The new Navesink River bulkhead at the Red Bank Public Library, as seen from the natural shoreline at Maple Cove. Below, a June, 1906 Red Bank Register article reported on Sigmund Eisner’s plans for the property, including the installation of a bulkhead. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
This month 110 years ago, the Navesink River site that would later become the home of the Red Bank Public Library was about to get its first bulkhead.
Over the ensuing century, such hard-stop bulkheads came to be regarded as a flawed means of protecting shorelines: less effective at blunting storm ravages than natural shores, and unfriendly to marine life. So when it authorized a controversial new bulkhead two years ago, the borough council relented to public pressure and asked that the replacement incorporate whatever elements possible to make it more like a so-called living shoreline.
In the end, however, the new bulkhead, completed this month. is pretty much the same as the old one.
Environmentalists, including members of the Environmental Commission, preferred that the most recent, crumbling version be the last, replaced by a soft, sloping shoreline. And after several packed meetings, the borough council’s July, 2014 resolution on the matter directed the administration to seek a “hybrid” approach that incorporated materials considered environmentally sensitive.
But that approach turned out not to be feasible for several reasons, borough Administrator Stanley Sickels told redbankgreen.
One was there wasn’t enough room on the library lawn to allow for the open shoreline, he said.
“It would take 65 to 95 feet of that lawn,” a place meant as a place for library patrons to enjoy the river views, he said. “We would have lost all that.”
Just as critical, though, were two legal threats: one implied by the deed that conveyed the site to the borough in 1937, and an overt threat by the owners of the adjoining Corinthian Cove luxury condos.
When uniform manufacturer Sigmund Eisner left the property to the borough library in his will, he included a deed restriction obligating the town to keep the bulkhead “in good repair.” Otherwise, ownership of the property would revert to Harvard University, the document stated.
Advocates of the natural approach derided using the language of the Eisner deed, drafted long before the dawn of the modern environmental movement, as a reason to rebuild the bulkhead. Some urged the council to seek a waiver from Harvard, and others called for an interpretation from the courts.
But Harvard was unresponsive, said Mayor Pasquale Menna, and then-borough Attorney Dan O’Hern argued that the courts were highly unlikely to deviate from the literal wording of the document.
But Carl Alderson, a marine habitat specialist and landscape architect for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who lives in Middletown, said the lack of space “is not a valid reason for not taking a more environmentally sensitive approach.
The library grounds “have ample room for incorporating green solutions,” including one he advocated: “a tiered system of stair-stepped ‘mini bulkheads constructed of rock gabion,” Alderson told redbankgreen.
He said he diagrammed several options in a meeting with Sickles and the borough engineer and believed they were interested. But citing a lack of real estate doesn’t hold water, he said.
“There was room enough for other approaches,” he said.
He said town officials obviously felt “handcuffed” by the deed restriction, and Sickels doesn’t dispute that. And the potential liability in a lawsuit by the condos just to the east of the site also weighed heavily, he said.
A natural shoreline “would have brought water back behind their bulkhead and caused erosion,” leading to a possible lawsuit and judgment against the town, said Sickels.
Now, he said, the site has a steel structure that’s expected to last 50 or 60 years.