THE STATE SHOULD CLEAN UP ITS OWN ACT BEFORE IMPOSING STORM DRAIN RULES AND PROPERTY TAXES ON OCEAN COUNTY TAXPAYERS
The State needs to clean up its own act when it comes to storm drains before asking Ocean County to raise hundreds of millions in new property taxes for a stormwater authority, the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders said.
"Ocean County has already invested millions of tax dollars on state-of-the-art drainage systems in an effort to minimize the impact of stormwater runoff on the Barnegat Bay our rivers and estuaries," Freeholder Gerry P. Little said. "Before issuing edicts, the state should take responsibility for its own storm drains along state highways, which are contributors of stormwater runoff."
Stormwater drains along state highway corridors, including routes 9, 37, 72, 70, 35, 166 and 88 are among the worst polluters of the bay and our waterways, he said.
Ocean County continuously monitors its 10,000 county storm drains and inspects and cleans them annually, Freeholder Director James F. Lacey said.
"The County has two road teams of six workers each who are dedicated to stormwater management," Lacey said.
Because much of the county's commercial development lies along state highway corridors, those areas discharge huge amounts of runoff into the bay, rivers and estuaries, said Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari.
"State highways that run through Ocean County are highly urbanized with acres of paved impervious parking lots, resulting in high concentrations of stormwater runoff flowing into the nearby streams, rivers and the bay," Vicari said.
The Freeholders' remarks were in response to pending legislation sponsored by two North Jersey legislators that calls on Ocean County property taxpayers to fund a new stormwater authority.
The legislation envisions the new authority overseeing a countywide network of pipes and storm drains that would collect and process billions of gallons of rain and floodwaters from roadways.
The authority would have the power to issue bonds to fund the system and would impose a tax on all property owners and occupants.
Little said the pending legislation fails to provide state funding for the authority and violates the "spirit and intent" of the state-mandate, state-pay constitutional amendment approved by the people of New Jersey in 1999.
"We would work as a partner with the state to achieve stormwater management changes as long as the Legislature mandates the partnership and agrees to fully fund it," Little said.
Freeholder John P. Kelly, liaison to the Ocean County Engineering Department, said much of what the bill requires is already being done by Ocean County.
Provisions of the legislation call for the county to identify all stormwater control facilities, drainage structures, pipes, culverts and other infrastructure, which is something the county has already done, Kelly said.
Additionally, the legislation says the state Department of Environmental Protection shall provide the county with a detailed map of the Barnegat Bay Watershed.
"The county not only already has such a map, but we've had one for at least 15 years," Kelly said. "Before coming to our county and dictating what we should be doing, the sponsors of this bill should have first taken the time to learn what this Board of Freeholders is doing."
The legislation was sponsored by Senator Bob Smith, D-Middlesex and Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex.
Both Little and Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. testified before the Senate and Assembly Environmental Committees last week outlining strong objections to the bill.
Bartlett said Ocean County has a long and proud history of protecting its waterways.
The county was the first in the state to require mandatory bathing beach water testing during the summer months. Taxpayers in the 1970s also invested $800 million for the construction of the Ocean County Utilities Authority, a regional sewage authority.
"Since the OCUA came into being, we have never had an ocean beach close because of raw sewage in the water," Bartlett said.
The county has earmarked $2 million for stormwater rain gardens that naturally filter runoff.
Local taxpayers have also invested $100 million to preserve more than 12,000 acres of open space that otherwise may have been developed and contributed to the runoff.
"Thanks to a partnership between the federal government, the state of New Jersey and the county, more than 57 percent of the total land in Ocean County can never be developed and will remain protected open space," Bartlett said. "That number continues to rise as more open space is purchased and protected each year."
The county has also worked to establish a "no-discharge" zone in the bay and has helped install 65 pump-out stations at local marinas, Vicari said.
Five pump-out boats, funded by the county, also cruise the Barnegat Bay collecting waste from boaters free-of-charge, Vicari said.
"The Barnegat Bay is the lifeblood of Ocean County," Vicari said. "We fully recognize the importance of the Barnegat Bay both for our local residents and our $3.3 billion tourism industry."
In 2004, the county provided $187,000 in funding for the development of pollution prevention plans for 31 of Ocean County's 33 municipalities.
Education also plays a vital role in bay protection. The Freeholders invested $12 million for a state-of-the-art Marine Sciences Academy in Stafford Township for high schools students.