Wetlands Renewal Uses Bay Material In Multi-Agency Test

Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi discusses innovative dredging.

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AVALON – Something amazing is going on in the wetlands behind Seven Mile Island. Federal, state and local governments are working together, and successfully integrating a number of private partners, on a project that promises environmental and economic benefits for the county.

Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi hosted a Dec. 13 event at Avalon Bay Park Marina to help get the word out.

Dredging of the bayside waterways is an expensive project that has its own recurring lifecycle. It is critical to the commercial and recreational boating activities in the county.

Disposal of dredged material is always a challenge for the island municipalities. An unlikely group of agencies and organizations is trying to do something about it.

The Army Corps of Engineers, as part of its multi-year effort to clear the Intracoastal Waterway after Hurricane Sandy, partnered with the N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife, Nature Conservancy, Greenvest, and the Wetlands Institute on a demonstration project aimed at testing the use of dredge material to restore marsh and create new habitat on marshland owned by Division of Fish and Wildlife just behind Avalon.

Pagliughi talked about the benefits that can accrue from the project. “This is potentially a creative, innovative, win-win solution to a number of problems,” he said. He spoke of a “science-based approach to dredging” that he said allows for beneficial use of the dredging material to help restore wetlands.

The project will result in about 50,000 cubic yards of dredge material being “sprayed in a thin layer over existing marsh” in the area of Ring Island. Layers will be set at varying levels ranging from one-half inch to as much as nine inches.

Over a period of five years or more, local environmental organizations involved in the project will monitor results to learn what works best.

This approach to dredging allows a critical and necessary activity, which traditionally produces large amounts of detritus, along with the challenge of its removal and containment, to become part of an effort to restore the marshes.

The economic imperatives that drive dredging of waterways and the environmental needs of the marsh and wetlands are both potentially served by the same effort. This is the win-win Pagliughi addressed.

Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Monica Chasten spoke of wanting to get the “good news story out.”

The corps’ experience showed that the dredged material can make a great bird habitat. 

This combined effort will seek to restore wetlands badly degraded by years of wave activity, build habitat for the many shore birds that nest in wetlands, provide greater protection of the islands in the face of future storms, identify a beneficial use for dredged materials, and clear the channel for commercial and recreational boaters. 

That’s a tall order for any one effort, but everyone is optimistic about the expected results.

Dr. Lenore Tedesco, executive director of the Wetlands Institute, stressed that this was a test, an “experiment to learn the best way to do this.” The institute will play a role in the ongoing monitoring of the results of the experiment.

Pagliughi summarized the ways in which the project addressed multiple issues. He spoke of using dredged material for beneficial use, building habitat and restoring marsh, adding to the resiliency of the environment, and clearing the waterways for boating.

Economic objectives and environmental needs intersect rather than conflict. Agencies representing different layers of government partner cooperatively and productively with private organizations to address a multifaceted problem.

Material that has long been considered waste finds a beneficial use. Chasten has reason to want to get the story out. The promise of this experiment for the economic and ecological future of the county’s island communities is significant.

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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