Environmentalists Question Failing PSE&G Marsh Project: Urge Army Corps to Pull the Plug.
Citing the massive failure of and possible damage by PSE&G's so-called marsh restoration projects known as the Estuary Enhancement Program, a coalition of 64 environmental and citizen groups today called on the US Army Corps of Engineers to deny PSE&G's permit request, to hold a public hearing on the proposed Corps permits, and to give a 60 day extension for public comment. The current comment period spans the holiday season, from November 26th to December 22nd, hardly a good time of the year for effective public participation.
Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act requires facilities to minimize adverse impacts of their cooling water intake structures using best technology available. PSE&G's Salem facility operates a once through cooling system. This system has been documented by the NJDEP's own consultants, Versar, as killing more fish than commercial and recreational fishing of the Delaware Bay and River combined. Versar also found that by installing cooling towers and moving to a closed cycle cooling system, these fish kills would be reduced by 95%.
In the early 1990's the NJDEP wrote a permit requiring PSE&G to install cooling towers. However, the DEP then caved in to PSE&G's intense political and economic pressure and cut a deal with PSE&G. This deal allowed PSE&G to embark upon their Estuary experiment, an unproven and risky venture that includes the massive herbiciding of wetlands to attempt to eliminate phragmite.
PSE&G has filed two similar permit requests with the Corps, one for Alloway Creek and for Cohansey River. PSE&G is requesting permission to disturb and destroy wetlands in their vain phrasmite control effort through the following actions: mowing up to a total of 1200 acres (up to four times a year); excavating a total of 20,000 cubic yards of marshlands: spreading a total of up to 4000 cubic yards of muck on the marsh plain; scribing up to 300 acres of phragmites roots; removing remnant dike and spoil piles up to a total of 20,000 cubic yards; allowing four acres of wetlands fill (Alloway and Cohansey combined); creating dredge muck "upland islands" totaling over 3 acres of new islands, altering nutrients in the marsh by adding an unspecified amount of sulfate on 1000 cubic yards; seeding and spraying herbicides on up to 1000 acres on the Alloway Creek site, and up to one-third of the total Cohansey site yearly.
The coalition of groups opposing this Corps permit are concerned about the environmental and health impacts of continued mass herbiciding of the estuary. They also point out that PSE&G has provided no information to show PSE&G's program would provide any benefits to the fish population on the Delaware River.
"This permit request is PSE&G's admission of defeat. It is time to pull the plug on PSE&G's swamp destruction program", said Norm Cohen, coordinator of the Unplug Salem Campaign, and Executive Director of the Coalition for Peace and Justice. "The public needs an open and wide ranging public hearing to fully air the extent of damage to the marsh caused by PSE&G's massive herbiciding, mowing, scraping and piling in its futile attempt to eradicate phragmites. PSE&G would be better served to comply with the Clean Water Act and build cooling towers rather than continue this charade."
Commented Belva Prycl, Vice-president of EAGLE, a Cumberland County environmental watchdog organization, "The relentless efforts to subdue phragmite by PSE&G have taken a terrible toll on the marsh, and this new permit to disturb wetlands should be denied. Actually, what this permit request shows is evidence that PSE&G's estuary programs are failing. This permit request is a desperate attempt to make their estuary program look good before the NJDEP permit hearing comes up this summer."
According to Jane Nogaki, board member of the NJ Environmental Federation, PSE&G has exaggerated it's success and provided no documentation that the project is working. "What we see on the marsh is a denuded, devegetated wasteland. Mostly it is phragmite that is growing back, not spartina, which is the marsh grass PSE&G is trying to grow. The only thing PSE&G is providing habitat for, is its own heavy equipment that is mowing spraying, and scraping thousands of acres of wetlands. PSE&G also seems to have shown a talent for making mud and mudflats. Too bad if you are a bird, mammal, or fish."
Maya van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper, stated, "For decades PSE&G has been the largest predator of Delaware River fish. PSE&G can now lay claim to the title of the largest destroyer of Delaware River wetlands."
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