Press of Atlantic City
Staff Writer

STONE HARBOR –- The state Department of Environmental Protection this week shut down a $10.2 million project to dredge the borough’s back bays after dredged materials spilled for the second time in three months.

The DEP Office of Dredging and Sediment Technology informed borough officials on Wednesday that it had suspended the Stone Harbor Maintenance Dredging Permit with the exception of two areas, due to noncompliance with permit conditions and unanticipated environmental impacts. The agency will allow limited dredging to continue in North Basin and Shelter Haven Basin due to concerns over navigation safety.

The order to cease operations comes two weeks after a second spill in three months on the project to remove 105,000 cubic yards of silt from the back bays. The first spill occurred on the first day of the project, Dec. 1, 2015, when a geotube ruptured and discharged 20,000 gallons of slurry. It wasn’t immediately clear how much spilled the second time.

“Since the commencement of the project, the dredged material dewatering process has not operated as authorized, resulting in inadequate dewatering of the dredged material to a degree that it cannot be transported to a final management site without subsequent amendment,” the DEP said in its March 23 letter to Mayor Suzanne Walters.

Following the March 8 rupture of two geotubes, Sevenson Environmental of Niagara Falls, New York, the contractor on the job, began mixing sand with dredged material in an effort to facilitate dewatering, or drying it out, more quickly, Borough Administrator Jill Gougher said in a March 11 email.

That, however, created “a substantial increase in the volume of material to be managed and associated truck traffic,” the DEP said in its letter ordering the shutdown.

“The only issue regarding the NJDEP’s suspension of Stone Harbor’s permit that surprises me is the number of infractions tolerated and the length of time it took to come to this decision,” said Brenda Kammerer, a neighbor on the Avalon side of 80th Street, the dividing line on Seven Mile Island and staging area for the dredge project.

“The geotube manufacturers that we spoke to last summer said that it takes 60 to 90 days for contained materials to adequately dewater. Stone Harbor’s plan to turn dredged material around in a week was completely unrealistic, especially given the fact that it was located in a flood zone.”

Neither borough officials or the DEP could be reached for comment Friday. It was not known immediately how rare it is for the DEP to suspend a dredge permit.

In its letter to the borough, the DEP also wrote, “The March 8, 2016, failure of the two geotubes resulted in a release of dredged material outside of the site containment structures and an unauthorized discharge to surface waters of the State of New Jersey. Discharge water quality monitoring also indicated an exceedance of the action level for zinc on March 21.”

The borough has 10 days to request a meeting with the DEP to discuss the issue and 30 days to submit a written strategy to remedy the violations, the DEP said in its letter.

COWI Marine North America, the engineering firm on the project, said that the borough is working with the contractor and DEP to resolve the problems in order to seek permit reauthorization in time to restart the project in September.

Although the DEP will allow the removal of 10 cubic yards from North Basin and 1,500 cubic yards from Shelter Haven Basin, the contractor does not plan to complete dredging Shelter Haven at this time, COWI said.

The Stone Harbor Marina parking lot, the staging area for the project, will be restored once all equipment has been demobilized, COWI said, and is expected to be open to the public in April.

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