After Years of Urging, Christie Puts Barnegat Bay on Pollution Diet

Environmentalists approve the move, but some feel bay and aquatic life would be in better shape had he acted earlier, when he had the chance

Gov. Chris Christie
Years after being pressed to do so, Gov. Chris Christie yesterday proposed putting portions of distressed Barnegat Bay on a pollution diet.

The governor, joined by Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin in Toms River, announced a $20 million recovery plan, including establishing a standard to limit pollutants flowing into the northern section of the bay.

The key part of the recovery plan is to create a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standard to curb how much runoff flush with algae-causing nitrogen and phosphorous ends up in the bay. Christie conditionally vetoed more than six years ago a bill requiring the state to study establishing such a standard.

“Good, but I wish it was done seven years ago,’’ said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), a sponsor of the bill to curb runoff into the bay. “Hopefully, it helps reduce the nitrogen levels in the bay.’’

Stopping short of a standard

Christie has long advocated steps to reverse the decline in the bay, but stopped short of establishing a pollution standard to curtail nutrients from going into its waters. Numerous studies have found overdevelopment and the resultant pollution are causing a long-term decline in the bay’s ecosystem.

“From the very beginning of my administration I have made it a priority to do what no other administration ever attempted — to implement a cohesive strategy to protect an ecological treasure so important for area residents, visitors, and the state,’’ Christie said.

Since taking office, Christie has engineered an agreement to shut down the Oyster Creek power plant by the end of 2019, signed one of the nation’s toughest laws regulating fertilizer use, and provided funding for tens of millions of dollars to upgrade stormwater systems.

Land-use management

But critics have long argued the administration failed to do enough, particularly dealing with land-use management practices that have only exacerbated problems in the bay.

“You can’t clean up Barnegat Bay without TMDLs,’’ said David Pringle, campaign director of Clean Water Action. “He’s declaring a victory lap, but he’s only run the last 50 yards.’’

“Had he not vetoed the bill, we would be making progress in cleaning up the bay instead of it getting more polluted,’’ agreed Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

In his latest plan, Christie said the state would work with municipalities and other stakeholders to establish a TMDL standard for nutrients that would be incorporated into stormwater-discharge permits in 18 of the watershed’s 37 municipalities.

A portion of the $20 million would also be allocated to identifying and inventorying stormwater basins and outfalls needing upgrades, as well as restoring habitat critical to many aquatic species. The governor said the money will go to county and local governments to deal with nonpoint pollution and other stressors to the bay.

Funding for the projects is coming from the Natural Resources Damage settlements, funded by proceeds from the state’s corporation business tax, its revolving Environmental Infrastructure Trust, and federal Environmental Protection Agency watershed restoration program.

Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, said the money is significant, but noted creating a pollution budget for the bay has long been on advocates’ agendas for the waterway.

“That’s the game-changer. It’s a significant change in the approach to restoring Barnegat Bay,’’ he said, adding practices learned in reducing runoff in the northern portions will help other parts of the waterway.

In a report released by the administration yesterday, it found that while the northern third of the bay is ecologically impaired, and other areas are showing signs of stress, many parts of the bay and its resources are healthy.

Dillingham remains worried. “I think the bay is still threatened. We still haven’t got land-use practices under control,’’ he warned.