BELMAR, NJ — Belmar is fast-tracking its efforts to determine what is causing sewage to overflow into the Shark River along Route 35 during heavy rainfalls, according to officials during last night’s borough council meeting.
The issue recently came to the forefront after a state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) inspection last December found numerous violations related to the operation of the borough’s sewage collection system. A major concern cited in the report was the borough’s failure to stop the “excessive inflow and infiltration” — a mixture of wastewater and stormwater — that enters the river from along Route 35 at K Street during times of heavy rains.
Since the situation has a direct impact on the water quality at the adjacent L Street beach, DEP is recommending that the small sandy area along the Shark River be closed to recreational swimming until the problem is resolved.
However, Belmar Business Administrator Edward Kirschenbaum emphasized during the April 16 meeting that the infiltration occurs only after a significant rainfall, particularly when there is a new or full moon that affects the tides.
And in the 37 times that the L Street Beach water was tested during 2017 and 2018, it was closed four times due to high bacteria levels that could create unsafe swimming conditions, he said.
During heavy rains, “everything goes into the sewers — not just sewage,” he said, pointing out such examples as goose droppings, fertilizer and roadway salt. “After the tide goes out, the (water) quality comes back.”
Determining the cause of the overflow begins with eliminating conditions that could be contributing to it, according to consulting engineer Alan Hilla of H2M Architects + Engineers of Wall.
“Let’s try to get (the system) so it doesn’t surcharge (into the river) and then find out why,” he said, adding that hydraulically, Route 35 at K Street is the low point of the sewerage system. “And unfortunately, it’s opposite the L Street beach.”
In addition to the cleaning, inspecting and grouting of pipelines that is currently under way in the area of Route 35 and K Street, there is a major push to repair the system’s long-defunct 11th Avenue pumping station by the beginning of May. While the borough’s Sixth Avenue and Inlet Terrace pumping stations are fully operational — as is the Southern Monmouth Regional Sewerage Authority’s pumping station at Eighth Avenue — the 11th facility has not been operational “for some time,” Hilla said.
“It’s located two blocks away from where we’re having the problem (on Route 35),” he said. “It was put in there 50 years ago when someone thought it was a good idea. Let’s get it working.”
Borough officials are currently working with DEP officials on establishing a timetable to address the violations and develop an action plan that could include studies of the system and actual improvements, Hilla said.
“We’re trying to find cost-effective measures to help mitigate the situation and want to continue in that vein,” he said. “We can throw a ton of money at the problem, but (instead) we’re trying to find some low-hanging fruit in an effort to alleviate the situation at K and L Streets and find extraneous flows throughout the borough.”
Hilla also pointed out that an aging sewerage system is an issue confronting many coastal New Jersey municipalities. “It’s just not happening in Belmar,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kirschenbaum said that the L Street beach along the Shark River will remain closed for now “to err on the side of caution” in ensuring the water quality is at safe levels.
However, he hopes to have answers as to what’s contributing and causing the overflow by the first week of May. “We’re going to comply but we want to have a fair analysis of what’s going on (at the L Street beach.),” he said. “The water is clean … the test results speak for themselves.”
The beaches along Belmar’s 1.3-mile oceanfront — located on the eastern side of this seashore community — are not affected by the overflow problems.
According to the DEP’s Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program, local health departments monitor recreational beach water quality from mid-May to mid-September at about 180 ocean and 35 bay monitoring stations along the Jersey Shore, including Belmar’s L Street beach along the Shark River, as well as its Fifth, 12th and 20th Avenue beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.
Samples are analyzed for the presence of enterococci, a type of bacteria found in animal and human waste that is an indicator of possible contamination of bathing waters, according to the cooperative coastal monitoring program.
When a sample exceeds the state standard, a swimming advisory is issued and additional sampling is conducted and continues each day until the sample result is below the level. If two consecutive daily samples exceed the standard, the bathing beach closes until sample results are below the standard.
TAPinto Belmar/Lake Como is Belmar and Lake Como’s only free daily newspaper. Accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, it is the official electronic newspaper of both municipalities. As a locally owned news organization, TAPinto through its advertisers is able to publish online, objective news 24/7 at no charge. Sign up for its free daily e-News, and follow it on Facebook and Twitter.