WidmaiersCraig Widmaier of Red Bank and son Gregory tackle the job of digging out the invasive plant Japanese knotweed at Saturday’s cleanup of the Maple Avenue lot.

For the second year in a row, a crew of volunteers descended on a tiny lot at the foot of Maple Avenue in Red Bank Saturday with the aim of clearing away decades of accumulated debris — and one particularly pernicious plant.

Unlike last year’s event, however, this one occurred under a cloud of criticism that the chief advocate for turning the public parcel into a boat launch was exceeding her authority.

Eliot carreroSeiningKathleen gasienica
Eliot Carrero of RBR digs in; Kathleen Gasienica leads a seining demonstration, and then shows off a blue claw crab picked up in the net. Click to enlarge.

At last Monday’s bimonthly meeting of the borough council, Councilwoman Juanita Lewis complained about unauthorized work being done on the still-nameless quarter-acre parcel.

She also said the borough had learned of communications with the state Department of Environmental Protection about the fate of the park on which the town hadn’t been consulted.

“I get reports that phragmites have been removed,” Lewis said, sputtering in anger. “Any improvements or changes, they have to be approved by the DEP. None of that’s been approved.”

Lewis didn’t name names, but Cindy Burnham, who spearheaded an effort first to stop the borough from selling the lot and has since pushed to turn it into a nature area and canoe/kayak launch, acknowledged that she was the target.

She defended her actions, saying she had not removed plants and had worked to clear debris from an existing path to the water’s edge. “I am not a rogue activist,” she said after the meeting.

For Saturday’s event, Burnham said she had clearance from borough officials, whom she invited to help out or participate in educational programs about marine life in the Navesink. None showed up.

Several participants castigated borough officials for their absence and for turning what they believed should be a simple effort to create a parklike setting into something bureaucratic and costly.

“Any citizen has the right to communicate with the DEP,” said former Atlantic Highlands Mayor Mike Harmon, who is also a member of the Monmouth County Board of Recreation Commissioners. “This is an example of ‘no good deed goes unpunished.'”

The cleanup focused largely on the removal of numerous shoots of Japanese knotweed, also known as Mexican bamboo, an invasive plant that crowds out other species. Students from Red Bank Regional and Rumson-Fair Haven Regional joined in the effort.

The rainy day event also featured a demonstration of seining by Kathleen Gasienica of Red Bank, a field guide with the New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium.

She discussed the adverse impacts of bulkheading and pollution on delicate species picked up in the seine, including mud snails, ribbed mussels and blue claw crabs.

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