Little Egg Harbor Announces Dredge Cost to Osborn Island Residents

Jul 18, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson Osborn Island Residents Association members Dan Smith (left) and Bob Eckert show their support of the dredging of lagoons during the July 14 special township meeting.

The cost to dredge the low points of four lagoons in the Little Egg Harbor community of Osborn Island will be approximately $1.5 million and result in a special tax assessment of $5,213 per waterfront property, which can be paid in installments of approximately $579 a year for 10 years.

Members of the Osborn Island Residents Association and members of the public attended a special meeting with Little Egg Harbor Mayor Ray Gormley and the township committee on Saturday, July 14, to hear the specifics of the plan, which has been in the works for 10 years.

“Getting the lagoons and access way dredged will make history for Little Egg Harbor; it’s the most important project we’ve done for the waterfront in 30 years,” said Gormley. “The Osborn Island dredging committee deserves a lot of credit for the hard work they’ve done. They are passionate and put in relentless time and effort to get the permit and get this done.”

The lagoons behind Ohio and Louisiana drives and Iowa Court plus “T” inlets from Ocean Boulevard that enter into Big Creek are the areas that are shallowest at low tide and cause the most frustration to boaters. The dredge could go about 150 feet into the lagoons until they drop off in depth. At no time will they be coming closer than 15 feet of a bulkhead. The plan is to dredge the middle of the lagoons down to an average of 4½ feet at low water.

The township has bonded $4 million for the dredging but will not incur the full amount of the debt, only what is needed to complete the project. As with any large capital project, it is possible there will be cost overruns that are not part of the bid package.

The township opened the bids on July 10 and awarded the project to Wickberg Marine Contracting from Bedford, N.J., which bid $1,328,848 to remove 16,362 cubic yards of silt and mud, truck it to Corbin City in Atlantic County and dispose of it in a state Department of Environmental Protection-approved confined disposal facility. The additional $170,000 is for inspection, financing and other costs associated with the project.

“Wickberg is the company that is doing the dredging for Ocean City; they have a track record,” said Gormley. “They gave us a very good price of $81 a cubic yard. We will do a survey before and after the project, and if they run over a little bit, say a hundred yards, we will have to pay that, but still at $81 a yard.”

Gormley was asked if there was a cap on the overrun and said there was not.

There are 336 total waterfront properties on Osborn Island that will be responsible for the cost at an interest rate of 3.05 percent for 10 years, said Township Engineer Jason Worth. The first year would be $579.80 and end at $460 by year 10. Residents could avoid the finance charges if they paid all at once. Township Attorney Jean Cipriani said these figures were approximate. “You will be charged what it costs. If it comes in less or comes in more, that’s what you will be charged for.”

“Let me be crystal clear,” said Gormley. “Osborn Island is not on the hook for $4 million. All we did was make the money available. You are only responsible for what the cost of the job is.”

A resident questioned the procedure for those properties that were abandoned since Superstorm Sandy or bank-owned. Gormley said the properties would have a lien put on them, as with any other property maintenance issue.

The subject of the vote for the project was a matter of contention during the meeting. The majority of those present were for the project, and did not want to give the dissenters a chance to upend the process.

But as Cipriani explained, if the township officials have a clear mandate, it would help in case of lawsuits opposing the project.

The residents of Osborn Island should expect to get two registered letters by mail. The first will repeat the costs and information that was explained at the meeting; the second will request a vote of yea or nay for the project. The second letter needs to be returned by 4 p.m. on Aug. 1. It can be sent by mail or returned to the municipal clerk’s office by hand. Any letter that is not returned by this date will be considered a yes vote.

When Gormley said the committee was looking for two-thirds of those voting to be in favor of the project, this brought out howls of protest from the audience.

One woman stated the township does not have to go to a vote; according to state statute, it can impose a special assessment for maintenance just as it would for a water, sewer or sidewalk project.

Gormley said that in the past, the township and the separate municipal utilities authority have always asked for a two-thirds majority on special assessment projects, and “So, far, they (residents asking for the project) have always voted in favor,” he said. “People do deserve the right to their voice on this.”

Gormley then backtracked and said the two-thirds vote was “not written in stone.”

“We will make that decision in August,” he said.

“Let’s do it now!” said Dave Fuller, a member of the dredging committee. “You have the quorum. Why wait?”

Fuller also pointed out a sign, “We Support Dredging” that two of the OIRA members were holding. “Have any of the governing body driven around Osborn Island lately? If you did, did you see the signs on the properties? One of our members has a sign company and donated 200 signs, and every one is on a property. Just by that alone, we have a majority in favor.”

A catcall, “Who is the governing body? Why do we need you anyway?” brought this admonishment from Cipriani: “You (OIRA) got the permit and the township has also done a fair amount of work on this. If you could have done it without them, you would have, but for some reason you had to come to the governing body. I understand it affects over 300 of you, but from the showing tonight, it does seem you have a majority in favor of the project. The township is just looking for confirmation.”

Committeeman Dave Schlick said, “I disagree; we are wasting money by doing a mailing.”

Another resident balked at the “secrecy” of doing a mail-in vote. “What if someone who doesn’t have a boat decides he or she doesn’t want to pay an additional $500 a year in taxes? Is everyone going to know how I voted?”

Cipriani said the votes would be a matter of public record.

In the end, it was stated the mayor and committee would make a decision on whether or not to award the contract for dredging during their Aug.9 meeting based on a majority vote from Osborn Island residents.

If the contract is awarded, the dredging should begin in September and be finished by Dec. 31.

The engineer added that the dredging contractor is willing to dredge individual boat slips while his dredge is in place for $105 a cubic yard, but only after the township lagoon project is finished. And property owners would have to pay for this themselves plus get the general permits from the NJDEP.

Living Shoreline Project

For Iowa Court on Point

During the July 14 special meeting, Worth also showed a PowerPoint presentation of the project to create a living shoreline along Iowa Court, an area devastated by Sandy. The Osborn Island Residents Association with the township and consultants BRS Inc. were able to get a $400,000 Sandy restoration grant. The restoration of Iowa Court will include a 20-foot-wide shoreline sill of stone to mitigate wave action, containing a buried wooden bulkhead along the historic 1977 tide line, filled in with “quality” dredge material with just the right sand-to-mud consistence and then planted with salt marsh and cedar trees. This is a hybrid living shoreline because it contains some hard structures. Hybrid living shorelines are preferred for projects that face open water.

The hard structure “sill” will consist of rocks weighing around a ton that could become a Mecca for fishermen, but only two public parking spaces will be added to Iowa Court. The land is owned by the New Jersey Land Trust. Public access was a contingent item of the National Fish and Wildlife Federation grant.

This project will require 50 dump trucks of fill to enlarge the marsh to almost an acre. Right now, the marsh has eroded almost to the cul-de-sac, said Worth.

A resident asked if the bridge that connects Osborn Island to Mystic Island can handle such a burden and was told yes; the weight limit on the bridge is 80,000 pounds.

Another resident asked why the dredge material from the lagoons in Osborn Island couldn’t be used to fill in the marsh off Iowa Court. Gormley said the township had hoped that would be the case, but the dredge material from the lagoons is not the right consistency – it’s mostly silt and would just wash away. “If we had a place to mix the right consistency (de-watering the mud and adding sand) we could do it, and we looked, but it’s a matter of ‘not in my backyard.’” It would also take six to eight months to dewater, he said.

The township will award the bid for Iowa Court this month and hopes to start the project Sept. 1.

— Pat Johnson

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