Dennis Hart, Assistant Commissioner

NJDEP

Division of Water Quality

 PO Box 029,

Trenton NJ 08625-0029

Re: PSE&G Salem Generating Station Permit No. NJ0005622

January 23, 2001

Dear Commissioner Hart,

 

As coalition partner of the Stop the Salem Fish Slaughter and Unplug Salem Campaigns, the NJ Environmental Federation (NJEF) offers the following comments on the  PSE&G Salem 316 permit and the related Estuary Enhancement Program. NJEF supports the statements of the Unplug/Stop the Salem Fish Slaughter members  regarding the 316 permit issues and wishes to focus on Phragmites control aspect of the permit so as to not be repetetive. On behalf of NJEF’s 70,000 individual members and 87 member groups,  I am writing you to urge you to require PSE&G, the operators of the Salem Nuclear Plants, to install cooling towers, which is Best Technology Available, to reduce the Salem Nuclear Plants fish kills by 95%. These nuclear plants are having an adverse impact on the Delaware Estuary because they use over 3 BILLION gallons of water a day for cooling, and kills 3 billion   fish  per year through entrainment ( Versar report, l990). These nuclear plants, and the permit they operate under, violate the intent of the Clean Water Act, section 316(b).

Also, I request that the DEP put an end to PSE&G’s Phragmites control program in the Alloways Creek and Cohansey River sites.  Besides the fact that the “Estuary Enhancement Program” does not replace the fish killed by the Salem Nuclear Plants, the Phragmites eradication program itself has been a failure.  The only way to control Phragmites at the Cohansey River and Alloways Creek sites is by continued spraying of poisonous herbicides into the marshes. This is not acceptable, and is not sustainable. (See attachment 1, “Phragmites control efforts damaging, not restoring the marsh”)

 PSE&G should be required to buy uplands  instead, replacing the failed wetland restoration acres with upland buffers on a three for one ratio.  Uplands would protect the Delaware Bay from agricultural runoff, and would do more good than trying to eradicate Phragmites, a plant species that does serve some beneficial function in the marsh.

DEP must protect the marine life in the Delaware Bay by rewriting the permit for Salem to require cooling towers to minimize fish loss, and delete the phragmites control program as a special condition of the permit.

Comments submitted by Jane Nogaki, Pesticide Program Coordinator, NJ Environmental Federation

1.

Attachment 1 Comments on PSE&G Submittal for NJDPES Permit May 2000

Phragmites Control Program Damaging, Not Restoring Marsh

With the exception of the salt hay farm restorations, the Phragmites control efforts by PSE&G have failed to convert Phragmites dominated areas to favorable vegetation except in very limited, and probably short-lived, instances.  The salt hay farms converted relatively quickly and simply to Spartina and other vegetation with the breaching of dikes and restoration of tidal flow.  The combination of salinity and periodic tidal wetting and drying of the marsh at the salt hay farms favor a Spartina marsh and the likelihood of success for controlling Phragmites at those sites was high.  PSE&G should be given credit for those restored acres in their permit.

By contrast, the Cohansey River and Alloways Creek sites have proven difficult if not impossible to alter to favor Spartina.       The lower salinity and higher elevation of these sites favored the production of Phragmites, and those basic conditions cannot realistically be altered in any permanent way.  While temporary inroads may have been achieved by repetitive herbiciding, it is clear that in order to maintain or improve the Phragmites reduction, ever-repeating herbiciding coupled with Spartina seeding and mechanical disruption would need to continue indefinitely. This is the approach that Delaware uses, and it depends on 3 –4 spray and burn cycles to gain initial phragmite reduction (never much below 30% Phragmites in a mixed vegetation scenario) followed by repeat herbicide applications when Phragmites reaches 50% of the vegetation mix.

 The repetitive herbiciding approach is not supported by any environmental group in NJ. Repetitive herbiciding could cause damage in its own right to non-target plants, beneficial soil organisms, and biodiversity (see attached article “Glyphosate May Pose a Significant Risk”).  As of January 2001, a cumulative total of 25,000 pounds of glyphosate (active ingredient) has been applied to 2500 acres of marsh, with a net gain of approximately 350 acres of Spartina and favorable vegetation.. Tons of herbicides have been applied  (2 – 3 applications per site) with only a 14 percent success rate at converting to Spartina. The draft permit appears to permit annual herbiciding of up to one third of the 2500 marsh acres, calling this “spot treatment” for the duration of the permit until final success criteria are met ( September 2012)..  NJEF questions this rather generous definition of “spot treatment”, and the apparent permission to “spot treat” up to 1/3 of the acreage every year until September 2012.   Based on the current “trajectory of success”, NJEF predicts that the 95% goal of phragmites reduction can never be met, even if all the acreage were herbicided in its entirety every year, an approach that we would never support.  If glyphosate is regarded as natural resource agencies as “one of the most effective means to eradicate Phragmites”( P. 40, DEP fact sheet for Permit NJ005622), why  hasn’t it controlled Phragmites with the first two applications, as was originally portrayed by spokesmen for PSE&G?  And why does NJDEP continue to permit PSE&G go down the spray road when it is clear the effectiveness is not demonstrated, nor sustainable?

2.

The mechanical disruption  of Phragmites marsh on a large scale basis(mowing, microtopography) raises questions about ecosystem damage from loss of habitat as well.  At some point, the techniques used for restoring wetlands (herbiciding, burning, mowing, discing, mechanical rhizome ripping, sulfating) seem to be conflicting with basic principles of wetland protection, that is, minimizing disturbance, compaction, erosion, plant/animal ecosystems.

According to Richard A. Orson, Ph.D., “Spraying with herbicides can only be partially effective and will have to be combined with mechanical removal techniques if we are to insure that it is removed from a site.  However, the addition of herbicides and the disturbance of stable substrates can end up doing more damage to the environment than the presence of the plant would ever have done” [1]

Approximately 250- 350 acres of Spartina or favorable vegetation have been induced at the lAC and CR sites as of l999. Rather than continue down the path of annual spray and burn, and endless variations of test plots that may not be replicated on other marsh areas (because of varying elevations, hydrology, plant communities, nutrient loads), it would seem more beneficial to tally up the successful acres, give credit for these acres towards the permit goals, and make up for the still dominant Phragmites areas by buying uplands or horseshoe crab habitat.  Conserving uplands  would have long term benefits to the estuary, and would require no herbicides or mechanical disruption to achieve their beneficial effect

Phragmites control efforts failing

It appears from the compliance statement submitted with the permit application that

PSE&G claims a total of 370 acres of Spartina has been generated over a four-year period and over a 3,000 acre control effort (Alloways and Cohansey projects combined).  After 4 years of effort is this a significant enough success rate to warrant continuing the project recognizing that the sustainability of newly created Spartina is questionable and in a matter of years will be overtaken by the surrounding stands of Phragmites.  PSE&G may have been able to meet their 9% goal of Phragmites reduction this year, but they will never reach the 95% reduction goal required in their permit.

. The effectiveness of the project should be the guiding factor in determining whether to continue permitting the effort.  From 1972 to 1992, PSE&G documents that Phragmites populations in the permit areas increased by nearly 30%.  Once PSE&G "completes" its efforts there will still be huge stands of Phragmites within and around the project areas which will reinvade the entire area.  Because the salinity and elevation in the Cohansey and Lower Alloways Creek sites favor Phragmites over Spartina, any short-term gains will ultimately be overcome by Phragmites.  This prediction was made by David Pimentel, Dept. of Entomology, Cornell University when he characterized the problem in comments on the permit to Audrey Wendelowsky (correspondence of May 21, l996) Pimentel said”Unfortunately, spraying an herbicide will not accomplish the goal that you desire even though it might appear to be the cheap, easy solution. Not only will it not succeed, but the spraying is bound to cause serious environmental problems in the estuary.”

 The fact that the project can not demonstrate long-term sustainability or success should be weighed heavily in the permitting process.

.3.

Calculating “success” a constantly changing game

PSE&G’s methodology for evaluation of percentages of reduction of Phragmites and regeneration of favorable vegetation is flawed. Aerial photography interpretation tends to paint a rosier picture of Phragmites reduction than is actually the case when ground surveys are conducted.  From the air, it is difficult to differentiate immature Phragmites from Spartan.  The permit submittal further obfuscates the calculation of net gain and loss of vegetation communities by taking credit for “mixed Phragmites/Spartina” acreage as Phragmites reduction.

 Credit should not be given for mixed vegetation.  Even if it were argued that partial credit should be given for mixed vegetation on a “stem count” basis, it is obvious that the Phragmites will over time crowd out the desirable plants.  This has already happened in the Eagle Island area along the northerly marsh area as viewed from the dirt road going out to the farmhouse, where an initially successful planting of cattails was subsequently overrun by Phragmites by the end of the growing season.  Thus what may have been mapped as desirable vegetation in the spring of 99 would have be be revised by the end of the growing season to dominant Phragmites, subdominant cattails.

PSE&G's maps do not accurately reflect the devegetated areas and loss of habitat on both sites.

PSE&G's maps of the Alloways and Cohansey sites represent that in 1998 there is extensive vegetation and only a few mud flat areas.  During a flyover conducted by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and New Jersey Environmental Federation on August 20, 1998 Jane Nogaki, Mary Ellen Noble and Maya van Rossum witnessed, and photodocumented, extensive areas where the vegetation was either dead standing Phragmites stalks, “pencil point new regrowth of Phragmites, or, extensive mudflats.

In summary, the maps provided PSE&G to the NJDEP do not appear to accurately portray the vegetative reality of the sites in question. and the methodology(aerial photography) to assess percentages of credit toward restoration goals is flawed.  Because of the incredible regenerative capacity of Phragmites, reductions achieved in one year are lost in the next year when Phragmites reemerges and overtakes other plant species or mudflats. (See attached comments of Al Nicholson to NDJEP, April 26, 2000)

Phragmites difficult to control, eradication (95%) control is an unrealistic and unachievable goal.

Phragmites has been described as an “efficient colonizer of the disturbed soils and acts as a climax species thereby forming extensive monocultures that reduce plant and animal diversity.” (M.Stephen Ailstock, Ph.D.) Ailstock comments that “Much of the difficulty in devising control efforts can be attributed to the superior adaptive strategies of Phragmites for colonizing disturbed wetland soils and to positive ecological contributions of the species.”  According to Ailstock,  Phragmites possesses three adaptations that inhibit the growth of other species in wetland vegetation.

·        Phragmites attains greater height than other vegetation, shading them from sunlight and stressing their growth

·        .Phragmites has high stem densities, crowding out other plants

·        Phragmites has dead aerial stems that persist when they break, forming a dense thatch layer elevated above the soil layer.  Without soil contact, decay is slow.  Thick thatch layers prevent sunlight from reaching the soil surface, preventing any other plant seeds from germinating[2]

4.

Because of these adaptive characteristics of Phragmites, control and revegetation with other species is exceedingly difficult.  Dense rhizome mats continue to regenerate new plants even when initial herbiciding control looks promising.   The superlative adaptive nature of Phragmites has implications for success criteria for the PSE&G project. In monotypic stands of Phragmites, the success criteria of reducing the plants by 95% are totally unrealistic. Early on in the permit process, Management Plan Advisory Committee member William Meredith (DNRC) had commented on the 95% criteria advising that it was likely unachievable, and that a permit requirement with such lofty goals would predetermine the project’s failure.  His predictions have been borne out.

The permit must be rewritten or PSE&G will be forced to use ever increasing herbiciding, manipulating, and experimenting in order to show a good faith effort at meeting the lofty criteria.  This is not in anyone’s interest, least of the entire marsh ecosystem.  There may be a line of thinking that wants to continue the experimental test plots in the hopes of finding a new remedy or new information about Phragmites, but all the evidence so far points to no magic bullet for the mighty Phragmites. In addition, the NJEF  question the ability of the permit holder to design and report the science objectively when there is an economic interest in the outcome, as well as rigorous permit conditions (success criteria that must be met on a yearly basis over the next eleven years) driving the “adaptive management” process. The NJ Environmental Federation would not support any continuation of experiments on the marsh under PSE&G’s management.  We believe the money spent on the experiment would be better used in permanently preserving uplands or horseshoe crab habitat.

Phragmites provides some benefits, may not always be desirable to control

Phragmites is not without value as a species.  Some wetland biologists consider it to have an important function as part of a wetland ecosystem and the “appreciation of place” should be conferred on it.  “In many ecosystems, Phragmites serves as an excellent stabilizer of soil and acts as an efficient nutrient sink through its accumulation of large quantities of persistent biomass. Moreover, it is the most efficient herbaceous aquatic plant for transpiring large volumes of water and it does provide outstanding habitat for many species of aquatic and semi-aquatic fauna.” (M. Stephen Ailstock, Ph.D., Adaptive Strategies of Common Reed Phragmites australis)

In addition to being the most efficient plant in the marsh for storing nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, Phragmites is superior to Spartina in concentrating toxic metals, particularly mercury. According to Lisamarie Windham, Department of Biological Science at Rutgers University, Phragmites is efficient in “locking” metals in sediments making them unavailable for export through physical flow or trophic transfer.[3]  While Phragmites binds metals in the marsh, Spartina releases them through leaf surfaces and detritus. “Spartina leaf and stem detritus is estimated to contribute more than 3 times more Hg (mercury) to the sediment surface than Phragmites detritus. Hence, by physiological differences alone, the natural replacement of Spartina with Phragmites has the potential to reduce the bioavailability of Hg, arguably the most toxic of heavy metals.”[4]

5.

  Considering that mercury and other metals in sediments in the Delaware Bay have led to fish contamination and fish consumption advisories for both freshwater and saltwater fish, the locking up of mercury in the sediments by Phragmites needs to be factored into the decision to control it.  Windham suggests that Phragmites provides benefits to the marsh through its ability to reduce metal supplies to the sediment surface when compared with Spartina, and cautions against the disturbance of removing Phragmites and “restoring” Spartina which would release sediment-bound metals. She concludes

Coastal wetlands of the eastern US. Are among the most valuable and the most impacted ecosystems in North America (Catallo l993). Given high nutrient and metal loadings, Phragmites marshes appear to be better equipped than Spartina marshes to improve water quality and reduce the trophic transfer of heavy metals.  I urge wetland managers to consult the “genius of place” when considering the management of Phragmites.  Depending on which wetland functions one wants to maximize, Phragmites can be a solution rather than a problem.[5]

The conceptual permit being sought subverts the public process and allows the applicant to evade public scrutiny.

We recognize that PSE&G will respond to the request for site specific activity mapping by arguing that in order to implement their adaptive management strategy a detailed plan cannot be provided at this time.  The problem with this approach is that PSE&G wants to be able to make up their program as they go along.  The result is that with this approach both the regulatory agencies and the public are excluded from the process and all of the activities conducted are removed from public review or discussion.  This means that the public and regulators never get an opportunity to engage in the discussion about whether a particular technique (e.g. microtopography) has worked or not and/or whether another technique should therefore be engaged (e.g. herbiciding).  Public comment at the annual MPAC meetings is limited to five minutes per person at the very end of the day long meeting, when members are anxious to leave the meeting to make travel connections.  Written comments from the MPAC members, except for E. Greenwich representative Belva Prycl, have been scant, bordering on non-existent, which belies the public/scientific process that PSE&G touts as part of the EEP.   The public has a great deal of on-the-ground information to offer in this regard.  The draft permit being sought by PSE&G with only general oversight and no details subverts the public process and allows the applicant to evade public scrutiny.

By terminating the Phragmites control program, the Department will buffer itself from criticism related to annual herbiciding associated with the project.

The PSE&G Phragmites control program represents the largest application of aquatic herbicides every performed in New Jersey at a time when millions of dollars of public money are being spent on upgrading water quality in surface and groundwater to ameliorate the runoff of pesticides and fertilizers.  Nonpoint source pollution (NPS - runoff and infiltration from pesticides, fertilizer, hydrocarbons and litter) is being targeted for regulation under the federal Clean Water Act.

5.

 NPS has been identified as a major threat to water quality, yet permits for aquatic pesticide use are routinely granted by the Department with no requirement to explore alternatives, assess concomitant damage from herbicide use, or even tally annual aquatic herbicide use.  It is difficult to justify permitting the introduction of more than 11 tons of glyphosate (active ingredient) applied directly to 2500 acres of wetlands under any circumstances, but especially so when the net “success” rate of regenerating “favorable” vegetation has been less than 350 acres, after five years of herbicide applications, mowing, ripping, and scraping.  If the first five years of activity have produced only a 9% regeneration of spartina, the prognosis for achieving 95% favorable vegetation by the year 2012 is outlandishly optimistic and has no basis in reality.  Rather than pour more poison onto the marsh, with very little gain on phragmites, efforts should be placed on  purchasing  buffers zones to protect the marsh from upland runoff which contributes excess phosphorus, nitrates, sediment, and pesticides.

 The Department is undermining its own mission of pollution prevention and natural resource protection when it permits aquatic applications of broad spectrum herbicides on an open ended, annual basis with no demonstration of effectiveness at controlling the pest and no requirement to assess damage to non target vegetation and microorganisms.  The Department has been undermining the efforts of its own Integrated Pest Management and pollution prevention messages by actually permitting increasing use of aquatic herbicides over a five year period.  This growing aquatic use of herbicides, particularly glyphosate, is mirrored by increasing use of glyphosate in agriculture (“round-up ready” corn and soybeans account for 50% of the crops grown in NJ) and in commercial lawn care.  At a time when strides are being made in reducing use of certain highly toxic pesticides like Methylparathion, 2,4-D, Chlorpyrifos, Diazinon, and Carbaryl, there has been an incremental increase in the use of glyphosate.

·        Aquatic use of the herbicide glyphosate increased 6 fold from l995. (NJDEP Pesticide Control Program data)

·        Herbicide use  increase occurred on both PSE&G acres and on non-PSE&G acres, indicating a “copycat” response to PSE&G’s spray and burn program on public and private lands. The latest example is a phragmites control program using herbicides on state owned lands in the Wharton Forest in the Pinelands.

·        PSE&G had been permitted by NJDEP to annually apply herbicide to one-third of its 3000 acres for five years. I appears this permit is being extended until 2012.  A blanket permit of this magnitude is unprecedented in NJ history.

·        Herbiciding on all NJ wetlands increased from 155 acres in l995, to 700 acres in l998, to 942 acres in l999.

·        The two years of PSE&G’s initial Phragmites control program (l996-l997) was the highest use of herbicide by a single user (21,000 pounds), coming very close to or exceeding the amount typically used by the entire commercial lawn care industry (20,000 pounds) or agricultural sector (24,000pounds) for the State of New Jersey. 

6

The Department should check this growing use of herbicides by ceasing to permit projects that have no likelihood of success and that depend on repetitive herbiciding to “manage” a problem that is difficult if not impossible to control, and may not be desirable to control.  If the Department is to meet its own goals for Integrated Pest Management and improved water quality in impaired water bodies, it is going to have to reconsider how it issues aquatic pesticide permits. A preferred alternative to herbiciding would be the purchase of upland buffers between agricultural lands and marsh to protect the marsh from non point source pollution ( fertilizer and pesticide runoff).

There has been extensive public debate, discussion, legal activity, press coverage regarding this project and the devastating impacts PSE&G is inflicting on the Delaware River system both as a result of their fish kills at Salem and their marsh kills characterized by the projects at hand. The Phragmites control project can not demonstrate long-term sustainability or success and so should not be permitted to continue

In closing, we once again urge you to rewrite PSE&G's permit to terminate the Phragmites control program, compensate the failed acres by purchasing uplands buffers, and require Best Technology Available at the Salem 1 and 2 Generating Stations.

Jane Nogaki

Pesticide Program Coordinator

Clean Water Fund/New Jersey Environmental Federation

223 Park Avenue

Marlton, NJ 08053



[1] Orson, R.A..  A short history of Phragmites australis: Native, Introduced, or Invasive, and its implications on management strategies.  Paper presented at Phragmites Workshop, April 17, 2000 sponsored by Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

[2] Ailstock, M.S.   Adaptive Strategies of Common Reed Phragmites australis.  Paper presented at Phragmites Workshop, April 17, 2000 sponsored by Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

[3] Windham, Lisamarie.  Effects of Phragmites invasion on heavy metal fluxes in salt marshes.  Paper presented at Phragmites Workshop, April l7, 2000 sponsored by Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

[4] Windham, Lisamarie.  Effects of Phragmites invasion on heavy metal fluxes in salt marshes.  Paper presented at Phragmites Workshop, April l7, 2000 sponsored by Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

[5] Windham, Lisamarie.  Effects of Phragmites invasion on heavy metal fluxes in salt marshes.  Paper presented at Phragmites Workshop, April l7, 2000 sponsored by Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.