Residents seek remedies as shellfish beds reopen

Discussions continue
on how to help residents affected by sewage spill

By jennifer dome
Staff Writer

Residents seek remedies
as shellfish beds reopen
Discussions continue
on how to help residents affected by sewage spill
By jennifer dome
Staff Writer

SAYREVILLE — Michel Passman isn’t sure who he can trust.

After gallons of raw sewage from a sewer main break on March 2 flooded the neighborhood where his Sixth Street home is located, Passman has been skeptical about the concessions offered to him and his neighbors by the borough and the Middlesex County Utilities Authority (MCUA).

"The smoke and mirrors don’t sit well with me," Passman said Monday.

MCUA spokesman Tony Cicatiello said the authority is discussing topsoil replacement options with the borough and with the residents affected by the sewer line rupture.

The authority has already agreed to remove damaged topsoil and replace it with new topsoil, but Cicatiello said he is uncertain when this process will begin.

"We are going to go forward with the program for that," he said.

Fluctuations in the weather have deterred the topsoil replacement process, but the MCUA is discussing the replacement project with the borough’s Department of Public Works, Cicatiello said.

Another matter being discussed between the MCUA and the residents deals with compensation for residents’ vehicles damaged because of the sewage flood, Cicatiello said.

"We plan to repay them for their inconvenience," Cicatiello said.

The process of dealing with attorneys and insurance companies is taking longer than is desired, but the MCUA is trying to minimize further inconveniences to the residents, he said.

"I’m waiting to hear what they will do [that is] of a permanent nature," Passman said.

While he, too, has heard that the MCUA has agreed to replace the topsoil, Passman said he is concerned with the sewage that seeped further into the ground.

According to Passman, he and the other residents of Sixth Street and Boehmhurst Avenue, which was also flooded when the sewer line broke, want reassurance that the fecal coliform levels won’t be hazardous when warmer weather comes.

At a Borough Council public meeting in March, residents asked the council to hire an independent firm to study the effects of the sewage spill on their homes and yards. Passman said that he has not heard from the borough on this matter, but that Mayor Kennedy O’Brien did stop by his home last week to see how things were going.

Passman said that besides the levels of fecal coliform, he is also upset with the cracks in the neighborhood’s sidewalks. He is worried about possible structural damage that homes may have experienced during construction work on the broken pipeline as well.

The 102-inch main break spilled more than 570 million gallons of raw sewage into the Raritan River after the flood was diverted from the Boehmhurst Avenue and Sixth Street area. Since then, the MCUA has applied lime to the affected residential yards to help diminish the presence of bacteria to normal levels.

MCUA officials have assured the residents that the levels of bacteria are being tested and will continue to be tested.

An extensive discussion took place between residents, borough officials and MCUA officials over the validity of samplings to test bacteria levels in the soil at a March 10 public meeting. Borough officials and residents questioned how accurate the samples were since they were only taken from the top 2 inches of soil in the affected area.

Vajira Gunawardana, an MCUA envi-ronmental consultant from Najarian Associates, said that the largest amount of contaminants will be found in the surface soil since the bacteria levels decrease as they break down in the soil. He said that while the bacteria levels are higher than those found in unaffected areas, tests have shown that the levels are decreasing, whether from the two applications of lime that the MCUA has applied or from natural processes.

Besides addressing the concerns of local residents, the MCUA is also working to provide some relief to the shellfish industry, which was prohibited from harvesting in the Raritan and Sandy Hook bays and the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers for almost a month.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reopened more than 6,000 acres of shellfish beds on Saturday in the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers and Sandy Hook Bay.

However, the Raritan Bay remains closed to shellfishers since the results of metal testing are expected back in approximately two weeks, according to a DEP press release.

"Sandy Hook Bay contains some of the state’s most productive shellfish areas, so we expedited the testing of those beds in order to help the baymen idled by last month’s sewage spill," DEP Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell said in the release. "We are reopening these beds based on testing that shows clams in these waters meet federal safety guidelines that are the most protective of public health."

While the shellfishers were banned from the four bodies of water, the MCUA imported clean salt water from the Barnegat Bay, Ocean County, to help clammers clean their shellfish at the Highlands and Sea Bright clam depuration plants.

Many area clammers worked in Barnegat Bay or on the Manasquan River while they could not clam in more local waters.

In order for the shellfish beds to be reopened, five consecutive sampling results must show that fecal coliform levels are below the FDA’s health-based standard of 88 parts per 100 milliliters. Tests must also reveal that metal levels are within the FDA guidelines and that levels of viral indicators are acceptable as well.