TOMS RIVER – State Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin told politicians assembled at the Ocean County Mayor’s Association meeting how to plan for environmental improvements and updated them on the status of several key issues.
Martin was the guest speaker at the April 20 meeting, held at The Grove restaurant, adjacent to the Howard Johnson’s on Hooper Avenue.
He assured the crowd that although the administration of Gov. Chris Christie is coming to an end, the department won’t coast to a stop. It will continue to work on the goals of environmental protection and advocacy.
Part of this is behind the scenes, in the form of changing regulations to streamline processes. For example, the DEP has guided more than 340 cases to alternative dispute resolution. This keeps disputes out of the courts, and cuts down on the costs and time consumption of the parties. The result has been an 80 percent success rate – success meaning that both parties walked away from the table happy.
“We have not changed standards,” but fixed regulations, he said. The laws protecting the environment have not lapsed, rather, the paperwork behind it all has been reduced. With new laws going on the books all the time, it becomes difficult for applicants to get information to the correct DEP employee, and navigate the maze-like permitting process. Therefore, a goal was to cut back on a lot of the paperwork that needed to get done.
“In the old days, they used to bring boxes and boxes of papers to the offices,” he said.
What Mayors Should Do
Martin advised the politicians in attendance what steps they should take to get work done in their town.
He encouraged them to seek out Environmental Infrastructure Trust Fund money to replace the aging infrastructure for water and sewer lines. These are low-interest, long-term loans.
They should address flooding on their own now, with a combination of short-term and long-term plans, he said.
“There is no money in the state to deal with Back Bay flooding,” he said.
Therefore, local governments must be responsible to install bulkheads and pump stations. At the same time, they should be putting into place plans for the next 10 or 20 years.
Public access to beaches was one of the bullet points he wanted to address.
“This administration inherited a bit of a mess on public access,” he said. The former way of thinking was that every town needed uniform regulations. However, it makes more sense to cater the regulations to the specific needs of each town.
Indeed, towns should construct their own plans and get them approved by the state, as long as the plans meet guidelines for good public access policy.
Martin promised to continue to fight regulations limiting the size of summer flounder, otherwise known as fluke. The worst part of the regulations would increase the minimum size from 17 inches to 19 inches. The problem with this is that the females are generally larger, so this would make females be caught disproportionately more than males. This would severely hurt future stocks.
“We’re pushing back really hard” against these regulations, he said, adding that it would be devastating to a number of industries, from sport fishing and charter boats to restaurants. “It will cost us thousands of jobs and billions of dollars.”
The DEP and Trump
- Stanton Hales, Jr., director of the Barnegat Bay Partnership, asked Martin how the DEP will function under the proposed budget cuts to environmental causes put forth by President Donald Trump.
Martin said that the DEP has some autonomy when it comes to governing the state’s environmental regulations, which offers more protections. Even so, when looking over the federal budget, it looks like there would be very little cut from the DEP.
There are still a lot of steps to go before the budget is finalized, and all the DEP can do is keep an eye on it, he said.
The DEP and Oyster Creek
Now that the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station is in the decades-long process of decommissioning, there is another environmental issue. Yucca Mountain, the nuclear waste repository, has been closed. Therefore, the spent fuel rods will remain on the property indefinitely, something the local residents did not expect.
“We’ve been working with (parent company) Exelon, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Martin said. “Right now, the fuel will remain there.”
The fuel rods have to cool for at least five years, then stay in dry casks for even longer.
“We’d prefer to move them sooner rather than later. The bigger challenge is that there is no storage in the country,” he said.