STAFFORD – A “suspicious bag” found under the bridge connecting Long Beach Island to the mainland raised alarms just a couple of weeks ago. Stafford Township Police closed the bridge in both directions out of an abundance of caution.
Nearly two hours later, authorities deemed the bag safe and non-threatening. However, the incident left some clamoring for answers.
The Dorland J. Henderson Memorial Bridge offers the only way in and out for vehicular or foot traffic to the island. Any destruction to the infrastructure would result in more than a little bit of inconvenience.
Stafford Township Police acts as the local law enforcement agency when it comes to jurisdiction of the structure over the Manahawkin Bay, often referred to as the Causeway Bridge.
The bridge itself is part of a state highway system, and the waters below are patrolled by both the New Jersey State Police and the United States Coast Guard. The Stafford Township Police Department does not have a marine unit of its own.
“If anything happened or the bridge had to be shut down for an extended period of time, we’d have to rely on our community partners,” said Stafford Township Police Captain James Vaughn. “In addition to the New Jersey State Police and Coast Guard, we work with the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department.”
With health and safety top on the list of concerns, Vaughn also expanded on the partnership to include Hackensack Meridian. Helicopter landing zones designated throughout LBI provide access for medical emergencies.
In the unlikely event that the entire island needed to be evacuated without bridge access, the efforts would need to come by way of air and water.
Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy confirmed that his department is well prepared in case of the need for emergency assistance.
“We’ve done some drills about getting people out for medical emergencies,” said Mastronardy. “We have a landing area and aviation for medical purposes.”
Mastronardy said that the federal government would likely step in to help if something catastrophic occurred to make the bridge inoperable for a considerable time period. He used the example of the 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse to make his point. Authorities cited a design flaw in that particular accident, which resulted in 13 deaths.
“The Army Corps of Engineers quickly put up a temporary bridge when that happened,” Mastronardy shared. “I’ve also seen in other parts of the country where temporary ferry service is put in place.”
“I see the likelihood of needing any of that is likely very small,” continued Mastronardy. “I think the important thing to realize is that these new structures are strongly fortified.”
One of the problems with bridge failures in other locations continues to be problems with decaying infrastructures. The New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Bridges Project completed substantial rehabilitation to the trestle bridges in 2019.
Contingency plans for any potential bridge failure actually date back to the construction of the new bridge. They remain in place.