NJDOT: Silt plume in Barnegat Bay off Seaside Park unusual but water’s safe

     A silt plume in the Barnegat Bay off Seaside Park on Aug. 5, 2015. (Image courtesy of Save Barnegat Bay)

    A silt plume in the Barnegat Bay off Seaside Park on Aug. 5, 2015. (Image courtesy of Save Barnegat Bay)

    The silt plume that developed in the Barnegat Bay near a Seaside Park pump station is “out of the ordinary” but not hazardous, a New Jersey Department of Transportation spokesman said. 

    An aerial image from Save Barnegat Bay, an Ocean County environmental advocacy group, shows a brown circular plume extending from a shoreline pump station at 8th Avenue and deep into the bay. 

    “NJDOT investigated the cause 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,” said department spokesman Steve Schapiro.

    “Ocean County tested the water and found that it is safe,” he added. 

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    The spokesman said that the pump is now offline but will be turned on “to alleviate any potential flooding on Route 35” in the event of rain.

    The newly installed pump stations along the Barnegat Bay from Bay Head to South Seaside Park are a component of the state’s Route 35 Reconstruction Project, which is nearing completion, and are intended to pump out treated water into the bay. 

    “The new underground storm water drainage system is a tremendous enhancement over what existed prior to this project,” Schapiro said. “The new system is designed to handle 25-year storms, while the previous drainage could only handle 2-year storms.”

    But the “elaborate and expensive drainage system,” says William deCamp, Jr., Save Barnegat Bay founder, “has spectacularly failed, and the consequences for the public and the environment are great.”

    In an APP.com opinion piece, he wrote that “massive amounts” of groundwater of “unknown chemistry” are being pumped from under the barrier island and into the bay 24 hours a day. 

    “That groundwater might contain anything from raw sewage, to chemical spills to the naturally occurring nitrogen or phosphorus that Barnegat Bay already contains in excess,” he wrote. 

    But the state says the new drainage system improves water quality by reducing runoff pollution into 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,” Schapiro 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 spokesman said that the following tasks are still ongoing:

    The department is laying a broken stone/concrete matting on the bay floor to prevent the bay bottom from being disturbed. Crews have installed a turbidity barrier designed specifically to contain and control the dispersion of suspended silt in a water body. Cleaning of the manholes to remove silt began Friday.
    The department is in the process of final testing, which includes inspecting and 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. Once the pipe sealing is complete, the pumps should run less frequently.

    Still, Save Barnegat Bay remains skeptical and concerned.

    Members will be attending a Joint Senate and Assembly Environment Committee hearing at the Lavallette First Aid building (Bay Boulevard and Washington Avenue) at 10 a.m. Monday.

    “This is not on the agenda, but we will be talking about it and encourage you to come out, too,” a spokesperson wrote on Facebook. 

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