Gifford Branch Cranberry Bogs Drained, Leaving ‘Mud Hole’ and Frustrated Neighbors

Jan 09, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson The Gifford branch to Lake Pohatcong has been drained by the state Department of Environmental Protection’s dam safety department.

Early in the past century, Sterling Otis, a well-respected citizen of Tuckerton, built a series of cranberry bogs in Little Egg Harbor – cranberries being one source of his wealth. The four bogs are strung along Gifford’s branch that drains into Lake Pohatcong. One is off Otis Bog Road and is now owned by Walmart as part of its mitigation for developing an environmentally sensitive area that is home to endangered Cope’s Gray tree frog and Pine Barrens tree frog. That bog has been left to grow over with native vegetation.

The second and third bogs (ponds) are behind Pinelands Regional High School and were used by the school’s successful “Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs” program for many years.

The fourth bog is the largest and abuts a county road, Giffordtown Lane. For many years after the bogs were no longer used, it became a large pond filled with turtles, frogs, fish and waterfowl. A number of houses rim the shore of this bog.

But beginning in September, Little Egg Harbor Township, Ocean County and high school officials were told by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection that its Division of Dam Safety and Flood Control had deemed the spillway under Giffordtown Lane as “structurally compromised.” According to DEP spokeswoman Caryn Shinske, “The DEP’s Division of Dam Safety and Flood Control ordered the dam owners (Pinelands Regional School District, Ocean County and Little Egg Harbor Township) to remove the spillway stoplogs and drain the lake. … The dam owners coordinated with the Division of Fish and Wildlife and received a permit to lower the lake.”

There was no need to move wildlife before draining the lake, Shinske said.

“Fish and Wildlife evaluated the site and determined that the fish would not have to be removed, in part because the stream channel which remains after the lowering of the lake would be enough to support the fish. Turtles and other wildlife may remain in the stream channel or migrate to other habitat.”

She noted that “Pohatcong Lake is a half mile downstream. The dam owners will be required to rehabilitate or remove the dam. Such a project will require significant engineering effort and permitting, but a project schedule has not been established at this point.”

During a Dec. 13 Little Egg Harbor Township Committee meeting, Mayor Ray Gormley said Pinelands Regional owns the bogs and there is no money available for such a project.

Township resident Charles Dudas purchased his home on Pine Oak near the bogs because of the scenic wildlife viewing. “It was like watching a wildlife station on Cable TV,” he said. “Now, it’s a big mud hole.”

Dudas is a member of Ducks Unlimited, a national conservation organization that focuses on rehabilitating and protecting wetlands for migratory birds. “My son, our whole family is members.”

Dudas said he has been working to get the dam situation straightened out for about five years. “I’ve been communicating with Pinelands school to get the water level re-established, first with (Superintendent) Dr. Blake, then they terminated his contract and then with the acting superintendent and now there’s a new superintendent … and because of their situation with money over there, I don’t know if they are concerned with it.”

The township has the bogs in its master plan as a natural resource. “If they have identified it as a natural resource, they should have some responsibility for it,” Dudas said.  “They have to be vested somewhere in the bogs.” He said his neighbors on Pine Oak and Madeline Court that back up to the bogs have conservation easements placed on their land because of the sensitive environment.

The state, too, has been a big disappointment to Dudas. “This is New Jersey, there’s not that much wetlands out there and for the state to (call for the township to) drain it during the migratory season, that is a dramatic thing to do to wildlife.”

He said his neighborhood did not receive any warning or notice of what the township was going to do nor did they ever receive any notice from the school when an issue arose last year with asbestos coming off the roof of the school.

“We’re frustrated over here.” 

— Pat Johnson



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