BELMAR, NJ — Despite a swell of opposition from the community, the Belmar Council is proceeding with a grant application to construct a pedestrian bridge to Silver Lake island, where many species of waterfowl call home. 

The borough is seeking a $200,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to build a 90-foot bridge on the southwest side of the lake, near Eighth Avenue, to connect with the island.

The eight-foot wide bridge would make the island accessible for educational purposes, as well as for fishing and bird watching, and to provide easier access for the Public Works Department to maintain the island, according to the application.

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Click herepdf for the CDBG application.

Claiming that getting the grant is a “long shot,” Mayor Mark Walsifer said the borough will file the application and will consider revising the plan if it receives approval — a process that could take up to two years.

“If we get (the grant), it has to come back to the mayor and council to accept it. That’s when the changes can be made,” he said during the borough council’s August 11 remote meeting. He was responding to a flood of criticism to the project, adding that he could not understand why people would be opposed to it. “I can’t find a down side to it. If you look at the island, it needs something after Sandy … when it was under water.”

When Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Belmar beachfront in 2012, much of the native plants and trees were destroyed on the 0.38-acre island, which is situated across Ocean Avenue at Fifth Avenue. The landscape has since become overrun primarily by phragmites, a fast-growing seagrass that overtakes native plants. However, the island has remained a sanctuary for ducks, herons, egrets, among other waterfowl, as well as a mating and nesting place for swans from April through August. Twice a year, a Public Works crew travels by boat to the island for maintenance.

During the borough council’s August 11 remote meeting, Walsifer and council members Thomas Carvelli and Patricia Wann voted in favor of filing the application with the Monmouth County Office of Community Development.

Voting against the measure was Council President Thomas Brennan, who read into the record a statement of opposition by the Belmar Environmental Commission, which was not consulted in the decision to apply for the grant.

“Putting in a footbridge would allow people to walk around the island, which would disrupt both birds and plants. It is not a public priority as the borough faces budget constraints with a local share and would become a maintenance budget item,” the statement read. “Money would be better spent stabilizing the shoreline with more plantings to reduce silt and turbidity, and reduce goose access by obstructing their entrance and exit.”

Click here for the full statement.

In objecting to the plan, former Belmar Mayor and Council President Brian Magovern said that borough officials built the manmade island 100 years “to keep people from the swans and ducks, not the ducks and swans from the people.”

He suggested that any funding be used to improve it environmentally, including developing a fresh water irrigation system to foster the growth of indigenous plants.

“If you get a grant to improve the island, you don’t need park benches; you need better trees and shrubs to improve the habitat for the birds,” said Magovern, who championed an online petition that garnered nearly 425 signatures of people opposed to the plan. “Apply for the grant, but don’t have a bridge attached to it. People don’t need to be on that island.”

Public Works director Michael Campbell said the bridge was proposed as way to extend the borough’s park system, as well as be able to keep the island’s invasive plants under control on a regular basis — and not to disrupt the waterfowl.

“We wish to preserve wildlife there … and make sure they have a home to share," said Campbell, adding that he has been in contact with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife about the project and keeping the bridge closed during breeding season. “It was just an idea. We never thought it would get to be such a controversial idea.”