Panel outlines risks of waterfront development


By danielle medina

BRICK –– Conservation of natural resources, regional planning and zoning, and responsible development were some of the key themes at a presentation organized by Save, Preserve And Respect our Environment (SPARE) of Jackson.

During a panel discussion at the Brick Branch of the Ocean County Library on Aug. 26, SPARE members told Brick residents that development in Jackson has an impact on water quality in Brick.

SPARE was formed by Jackson residents Denise Garner and Lori Neuman to stop the proposed Jackson Towne Centre development. The plan would add 5,400 homes and about 2.76 million square feet of commercial space to a 900-acre tract of land in an undeveloped section of Jackson. The land that is proposed for Jackson Towne Centre lays along the Metedeconk River, the source of drinking water for Brick Township and a few other surrounding communities.

The presentation began with Richard G. Bizub, a geologist and project manager for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, Pem-berton, discussing the Pine Barrens ecosystem and water statistics.

The 1.1 million acres of the Pinelands National Reserve stretches across seven counties in southern New Jersey, with 80 percent of the reserve in Ocean County. Besides providing a home for many rare species of plants and animals, the reserve also houses the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, one of the largest freshwater aquifers in North America. The aquifer holds an estimated 17 trillion gallons of water.

"All of the water in the Pinelands originates there, and flows into bays and estuaries in the east and west," Bizub said.

Groundwater begins as precipitation, and soaks into the ground, where it is stored in aquifers. Groundwater fills the spaces between rocks and soil particles underground, in much the same way as water fills a sponge. Groundwater then feeds springs, lakes and other surface waters, or can be drawn out of the ground with wells.

Of the world’s water supply, less than 1 percent is in wetlands, streams, rivers and in the ground. An estimated 97 percent of the planet’s water is in the ocean, while 2 percent is in ice caps and is unusable.

Due to the limited amount of available water, panelists said conservation and protection of ground and surface water is essential.

"It takes 1,300 gallons of water to produce one hamburger, from watering the grass, to feeding the cattle to preparation," Bizub said. "And every person uses over 100 gallons of water per day."

Steve Taylor, the Watershed Manager for the Manasquan River Watershed Management Association, Manasquan, explained how developments can interfere with the ability of the ground to absorb water.

"A hundred years ago, rain fell and went directly into the ground," Taylor said. "Today, even playgrounds and parks can be impervious because the soil has been compacted so much that it’s like blacktop, which prevents the aquifers from recharging."

When precipitation can’t be absorbed by the ground, the excess water flows into streams and rivers, and can cause flash flooding that scours the stream bank, he said. Stream banks are becoming unstable and eroding as streams become wider or deeper to accommodate the increased flows.

Additionally, development can cause ground and surface water contamination if proper precautions aren’t taken. Gasoline, oil, road salts and chemicals can get into the groundwater, and cause it to become unsafe and unfit for human use.

Despite the threats to the environment that can come from overdevelopment, panelist Joe Deckelnick said he is not opposed to development.

"We respect what builders do," said Deckelnick, an organizer for the New Jersey Environmental Federation (NJEF), the state’s largest environmental group. "We don’t want to stop development. We want to grow in the right places."

During his presentation, Deckelnick praised Gov. James E. McGreevey’s administration for its environment-friendly policies.

McGreevey proposed Category 1 (C1) environmental protection status for the Metedeconk River watershed in January. If enacted, the system will be protected from any discharges that produce a measurable change in the existing water quality.

The Metedeconk Watershed encompasses 68.6 miles in seven towns in northern Ocean County and southern Monmouth County: Howell, Freehold Township, Wall, Millstone Township, Jackson, Lakewood and Brick.

New storm-water regulations were also proposed by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Brad Campbell in December. The establishment of 300-foot buffer zones around C1 watersheds would put the onus on the builder to prove that proposed development won’t hurt water quality. Deckelnick said he supports redevelopment in areas of New Jersey such as Neptune, Asbury Park and Long Branch, where there is existing infrastructure such as sewers and roads.

"We also need to take a good, hard look at our zoning and planning processes, and get municipalities to work together," he said. "Mayor Joseph Scarpelli has been very aggressive in trying to communicate Brick’s needs to other municipalities."

According to Deckelnick, grass-roots action by residents is critical to policy changes.

"Every action, whether it’s a letter or money, is critical," he said.