Public concerned with treatment plant plan

Staff Writer

Residents from Plumsted Township and municipalities along Crosswicks Creek implored representatives of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to provide more time to study a pending permit that could allow the construction of a wastewater treatment plant that would discharge treated sewage into the creek.

The permit, which awaits final approval from the DEP, is needed by Plumsted officials in order to begin work on a sewer system that would serve downtown New Egypt and facilitate the construction of age-restricted homes on Province Line Road.

Although Plumsted officials have said a sewer system would bring about the revitalization of downtown New Egypt, those in attendance at a meeting on Dec. 17 told DEP representatives that they doubted this claim.

“This [sewer system] is not the silver bullet that is going to turn downtown New Egypt into Princeton,” Bordentown resident Bill Wolfe said.

Economic and environmental issues surrounding the permit weighed heavily on the minds of people who said they had only heard of the plan in recent days.

Although Pilar Patterson of the DEP’s Bureau of Surface Water Permitting said the comment period was being extended to Dec. 31, residents said they need at least 60 days to properly examine the proposal.

According to the draft permit from the DEP, the agency is setting limits for the proposed sewer system, including the acceptable amounts of phosphorous, nitrates, total dissolved solids and heavy metals that would be permitted in the treated water.

A statement released by the Plumsted Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) said the township is proposing to employ an “advanced membrane filtration process” in the treatment plant that would use ultraviolet disinfection processes before releasing the treated water into the creek.

Regardless of the proposed filtration methods, George Fluck of Robbinsville said even a slight fluctuation in the acceptable levels of pollutants could have major consequences for the creek, especially when considering unexpected changes. “Crosswicks Creek is a very delicate balance, so you might meet a requirement of pollution … [but] the question is how much margin do you have and how much margin do you have relative to events such as weather, downpours, floods?” he said.

Residents living farther along the creek said they were worried that any potential failures at the treatment plant would have dire consequences for other creeks that flow off Crosswicks Creek, as well as the Delaware River.

“It is really difficult to imagine that any sewage treatment facility can operate flawlessly 24/7,” Katherine Ross of Bordentown said. “When those failures do occur, the pollutants will be discharged not up the creek, but down the creek … impacting thousands of recreational users, as well as the natural fish and wildlife of this entire area.”

Some residents questioned the technical ability of the proposed treatment plant, calling into question whether it would meet current technological standards.

“Even on the point-source surfacewater discharge side, there are far better [options] from a cost standpoint and from an environmental standpoint and from a growth management standpoint,” Wolfe said.

“This is really a throwback. This is like a project from the 1980s that seems to have been kicked around forever, and now we are finally seeing the end result. It is a dinosaur from the standpoint of technology and wastewater management.”

While most of the comments addressed environmental issues, some people questioned the economic benefit that officials said the infrastructure would have on Plumsted.

Tony O’Donnell of Plumsted said the proposed sewer system would be expensive and could cause new homeowners to pay a sewer connection fee amounting to thousands of dollars.

O’Donnell said he doubted the proposed development would have any economic impact on downtown New Egypt.

“The majority [of Plumsted] does not shop in downtown New Egypt. I don’t see how adding [new homes] will magically save the downtown if 3,100 existing homes are inadequate,” he said.

O’Donnell pointed to a less expensive and more environmentally friendly water treatment system that he said was implemented in New Milford as a potential alternative in Plumsted. “There are ways to clean up the creek … that are cheaper than doing sewers and do not involve developing the tract they want to develop,” he said. “The only advantage sewers have is that it will allow for more development.”

Ocean County Planning Department Director David McKeon, who was in attendance, said several alternatives had been looked into by municipal officials and county representatives, but he said issues arose with some of those plans.

Specifically, a plan to connect a sewer system in Plumsted to a treatment plant at nearby Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst was rejected by military brass.

“The problem we ran into, bottom line, is that the base officials themselves are reluctant to give up any of the capacity in their existing [treatment] plant in case there was an unforeseen event that required a massive mobilization from the base,” McKeon said.

After the meeting, Plumsted officials said they were confident in the process and were pleased at the turnout of people voicing their concerns.

“The consensus is that the people support Plumsted’s efforts to improve the water quality of Crosswicks Creek,” Business Administrator Ron Dancer said. “We look forward to addressing all of the comments … and discussing it with the DEP, which will ultimately make the final decision on the permit.”