By JOHN T. WARD
Calling for an “emergency” weekend council meeting, the two Republican candidates for Red Bank council suggested Friday that poor upkeep of the borough sewer system was to blame for elevated levels of harmful bacteria in the Navesink River.
The meeting didn’t happen, and it’s not clear who, if anyone, candidates Kellie O’Bosky Colwell and Brian Hanlon asked to schedule one.
Meantime, incumbent Councilwoman Cindy Burnham, a former Republican now running as an independent, blasted the pair for “egregious” politicizing of the issue.
Here’s the full text of a press release issued by the Republicans:
Navesink Pollution Levels Reach Critical Point
Red Bank Council Candidates call for Emergency Operational Review of Sewer Utility
RED BANK, NJ – New data put forth by the New Jersey DEP and Clean Ocean Action offers troubling information for Red Bank’s sewer utility. The new studies detailed that the Navesink River is most polluted near the Route 35 Bridge, where the levels of fecal coliform greatly exceed safe levels. Brian Hanlon and Kellie O’Bosky Colwell, the Republican challenger candidates for Red Bank Council, are calling for an emergency council meeting over the weekend to determine if the sewer utility is indeed the main culprit of the pollution.
“It is clear that the environmental impact of the pollution in the Navesink is affecting everyone in Red Bank and the entire region. We need our council to act immediately to determine if our 100 year old sewer utility is the source. While rates have continued to increase over the years, the sewer utility’s effectiveness has decreased,” said O’Bosky Colwell. “Our call for an emergency operational review of the utility is just the first of many common-sense solutions we will offer to Red Bank’s many problems.”
O’Bosky Colwell’s running mate Brian Hanlon, who has spent his entire career in the financial services industry, stressed the significance of an overhaul to not only the utility but also the Council.
“This is Red Bank, not Rio. Our public safety is in jeopardy, and I demand the council call an emergency session over the weekend to approve an operational review. The residents and visitors fishing on the river are at risk. Elected officials are supposed to lead and protect the public. The time for talk is absolutely over. The time for action is now. Not in two weeks, not next month, and not after the election, but now.”
O’Bosky Colwell added, “As a daughter some of my best childhood memories are of crabbing in the river with my father. As a mother I fear for the health of our children. I am sad at the fact that now I may have to tell my daughter she can not go rowing in the river. We are a river community, and without an accessible Navasink River Red Bank is not Red Bank.”
Hanlon and O’Bosky Colwell did not respond to questions emailed to them by redbankgreen Friday.
Local officials and environmental groups have banded together at three public meetings this summer in an effort to identify the sources of spiking fecal coliform levels in the Navesink after rainfalls. At all three sessions, Bob Schuster, of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s bureau of marine water monitoring, has reported on efforts to source-track the bacteria, which agency officials believe is from a combination of animal waste left near storm sewers and creeks as well as from septic systems and other feeders into the waterway.
“Signatures” of human waste have also been identified, he said, though DEP scientists have not been able to break down the relative amounts of bacteria traceable to humans, domesticated animals and wildlife.
Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels told redbankgreen Friday that he was unaware of a request for an emergency meeting.
In the November race for two council seats, O’Bosky Colwell and Hanlon are slated to face off against Burnham; incumbent Democrat Kathy Horgan; and her running mate, Erik Yngstrom.
Burnham, who serves as council liaison to the Navesink River Municipalities Committee, a non-governmental group focused on local watersheds, told redbankgreen in an email that O’Bosky Colwell and Hanlon were attempting to politicize the river health issue and “damming the Red Bank sewer system without evidence and without thought of consequences.”
“Having candidates shoot from the hip for political attention and political gain is egregious,” she wrote. “Perhaps the candidates time would be better served by actually attending the DEP / Clean Ocean Action public meetings so they can speak intelligently and not catastrophizing the Red Bank sewer system solely for political gain.”
Sickels said he had not seen either GOP candidate at council meetings where the issue of fecal coliform was discussed. As to whether the borough sewer utility is the “culprit” and in need of an “overhaul,” he said:
As reported at several Council meetings and at meeting that we have had with both DEP and Clean Ocean Action representatives, Red Bank has since 2007 been taking positive action to not only address potential sources of pollution emanating from our storm sewer outfalls, we have also instituted practices to inspect and televise our storm water and sanitary sewer system as a part of our ongoing maintenance program. Our practices have been described by DEP officials as “best practices” and “examples to follow” by other municipalities.
At no time did the DEP specifically identify the Red Bank sanitary sewage system as the “culprit” and/or specific cause of the contamination. Many potential sources were discussed and on-going investigations will be open to all possibilities to ensure that any potential source is identified and corrected. In fact, the DEP stated that human “signature” was detected but in no way did they say it was the major component of the unacceptable sources of contamination.
We will continue to meet with DEP, County Health officials and Clean Ocean action to work together to identify sources of such pollution institute corrective action as necessary. We urge the other municipalities along the Navesink and Swimming Rivers to do the same.
According to Amy Goldsmith, president of the Westside Community Group, all five candidates have confirmed they’ll participate in the group’s 20th annual candidate’s night, scheduled for October 18 at River Street Commons senior citizens’ residence.