DEP forum focused on Barnegat Bay

Arecent state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) community outreach forum attracted residents from around Ocean County who used the opportunity to question state officials about the Barnegat Bay, according to a press release from the county.

While the informal session, hosted by the Ocean County Board of Freeholders, was open to residents and visitors who wished to discuss any environmental matters with state officials, most of the questions focused on the bay.

“Barnegat Bay is the lifeblood of Ocean County,” said Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari. “The DEP understands this, and I thank them for taking the time to send their professional staff to meet face to face with our residents.”

Magdalena Padilla, chief of staff for the DEP, led a team of five professionals who gave a presentation on the general health of the bay and spent nearly two hours fielding questions.

Padilla said she came to Ocean County to hear directly from the people who live, work and play on the bay.

“We face the delicate task of balancing bay protection with allowing people to enjoy all of what the Barnegat Bay has to offer,” she said. “This balance is important not just for us, but for our children and all those that will come after us. We must make sure there is a Barnegat Bay tomorrow.”

Nearly 50 people attended the forum, commenting on everything from the growing jellyfish population to a state proposal for a county authority to collect and process storm-water runoff, according to the press release.

Several residents said the proposal by two northern New Jersey legislators that would create a storm-water runoff authority paid for by Ocean County taxpayers is unfair. The residents said Barnegat Bay is a state resource used by visitors from around New Jersey and any effort to protect the bay should be funded by the entire state, not just Ocean County, according to the press release.

Vicari said the freeholders have already taken that position and will oppose any authority unless the cost is shared by all New Jersey taxpayers.

Several residents also questioned the impact of fertilizer on the waterways, saying many homes directly on the bay and rivers now have green lush lawns instead of the rocks and gravel that was typical 10 or 20 years ago.

Padilla said the DEP cannot protect the bay alone.

“The DEP is trying to encourage more awareness so people can make the right choices,” she said.

Vicari said he was pleased that the DEP has taken such an interest in Ocean County. The session was the third visit by DEP officials in as many weeks.

Earlier in August, Vicari and DEP Commissioner Bob Martin met for a personal one-on-one conference in Vicari’s office.

The following week, DEP Local GovernmentAssistant Cindy Randazzo attended a freeholders meeting and outlined the department’s commitment to environmental issues.

“I have found there is a refreshing new desire at the DEP to work in partnership with local towns and counties,” Vicari said. “Commissioner Martin and his staff understand the difficult problems we face in Ocean County. He is willing to work with us to protect our fragile environment while also continuing to encourage economic growth.”

Also addressed at the most recent session was a new streamlining of the DEP’s permitting process.

In the coming months, additional permit information will be available online, and in some cases permits can actually be printed directly from the DEP’s Internet website.

At the end of the two-hour session, Padilla praised the residents for attending.

“Thank you for your time and your passion,” she said.