$8 million dredging project first of its kind in New Jersey

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A slurry of about 10 percent fine grain sand and 90 percent water is sprayed out onto Ring Island to make a nesting habitat for black skimmers, endangered in New Jersey. The Wetlands Institute is in the background. A slurry of about 10 percent fine grain sand and 90 percent water is sprayed out onto Ring Island to make a nesting habitat for black skimmers, endangered in New Jersey. The Wetlands Institute is in the background. Project reuses dredging material to restore coastal wetlands

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP – An $8 million two-year project to use dredge materials to restore coastal wetlands and build habitat for shorebirds got underway early this week when a barge sitting in the middle of the Intracoastal Waterway near Hereford Inlet blasted a slurry of sand and water through 8,000 feet of pipe onto Ring Island, between the Wetlands Institute and Stone Harbor.

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The project is the first of its kind in New Jersey, and experts hope that dredging sand from the inlet and spraying it on about a half-an-acre of state land will entice black skimmers – a tern-like shorebird endangered in New Jersey – to nest on the island.

According to a proposal submitted to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, or NFWF, the project is expected to save more than $7 million by reusing the dredging materials, instead of dumping them in confined disposal facilities, or CDFs.

“We have three sites that we’re working on,” said David Golden, chief of the Bureau of Wildlife Management with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife.

“One is in Stone Harbor, one on the back bay of Avalon, and the other is in Fortescue.”

The Stone Harbor project began Tuesday, Aug. 12. It’s the smallest of the three, and has two phases that will allow experts to monitor the effects of reusing dredging materials.

The two Stone Harbor phases include building nesting habitat for black skimmers on about a half-acre of marsh; and spraying a thin layer of sand over about three acres of the marsh to raise its elevation.

“The ideal nesting habitat for the black skimmer is a sandy area, above the high tide line, with close proximity to tidal creeks,” Golden said. “That type of habitat is limited in this area.”

On Thursday, workers with Barnegat Bay Dredging sucked up sand from Hereford Inlet and pumped it to Ring Island – a mile and a half away – to build a sandbar for the endangered shorebirds. The large-diameter pipe was snaked along the shoreline to keep clear of boaters.

David Golden says projects in Avalon and Fortescue will begin in the fall of 2015. David Golden says projects in Avalon and Fortescue will begin in the fall of 2015. Golden estimated that it would take two-three weeks to finish the nesting habitat.

Once that project is finished, the dredging crew will spray what’s known as a “thin layer application” of a sand and water mix over about three acres of the island.

Laurie Pettigrew, regional superintendent, Bureau of Land Management, with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, said workers would spray anywhere from two to nine inches of sand on the island to raise its elevation.

Golden said the marsh grasses would have no problem growing through the sand, and he expected the area to be green with growth within two years.

According to the project proposal sent to NFWF, New Jersey’s saltwater marshes are disappearing due to factors such as erosion and sea level rise. Over the last 80 years, it’s estimated that more than 120 acres of coastal marshes have been lost.

“As sea levels continue to rise and storms become more frequent and intense, salt marshes that cannot keep pace with sea level rise will ultimately be lost along with the ecosystem services they provide to coastal communities and the coastal economy,” according to the proposal.

Dredging, too, can affect the level of the marsh, Pettigrew said. “For years, we’ve been dredging and taking sediment out and putting it into CDFs,” she said. “That takes sediment out of the natural system.”

That’s why it’s important to reuse dredging material to raise the levels of the marsh, Pettigrew said.

“This project uses the material in a beneficial way,” she said. “This way, we’ll be using current dredging projects in marsh communities to stabilize the environment.”

Raising the level of the marsh increases the area’s resiliency during storms, which benefits homeowners, Pettigrew said. Pulling the sand from the inlet helps keep the waterway navigable, which has both economic and ecological benefits.

Lenore Tedesco, executive director of the Wetlands Institute, supports the project.

“We’re in a scenario of a rising sea level,” she said. “We see it in the marsh.”

Tedesco pointed to a high tide mark that showed the marsh’s waters had reached about four feet into the grass at the edge of the institute.

Workers monitor progress of the dredging operation in the Hereford Inlet. Workers monitor progress of the dredging operation in the Hereford Inlet. “This project is critical for beach protection, nesting birds and shore homeowners,” she said.

Golden said all dredging materials are tested prior to being used in the project, though it’s not a quick process.

Analyzing the sand can take up to three months, and Pettigrew said that state rules require that dredged material be no more degraded than the marsh it’s sprayed across.

“This entire project calls for between 5,000 – 7,000 cubic yards, and the material is fine gran sand,” she said. “We did an extensive chemical analysis prior to using it.”

The smallest part of the project began this year – just a few acres near the Wetlands Institute. Next fall, the project begins in earnest when the state tackles nearly 90 acres in Avalon and Fortescue.

Golden said 45 acres would be targeted in each area, and that the work would begin in late 2015.

And while the project is unique in New Jersey, other states have reused dredging material in shore resiliency projects, Golden said.

The state Division of Fish and Wildlife received an initial grant of $3.4 million for the project from the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency grant program. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Transportation provided matching grants to make the total about $8 million.

According to the proposal, the Nature Conservancy of New Jersey also pledged about $42,000 for the project.

Golden said monitoring the results is one of the biggest parts of the project. Over the next two years, workers with the state, as well as the Nature Conservancy, Wetlands Institute, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and Rutgers University will keep a close eye on the sites.

“Right now, the grant will allow monitoring for two years, and we hope to get grants to monitor for an additional three years,” Golden said.

“We hope to prove that we can take these techniques to other parts of the state.”

David Benson can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Comment on this story at www.middletownshipgazette.com .

About 8,000 feet of pipe are used to pump dredging materials from the inlet to Ring Island. About 8,000 feet of pipe are used to pump dredging materials from the inlet to Ring Island.


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