based coalition, called the summer “dismal for the coast.”

“There was a stark increase in pollution incidents with a lackluster response from most officials,” she wrote in an e-mail. “This is discouraging and demands meaningful response.”

The Jekyll-and-Hyde season had both highs and lows, and activists want the state to improve its beach-water monitoring program and water quality standards, as well as increase efforts to reduce pollution.

Water testing “should be done as often as it can possibly be done,” said Scott Thompson, a surfer who lives in Rumson and founded the PaddleOut.org group of about 50 surfers.

“We’re out there all year long,” said John Weber of Bradley Beach, Northeast regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group. “Let’s have a system that recognizes . . . beaches are open all year long.”

Bob Connell, chief of the DEP Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring, said he thinks the state has a “pretty extensive program right now.”

“We have to look at what’s practical to do,” Connell said.

If the state had unlimited resources, it could do unlimited monitoring, DEP Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson said.

She still thinks New Jersey’s beach-water testing program is a “national model,” she said.

But, Jackson said, all officials who respond to floating debris under the multi-agency Floatables Action Plan need to get together “to look at whether or not it’s time” to make any changes.

“Let the public come in, bring their concerns to us,” she said. “We need to do that kind of work always.

“New Jersey’s beaches are beautiful, and New Jersey’s people love their beaches, and we should build on that love for the beaches,” not scare people away, Jackson said.

“I don’t think that anyone to my knowledge expressed hyperbole” regarding this beach season’s events, Zipf said.

Precautionary bans

This beach season, officials banned swimming at ocean beaches a total of 89 times — each for one day, according to DEP data. That’s down from 97 swimming bans last year.

All but five of this year’s bans were precautionary ones at the Brown Avenue and York Avenue beaches in Spring Lake and The Terrace and Beacon Boulevard beaches in Sea Girt.

Officials ban bathing at those beaches when it rains at least 0.1 inches because of their proximity to Wreck Pond, which is in Spring Lake and Sea Girt.

Four beaches in Brick and Toms River were closed to swimming on Sept. 2 after a wash-up of grease balls, tampon applicators, syringes, wood and plastics.

Officials also prohibited swimming as a precaution at the Cedar Avenue beach in Allenhurst on June 5 as a result of the Asbury Park sewage plant spill.

“Bacterially, this was the best summer we’ve had,” said William Simmons, environmental health coordinator in the Monmouth County Health Department.

But it had “the most fish kills and also had the biggest diatom” algae bloom in years, Simmons said.

The bloom turned waters brown in Raritan and Sandy Hook bays and off the Monmouth County oceanfront around Memorial Day weekend. It was natural but augmented by nutrients in runoff, Simmons said.

Under the Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program, health officials sample waters at ocean, bay and river beaches on Mondays, and results are available in 24 hours.

If levels of fecal bacteria exceed a state standard at a beach on Monday, officials take more samples on Tuesday. Results come back on Wednesday, and if bacteria counts remain high, officials close the beach until counts drop to acceptable levels.

“That way we know the beaches are safe on Wednesday . . . and that’s pretty much it,” Weber said.

“If they’re going to test any day, it should be Friday,” he said.

Even better, the water should be tested both weekly and after it rains, Weber said.

And if a single beach-water sample has high levels of bacteria, it makes sense to put out an advisory at the affected beach, he said.

New Jersey’s beach-water monitoring program was “cutting edge” and a national model when it was introduced, Weber said.

“But it’s not cutting edge any more,” he said. “I don’t feel it’s keeping up with the times. I feel . . . we could be doing better.”

Loftin said “we are trying to monitor at the time that we think that coastal sewage treatment plants are under the most stress . . . so that’s why we chose Monday morning” for weekly sampling during the beach season.

“At this time, we don’t post advisories” at beaches, she said.

“However . . . we do have some beaches that are closed automatically following rainfall, and those are beaches that we know are affected by stormwater after rainfall,” Loftin said.

And under state rules, sampling will be done after significant rainfall — enough to have “manholes popping,” she said.

That doesn’t happen very often, Loftin said.

Beach wash-up

“I would call 2007 a good year for the ocean beaches, excluding Wreck Pond,” according to an e-mail from Michael J. Kennish, a research professor at Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences.

But the garbage wash-up in September was “terrible, quite honestly,” he said in an interview.

“We don’t want to have an environment where we have garbage rolling up to the beaches,” Kennish said.

Thompson, of PaddleOut.org, said he thinks that for the most part, water quality at the beaches was fair this season.

But he thinks “somebody at the DEP was asleep at the switch” regarding the Labor Day weekend wash-up, said Thompson, a manufacturing executive.

One day last week, a lot of floatable debris, including plastics and tampon applicators — “all of the regular funky stuff” — was on the beach at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park in Long Branch, where he went surfing, he said.

The park does “a good job of cleaning it up,” he said.

“It becomes their problem when it ends up on the beach, and it shouldn’t be in the water and it shouldn’t get up there,” Thompson said.

The DEP works within the multiagency Floatables Action Plan, and the DEP’s Clean Shores program picks up “a huge amount of trash off our beaches,” and the Army Corps of Engineers “skims enormous amounts of trash” from the water, Loftin said.

About 80 percent of the combined sewer overflows in northern New Jersey have net devices to capture debris, but none of New York’s overflow points has controls on floatables, according to DEP officials.

However, New York City has hoods on catch basins that, when properly installed and maintained, remove a high percentage of floatable debris, a federal official said in a May interview.

Sewage and stormwater runoff spew into waterways from about 450 combined sewage and stormwater outfalls in New York City and 250 in northern New Jersey, according to a New York/New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program fact sheet on the Web.

Every time it rains heavily, “there’s an enormous amount of trash that enters the waterways, so we do the very best we can to try and collect it, to visually observe the waterways,” Loftin said.

Still, “occasionally, this stuff does wash up,” she said.

She thinks the issue is “we have to start addressing it at its source,” she said.

Wolf Skacel, assistant DEP commissioner of compliance and enforcement, said “the real problem is people. You need to change people’s behavior.”

Every day, people use streets, storm sewers and catch basins as “places to dump their trash,” Skacel said.

“You see them dumping their cigarettes” and not picking up their dogs’ feces, he said.

“Until people change, you’re never going to see an end to these kinds of problems,” he said.

This story includes material from Asbury Park Press archives. Todd B. Bates: (732) 643-4237 or tbates@app.com
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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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