Shoreline Restoration Topic Draws Crowd to Cousteau Center

Apr 18, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson Dave Fuller and Ed Andrew, representing the Osborn Island Residents Association, met with Lindsey Davis of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Land Use Regulations.

State and federal officials met with municipal officials and citizens on Thursday, April 12, to explain changes to the permits for living shoreline restorations. The seminar was held at the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve in Tuckerton.

The big news was the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection permits for living shoreline restorations are a real bargain, costing absolutely nothing, compared to other waterfront permits. And the New Jersey Nature Conservancy has grants available up to $35,000 for each living shoreline restoration project.

But the local officials representing 18 projects along the coast know it’s not that simple.

Still, the seminar also offered them the chance to learn from the powers that hold sway over the permits and also to meet one-on-one with them.

JCNERR Director Lisa Auermuller was happy to have so many people interested in creating living shorelines, instead of hard structures like sea walls or bulkheads, in response to encroaching sea level rise. It was just two years ago that the reserve first introduced the idea during a sea level rise workshop. A member of Partnership for the Delaware Estuary spoke about how they had used coconut matting and bay mussels to stem erosion on the banks of the lower Delaware.

According to the partnership website, delawareestuary.org, traditional methods of shoreline protection, such as bulkheads and riprap, can actually make erosion problems worse by redirecting wave energy. In addition, they disconnect the land from the water, which prevents wildlife, such as turtles and ducks, from accessing the habitats they need to survive.

Living shorelines use common, natural materials. Oyster reefs are another possibility to interrupt wave action and save bay marshes from erosion.

Lindsey Davis from the DEP Land Use Program gave an overview of the types of permits required for any development in the coastal zone. Usually this development is a hard structure such as a bulkhead, groin or sea wall. But in 2013, the Coastal Zone Management rules were revised to include living shorelines, and the general permit (number 24) was to cost zero.

“But the permit requires a sponsor who will provide written documentation,” said Davis. “This could be the NJDEP, the Army Corps (of Engineers), NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration), a college or university for purposes of research.”

The living shoreline project must document that erosion has occurred and that the project will protect, restore or enhance a habitat. Other requirements: It must not create more than one acre of disturbance below the mean high waterline, and must not disturb sub-aquatic vegetation or shellfish or fish habitat.

If it meets these criteria, the living shoreline can extend out to the 1977 tidelands base map on file in the DEP.

But in the case of a hybrid system, a structural component to mitigate or lower wave action can extend beyond that baseline.

Projects that do not meet the above criteria for Permit 24 can still apply for a tidelands instrument or permit that costs $100 and is good for seven years. These applications go before the DEP Tidelands Council, said Davis.

Engineering and design guidelines are available on the website nj.gov/dep/landuse.gov.

Michael Hayduk, chief of applications for the Philadelphia District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, had this to say: “The term ‘dredge spoils’ is no longer in use; we now call it, ‘coastal gold.’”

As the nervous laughter died down, he then announced that a joint dredging application between the DEP and the Army Corps was in the works. Such a permit could save municipalities money.

“A joint application has been finalized but needs to be pushed to the goal line,” he said. “Army Corps permit #54 for living shorelines is brand new; we’ve only used it twice,” he said, referencing Ocean City and Berkeley Island.

Standard permits are still needed for structures such as docks, pilings, etc., and individual permits still must follow the usual procedures.

For dredging permits (usually needed for living shoreline projects) to be approved by the Army Corps, there are more than a few things that must be considered.

“Let me build you a bureaucratic layer cake,” said Hayduk. “The 404B1 guidelines (dredge permits) must take into account the Endangered Species Act of 1973 that protects fish, birds and plants; and the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 that protects things of cultural and historic value; (and) the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Preservation and Management Act of 1976 that protects sentient fish habitat and contains the fishery management plans.

“Then there is the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (administered by NOAA with the goal to preserve, protect, develop, restore or enhance the nation’s coastal zone); and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1824 that prohibits the building of any structures that prohibit the safe navigation of the nation’s waterways.

“Over all of this is NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, that acts as an umbrella and looks at the purpose of a project,” he said, explaining that it assures any government project – like one permitted by the Army Corps – considers the environment prior to undertaking any major act that affects the environment.

“If your project is to stop shoreline erosion by building a breakwater or a stone sill, then you must consider what it means for the fish. It needs to be put through the mill so that the least damage is done, or has the least environmental consequences,” said Hayduk.

He also asked those who would meet with him later in the day or in future meetings to, “Sell me the purpose and the need (of the shoreline restoration). Be very clear why you want to do it .… Come at us with your homework done.”

In the Army Corps, “We have a culture of ‘no,’” said Hayduk. “Some (bureaucracies) are unable to improvise; they can’t shift gears. Be patient, keep trying, let the chain of command know if you are having a problem.”

A question was posed from the group about the ability to make islands out of dredge material – not a popular idea in New Jersey, though other Army Corps districts do allow it.

Hayduk said that as long as the islands are not built on submerged vegetation or on shellfish grounds, and do not impact fish habitats, they could be possible. And the material dredged must have the right structure for making an island. “It must be clean material – and not fine-grained material, because that will just wash away.”

Applications for living shoreline projects deemed complete by the DEP must be turned around in 90 days. Individual Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (CAFRA) permits take longer.

“Costs come down when ... applicants become savvy,” he remarked.

During the break before the individual meetings were to begin, Christine Bednash said she had already spent between $30,000 and $40,000 trying to get permits to establish a living shoreline,instead of a bulkhead, along the bay of her Ocean Township home. So far, she has made little progress. “Our house was the first site that ReClam the Bay put down clams. Rick Bushnell (of ReClam) and Gef Flimlin (recently retired marine extension agent with the Rutglers Cooperative Extension) got a grant to put clams there. I don’t want a bulkhead, but DEP regulations say you have to put back what was already there or get a Zane exception. With the DEP, it’s like they can’t get out of their own way with their culture of ‘no.’”

But Ed Andrew and Dave Fuller from Little Egg Harbor were hopeful as they met with Hayduk (Army Corps) and Davis (DEP Land Use). The two represent the Osborn Island Residents Association, which with the township and their consultant, BRS Inc., was able to get a $400,000 Sandy restoration grant to build out the Iowa Court shoreline that faces Great Bay and was devastated during Superstorm Sandy. The restoration of Iowa Court will include a shoreline sill of stone to mitigate wave action and a buried bulkhead along the historic 1977 tide line, filled in with “quality” dredge material with just the right sand-to-mud consistency 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, like Great Bay.

Now Andrew and Fuller are hoping they could do the same type of project for the banks at the end of Ohio Drive, just north of Iowa Court. Andrew stated that the dredge material at the bottom of the inlet from Great Bay leading to two lagoons behind Iowa Court and Ohio Drive has a lot of sand and could be used for creating the expanded living shorelines.

Hayduk was aware of the Iowa Court project because the permits are completed and the project is near the bidding process. The problem with the material behind the inlets is it is mostly silt or mud. “As the waves bring in material in an inlet, they drop the heaviest material first, and then the silt is washed in farther,” he said.

Without saying absolutely yes, Hayduk and Davis both could see the merit of applying for a Permit 24 for a living shoreline around Ohio Drive.

Andrew and Fuller, 10-year veterans in the process of getting the Osborn Island lagoon mouths dredged, said they are cautiously optimistic.

— Pat Johnson

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net

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