Osborn Islanders Urge Little Egg Harbor to Help Finance Lagoon Dredging

Grant Deadline Nears While Project Permit Stalled
Jul 19, 2017
Photo by: Pat Johnson Osborn Island Residents Association line up to ask questions of the Township Mayor and Committee.

The Osborn Island Residents Association packed the July 13 Little Egg Harbor municipal meeting to demand more action on getting their lagoons dredged, not only as part of the Shoreline Restoration project started in 2015 by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Federation but also as a long-term capital project.

During the meeting, engineer Jason Worth of T&M Associates explained that a resolution on the agenda titled No Charge Change Order – which transferred $88,600 of the $2.1 million NFWF grant from one line item to another – was part of the permit review process requested by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Worth later gave an update on the NFWF Shore Restoration Project split between Tuckerton Borough and Little Egg Harbor Township, with the township as lead agency. T&M is addressing a list of questions and comments received from the DEP and the Army Corps of Engineers after the public input closed. “Dredging is the most simple part of the project. The restoration (of the marsh) is the most complicated,” said Worth.

Osborn Island Residents Association member Dave Fuller addressed the mayor and township committee, saying the OIRA had asked for a plan for how the township might fill a $2 million project shortfall. Fuller had attended a meeting with the DEP that state Sen. Christopher Connors hosted on June 20. He said DEP representatives termed the project “high risk” after they sent questions to the township committee on how they intended to fill the funding gap.

Another question was in response to the plan to fill 23.5 acres of ponds. Some people have expressed concerns about an impact on waterfowl.

Mayor Ray Gormley said that technically, the grant is to correct Superstorm Sandy damage. “The areas selected in Little Egg Harbor include 150,000 cubic yards (of dredge material) dispersed on the marsh to a depth of four to six inches, that results in three to five inches when dry. And then the question is how fast will the grass grow through it? The first area we suggested, between Monroe’s Marina and Great Bay Boulevard, was declined. Then it moved to 50 acres off Great Bay Boulevard (beyond Second Bridge).

“The issue is clear: The state gave us the grant, the state owns the land chosen, and the state will not sign the application to allow us to apply for the permits,” continued the mayor. “It’s frustrating. We’ve gone to meeting after meeting: with Senator Connors, and (Congressman Frank) LoBiondo and (Congressman Tom) MacArthur. We are pushing every button we can push. The state won’t sign the application for the permit.”

The Osborn Island Residents Association has contributed over $100,000 of their own donations to get permits to dredge lagoon sections on the island that are impassable at low tide, said association representative Ed Andrew. He said Gormley and Township Committeeman John Kehm did not return his emails about plans to fund the shortfall. He suggested T&M was not providing timely information to the DEP.

He also remarked that Ocean City (Cape May County) had an effective way of dredging their waterways.

“Bear in mind, this work is very time sensitive. Work must start this year,” Andrew read from a prepared statement. “The base grants funding this work expire in 2018. Already, hundreds of thousands of dollars in engineering and planning costs have been expended, with no work done. Failure to get this work done for the community, using grant funds for all or most of the work, would be a massive failure on your part.

“The waterfront community continues to suffer greatly, post Sandy,” he continued. “Values are not recovering and many homes remain impaired. Restoring good boating access to even a part of the community goes a long way toward recovering real estate values and (property tax) ratables for the township.”

Although the township has again applied to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the DEP  for the same grants that were turned down last year, Andrew wants the township to commit to funding the project from its capital budget.

Gormley said final costs cannot be defined until the DEP permit is issued.

Andrew asserted that the town government’s failure to guarantee a funding partnership has been a major impediment to getting the permits.

“Fish and Wildlife is not signing off on this work and the DEP is delaying issuing the permit because they do not know how the work will be funded. We believe both the committee and T&M Engineering are significantly remiss in their duties. The project appears to be needlessly put at risk. Not only is the township not demonstrating the ability to fund, but you seem to be not providing timely responses to the DEP and others to address funding, thereby delaying or jeopardizing the permit.”

Andrew said deepening lagoons and improving boating access would not cause the tax assessor to reassess properties or cause an immediate rise in values, but, “Improved lagoons and boating access definitely cause values to rise over time, and enhances the waterfront ratables,” he remarked.

Ed Gautier then brought a petition to the mayor and committee’s attention. It was signed by 60 real estate agents and professionals, saying that  improved boating access enhances the value, desirability and marketability of waterfront homes.

“The fact that the township does not have a decades-old program to maintain and advance our boating lagoon and creek system shows a clear and historic lack of understanding, care and concern for our community,” continued Andrew. “Failing to get this most recent work done, as a post-Sandy recovery effort, would be catastrophic failure… I do wonder why those of you who have been in power before and have long tenure, have not ever effectively addressed this issue.

“And, don’t say it cannot be done. Ocean City has a very effective program in place, which maintains and advances values of their community’s homes far beyond that of Little Egg’s. It can be done as a joint effort between upland and waterfront homeowners, strongly benefiting both. It can be funded in various fair, and low, annual cost ways. There is certainly benefit to the entire township, if done right.

“Mystic, Osborn and all our waterfront sections have a common problem. Boating access has diminished over the years and took a serious and sudden adverse turn after Sandy. Solving this problem, and enhancing the waterfront, benefits everyone in the township. What happens to the waterfront impacts how the upland homes are perceived, and the desirability and value of the entire community. Better waterfront access should be available to uplanders, also.

“Making the waterfront more functional and desirable will make the community better, too, while raising values on the water to ultimately provide tax relief to uplanders, as more waterfront ratables return with higher values.

“Failure to properly address the waterfront crisis is tantamount to imposing a long-term burden on your upland homeowners,” he said.

The OIRA urged the mayor and committee to develop a long-term plan that will maximize the values of the waterfront sections of the township.

“Little Egg’s years as a haven for inexpensive, waterfront homes are quickly waning. In order to recover, the waterfront must appeal to a more well-to-do buyer. Improved boating access is vital to improving the value and desirability of a boating community… We are watching closely, so we hope you do the right thing for the entire town,” he ended.

— Pat Johnson

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net

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