TRENTON - The state will spend $1 million to buy a Boy Scout camp near Barnegat Bay to prevent development there and to help protect one of the nation's most ecologically fragile waterways from the pollution that development would bring.
On the first anniversary of its 10-point plan to improve the health of the struggling bay, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced Thursday that its Green Acres program would buy the development rights to the 436-acre Joseph A. Citta camp from the scouts.
"Gov. Christie and I have made an unprecedented commitment to the restoration of Barnegat Bay, an ecological treasure that is vital to New Jersey residents and the state's tourism economy," said DEP Commissioner Robert Martin. "The preservation of this camp is just one of the administration's many accomplishments over the past year in implementing this important plan."
The Barnegat Bay plan includes closing the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in 2019, implementing the nation's toughest limits on the amount of pollution-causing nitrogen that fertilizer can contain, and providing low-interest loans to local governments for water-quality-improvement projects. The nuclear plant's hot-water discharges are suspected of increasing algae blooms and hurting water quality in the bay.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the state needed to do a lot more to truly help save the bay.
"One year after the governor announced his plan for Barnegat Bay, we have seen conditions in the bay get worse while the governor weakens protections for the bay," Tittel said. "He has done news conference after news conference, and we have seen rollback after rollback. This is about green cover while implementing policies that undermine protections for the bay and create more sprawl."
A bill making its way through the Legislature would make it easier for developers to build near Barnegat Bay and other waterways by keeping in place maps that show where sewer connections can be made. The bill would keep the current rules in place for up to two years and prohibit counties from preserving land by removing it from the approved sewer zones.
Tittel said Barnegat Bay has continued to deteriorate because of nutrient pollution from too much nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. The bay continues to suffer invasions by jellyfish and algae blooms from nutrient pollution. Jellyfish closed several beaches, and pollution closed clam beds, Tittel said, and the loss of eel grass and other ecological indicators show things are getting worse.
Part of the administration's Barnegat Bay plan includes studies with leading research organizations, including Rutgers University and the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, to fill in critical research gaps, provide baseline data, and assist the department in making policy decisions about steps to restore the bay. These include studies of pollution-nutrient indicators, fish and crabs, algae blooms, the increase in the occurrence of jellyfish, shellfish declines, and the benefits of wetlands in reducing the effect of nutrients.