Funding for the birds

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DeLanzo says beach work on the bay is vital for species, community

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP – Reeds Beach is known for the thousands of red knots that feed on horseshoe crab eggs each spring.

The shore birds come in the thousands on their way from South America to the Arctic, refueling for the long migration in a stop many biologists say is vital for the species’ survival.

The beach also draws numerous birdwatchers, both in the spring and at other times of the year to spot birds of prey, shore birds, and snow geese in the winter. 

But Township Committeewoman Susan DeLanzo worries that the attraction will be affected if an environmental restoration project is not tackled soon.

She is looking for support from federal lawmakers on the $9.3 million project. She says the project needs more funding.

That’s what has held up work for ecosystem restoration at Reeds Beach and Pierces Point in Middle Township, said Richard Pearsall of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Some of the money for the project has been secured but DeLanzo did not say from where.

The berm project includes adding 250,000 cubic yards of sand, measuring 80 feet wide and 6,800 feet long and be 5.5 feet at the highest level, according to Pearsall. He explained that the one-time ecosystem restoration project would be for horseshoe crabs and red knot habitat.

The endangered shorebirds come to the Delaware Bay in May and eat horseshoe crab eggs before heading for cold breeding grounds, according to information on red knots from the state. Red knots make their way through the area again in August and September. The bird has a rusty red breast and a short, straight, black bill.

The number of red knots migrating to the Delaware Bay has dropped significantly, according to information from the state. From 1986 to 1995, there were about 25,500 to 94,500 red knots; horseshoe crab harvesting brought a major decline, about 13,000 to 50,000 birds from 1996 to 2011.

At the Jan. 23 Middle Township Committee meeting, DeLanzo pushed for letters from the township to be mailed to U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo and Sen. Robert Menendez.

She wants the lawmakers to visit the municipality, to get them to behind the berm project at Reeds Beach. DeLanzo said it is imperative they lend their support because of super storm Sandy “and the pressing need to protect the shore line.”

But Sandy had no impact on the project, Pearsall said, but the late October storm left Reeds Beach battered. Homes in that Middle Township community were damaged or destroyed.

The project would also assist in protecting infrastructure, such as homes and roads, DeLanzo said.

“The urgency is a lot of shore, the beach has been ruined … disappeared and as you know, the red knots fly from South America all the way to past Canada and they make the one stop on the 40 miles of the Delaware Bay. And obviously Middle Township is a prime real estate for that, and they stop there,” she said.

The project has been OK’d but more money is needed, DeLanzo said. An easement is also required for the project, Pearsall said.

“Most all of our Middle Township bay communities would be encompassed in that project,” DeLanzo said.

She said the project is set to go.

“But until that’s funded, the Army Corps of Engineers will not sign on with the DEP contract,” she said.

Pearsall said 65 percent of the money would be federal and 35 percent would be from the state, with a quarter of that coming from Middle Township.

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