By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
The bulkhead a battered wooden wall meant to protect the Red Bank Public Library‘s backyard from the Navesink River is, without question, in need of repair.
What the fix should be is the question.
The American Littoral Society has a suggestion: tear it down and put in a more natural bulkhead, one that will better serve the shorehline ecosystem.
The environmental group earlier this week pitched the idea, which hasn’t been tried in this area, to the borough council.
It’s called a “living shoreline” approach, meaning a graded slope from the land to water with natural plant life to replace the typical vertical barrier.
“The idea is just to create a natural shoreline,” said the society’s Habitat Restoration Program Director Bill Shadel. “(It’s) a softer solution to shoreline erosion.”
Vertical bulkheads like the one at the library disperse the energy from the water in a more harmful way for the local habitat, he said, and are “one of the worst systems to treat a shoreline.”
“It scours out all the smaller water habitat,” Shadel said. “That natural grade is really important for fish and wildlife. Without small fish you don’t get big fish. It all benefits the smaller end of the chain as well as the upper chain.”
What Shadel and the society are proposing is a gradual shelf from the library to the water, similar to what can be found at Maple Cove next door, he said. It would likely include natural grass and soil to maintain the existing habitat, although it could be determined to need more, like rocks.
He came to the council Monday night to get its blessing for the society to move forward on further research and obtaining permission from state agencies, as well as to seek out funding sources, he said.
The library, he said, is already on board with the idea.
“They are very interested and eager,” Shadel said.
Councilwoman Kathy Horgan, who is liaison to the environmental commission, said the commission will have to take a deeper look at the proposal before making any decisions on it.
If approved, the borough would be in line for some funding, Shadel said, although he doesn’t have an of estimate on a cost.
These types of projects are new in the state, he said. While places like Maryland and North Carolina have had them in place for years, New Jersey is just catching up. And Red Bank, he said, could be a leader in implementing this new type of bulkhead system.
Kathleen Gasienica, a borough resident, society member and breathing almanac of river life, said the possibility of the living shoreline could be as many as two years off, but worth the wait. It’s a win-win situation times two, if approved, she said.
“The library gets a new living shoreline that costs less, and gives all sorts of opportunities for education programs. ALS gets a living shoreline on a public site that they can use to educate others who may be interested in doing this technology rather than replacing their bulkheads with the same,” Gasienica said in an email. “The DEP wins because they can now refer people looking for bulkhead permits to see this alternative. They would like to do less bulkhead permits. And, of course, the marine animals win the most.”