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FECAL BACTERIA: THEY’RE ON IT

Shellfishermen downriver in Sandy Hook Bay weren’t entirely satisfied, but Red Bank and state officials say they’re attacking elevated fecal coliform levels in the Navesink River with all they’ve got, and that it’s working.

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The most effective tool at their disposal, they say, is a study conducted by a unit of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection showing high levels of bacteria entering the river from borough storm drains.

With that as a guide, the borough has been tracing sources of storm-sewer flows on dry days, videotaping the insides of sewer lines, re-lining or replacing infrastructure and taking other measures, borough officials told a gathering of several dozen people at Borough Hall Wednesday night.

A state official endorsed the strategy.

“We’re very optimistic,” Eric Feerst, of the DEP’s Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring told the audience. “You have a very proactive approach.”

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The study, which measured bacteria during and after four storms last year, found high concentrations of fecal coliform in the upper Navesink and the Swimming River, and concluded it most likely came from human sources. It identified four storm sewer outfalls from the Red Bank system as the likeliest entry points for the bacteria. No other towns were included in the study. (Click on map, above, to enlarge.)

Christine Ballard, of the engineering firm T&M Associates, said the study has already enabled the borough to fix one problem: high levels of bacteria found at the western end of Drs. James Parker Boulevard (identified in the study as site 13). Soon after learning of the problem, she said, the borough investigated and discovered a sanitary sewer line leaking into a busted storm line. Both were quickly fixed.

“Site 13 was the darkest color red” on the DEP’s tacking maps, on which intense reds indicated unsafe levels of bacteria during or following a storm. said Ballard. “So this was one of the highest levels, and we were able to eliminate one-fourth of the problem immediately.”

Another of the suspected source sites, near Rector Place, is also the vicinity of one of the borough’s last septic systems, says Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels. Because it’s nearly at sea level, it often floods, in all likelihood spilling waste into the waterway. “As we find these things, we’re going after them,” Sickels said.

The sources of contaminated run-off from the other outfalls may not be so easily detected and corrected, because those other lines have many more houses and businesses feeding into them, Ballard said. She urged the public to contact the borough, even on weekends, when foul odors arise from storm drains or at the river.

Several shellfishermen present expressed concern that they and their families were having to bear the financial consequences of the bacterial onslaught in the form of lost harvesting opportunities and millions of dollars a year in depuration costs.

The meeting was arranged by the Navesink River Municipalities Committee, an informal body comprised of three representatives from each of six towns adjoining the river. Two reps from each town are unelected citizens, and the other is an elected official. In Red Bank, the citizen reps are Brian Welch and Carole Popper, and Councilwoman Kaye Ernst is the governing body’s liaison.

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