Borough officials maintain the language of a 1937 deed requires that the existing bulkhead be maintained. (File photo. Click to enlarge)
By SARAH KLEPNER
Though there’s a dirt-cheap alternative that would never need repairs, Red Bank officials plan to spend nearly $600,000 to replace two decrepit Navesink River bulkheads, including one at the public library.
The first hearing on a $596,000 bond ordinance to cover the costs of the work is scheduled for Wednesday night’s council meeting.
The move has been opposed for two years by environmentalists, who have urged elected officials to instead allow for a natural, “living” shoreline to reestablish itself at the library site, on West Front Street.
“It’s so disappointing,” said Kathleen Gasienica. “You can’t get grants for bulkheads, but there are plenty of grants for a living shoreline,” which relies on the stabilizing effects of plant life to minimize erosion.
Gasienica, board president of the American Littoral Society, and the borough’s Environmental Commission, have been trying since 2009 to convince the council to approve a plan for letting nature manage the shore.
Borough officials, however, have said the bulkhead must be maintained under the terms of the Sigmund Eisner estate’s donation of the property to the borough for use as a public library in 1937.
Failing to keep the bulkhead “in good repair,” in the words of the deed, could prompt a lawsuit that might trigger a handoff of the property to the Harvard Endowment, as per terms of the deed, borough Attorney Dan O’Hern said at a hearing in 2012.
If someones not happy with the fact that a living shoreline is there, theres nothing stopping them from filing a lawsuit, he said at the time. And among the potential plaintiffs are homeowners at the adjoining Corinthian Cove luxury condo community, at least one of whom has hinted she would sue the town if her home is damaged by flooding via the borough property.
But those and other concerns, including the borough’s hope of one day building a riverwalk that incorporates the library property, have all been addressed, said Gasienica.
In fact, Andres Simonson, then-chair of the Environmental Commission, arranged for an attorney to examine the deed for the property.
“I want the public to know that this offer was there, and the borough turned it down, despite all the positives of the living shoreline and the negatives of the bulkhead,” Gasienca said.
Moreover, the environmentalists say, they have access to funding to make the natural shoreline a reality.
The littoral society is promoting living shorelines as the best response to the challenge of erosion up and down the coast.
“Through our partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, we’ve been able to line up funding,” said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the ALS.
ALS this year spearheaded the funding of a massive post-Hurricane Sandy restoration project on Delaware Bay with grants totalling $1 million, Gasienica said.
The organization brought one of its other partners, Stevens Institute of Technology, into the mix to develop the plans for the library site at no charge, he added.
“And the funding for the shoreline would have also provided someone with a green job” of monitoring the shoreline periodically, she said.
In addition to the library site, the bond also covers the cost of a less-controversial bulkhead at the north end of Prospect Avenue, where the shore is steeply sloped.
Also on the agenda are a $1.67 million bond to pay for lighting improvements at Marine Park , the replacement of a storm-damaged radio tower and more (rb 2013-15); and a $205,000 bond for work on the borough-owned water system (rb 2013-14).