STATE WE’RE IN: New pump project latest threat

By Michele Byers
Nearly three years after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the New Jersey shore, the state is in the final phase of a massive project to rebuild Route 35, the main artery on the barrier island in northern Ocean County.
As part of the project — which was actually in the planning stages prior to Sandy — the New Jersey Department of Transportation constructed an elaborate drainage system to keep Route 35 high and dry during heavy rains. Nine new pumps were installed to move stormwater off the highway and into Barnegat Bay.
But the pump system has seemingly gone awry, adding further threats to the already precarious health of Barnegat Bay. Even during an extremely dry summer, the new pumps were running almost constantly, gushing water into the bay through large outflow pipes.
“For nearly a month, the weather was bone dry, yet these pumps were running like Niagara Falls every day,” said Britta Wenzel, executive director of Save Barnegat Bay, a grassroots watchdog group that works to protect the bay’s water quality and marine life.
The issue came to the forefront in early August when a large plume of silt coming out of one pump system spread like a stain in the bay off Seaside Park. A state investigation concluded the plume was a temporary problem resulting from silt that built up in the pipes during construction and the disturbance of existing muck on the bay floor.
But local citizens and Save Barnegat Bay suspect a larger problem: a design flaw in the system that allows groundwater to infiltrate the pipes.
“Everybody on the island is concerned that this project is just a disaster,” Ms. Wenzel said. “The local people love the environment — they love the birds, the crabbing and the fishing.”
But already, she noted, they’ve noticed fewer waterfowl near the outflow pipes and impacts on crabbing and fishing.
In order to speed up rebuilding efforts, environmental impact assessments on the Route 35 project were waived in the aftermath of Sandy. Had the assessments been required, this problem might have been avoided.
Save Barnegat Bay now is pressing the Department of Transportation to hold a public hearing so the public can voice concerns and those overseeing the highway project can provide answers. This needs to be done, Ms. Wenzel believes, before the project is completed and the contractors paid.
“It’s like buying a new house,” Ms. Wenzel said. “You need to make a hit list of things that need to be fixed.”
Barnegat Bay is a New Jersey treasure, a place where generations of residents have fished, crabbed, swam, sailed, hunted and enjoyed the beauty of nature.
But it’s also suffered terribly from the impacts of over-development in its watershed. The bay is part of the National Estuary Program, a federally-funded project to improve water quality. And helping Barnegat Bay recover has been one of Gov. Chris Christie’s highest environmental priorities.
Given Barnegat Bay’s importance to this state we’re in, it seems like common sense that the Department of Transportation would share residents’ concerns about impacts to the bay and want to hear what they have to say. Citizens and taxpayers deserve to have their questions answered and problems with the system addressed.
It’s said a picture is worth a thousand words, and Save Barnegat Bay has done a thorough job of documentation.
To see dramatic aerial photos and videos of the discharge into Barnegat Bay, visit Save Barnegat Bay’s Facebook page at
To find out more about clean water efforts in Barnegat Bay, visit the American Littoral Society website at 
Michele Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. For more information, contact her at or visit NJCF’s website at 