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Clean Ocean Initiative Would Strengthen Bans on Polluting Coastal Waters

Environmentalists seek to rally strong popular base by sponsoring two-week trek -- Tour for the Shore.

Credit: Kathleen Anderson

Facing threats from ocean blasting for oil and gas off the coast, pollution, and unchecked development along the shore, the Clean Ocean Zone initiative would prohibit new ocean dumpsites and prevent new wastewater facilities from sluicing sewage into the ocean under a bill being pushed in Congress.

To help ramp up support for the measure, backers have organized the Tour for the Shore, a two-week trek in August from Cape May Point, New Jersey, to Montauk, New York. Some proponents will make the trip in an outrigger canoe; others will ride roadbikes. Events will be held along the route.

The goal is to convince the public and policymakers to rally for stronger protections against proposals that threaten New Jersey’s and the rest of the region’s coastal waters.

“The region from Cape May to Montauk is currently known as the ‘New Jersey-New York Bight,’ and that’s just not good enough,’’ said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, which is coordinating the tour. “Citizens have worked hard for over 25 years to turn our ocean from a national joke to a premier tourism destination, and it is now time for us to lock in that success and become the nation’s first Clean Ocean Zone," she said.

The federal bill has been kicking around for a decade, but never made much headway. The new push for it comes at a time when the Obama administration is asking oil and gas industry their interest in conducting seismic exploration for the fuels in the Mid- and South Atlantic Ocean.

Still, the bill has not won overwhelming support from other conservationists. “There’s a lot of things in it we can support, but a lot of national groups support the current law that provides protections for marine protection areas, which this bill could undermine," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

The effort to rally support for the coasts also occurs as there is growing unease that the state’s efforts to protect Barnegat Bay is falling short of what is needed, particularly to control pollution flowing into the waterway from streets, roads, and stormwater outfalls.

“The idea is to hold a series of campaign events along the route of the tour so that people everywhere can learn about the ocean and how to protect it," said Rav Freidel of Concerned Citizens of Montauk. “Whether you paddle, bike, fish, or just love a day at the beach, it is time to stand up and say together, ‘We love our ocean and we want our elected officials to permanently protect it,’" Freidel said.

While even ocean advocates say the quality of coastal waters has improved, they are unhappy about proposals they say amount to an industrialization of the ocean, including three proposed liquid natural gas terminals off the Jersey coast. Because of low natural gas prices, the prospect of the terminals being built is much less likely.

“When we see proposals such as seismic testing, oil and gas development, and pollution from dumping by industry and other sources that threaten the community of life that is the ocean, we join with growing numbers," said Friedel.

The tour will kick off on August 10 in Cape May and make its way up the coast, through New York City, and along the South Shore of Long Island. It will finish in Montauk on August 24.

The tour is scheduled to take place during the peak of the shore’s tourist season, providing the coalition the opportunity to reach tens of thousands of people with one message: “The time is now for the Clean Ocean Zone."

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