Washington Town Council Grapples with Erosion and Debris Concerns

The Washington Town Council convened recently, navigating a labyrinth of environmental, financial, and regulatory challenges. The agenda focused primarily on issues surrounding the local waterways, with concerns centering on erosion, debris management, and complex local responsibilities.

In Washington, New Jersey, head walls that guard against waterway erosion have raised alarm bells due to their deteriorating state. The council also discussed the regulation surrounding riparian buffers, a zone 300 feet from the brook where woody vegetation is safeguarded. Violations of this regulation, including unauthorized tree cutting, can lead to significant state fines. With grants and funding available but limited, particularly favoring more rural areas, this issue has pushed budgetary strains into the spotlight.

Adding to the environmental puzzle, the council navigated the complex responsibility of managing fallen trees and debris. Questions regarding the roles of the township and property owners in tree removal and disposal linger.

The accumulation of debris, especially from upstream New York, complicates the issue further. Unlike New Jersey townships, New York is not obligated to prevent floatables from entering the waterways, straining New Jersey’s efforts. A proposed solution includes maintaining the trash rack to manage the growing debris.

The question of responsibility was contested in the case of the maintenance and cleanup of the brook area. A speaker’s claim that the property owner is ultimately responsible for brook cleanup sparked a debate, as participants raised concerns over the potential danger of hazardous trees near the water or streets. Despite the proposed formation of an inspection committee to enforce individual responsibility for tree maintenance, doubts persisted about the town’s ability to manage such a task.

In response to the costly and ongoing environmental issues, the council considered a professional engineer’s assessment and discussed potential solutions like stream stabilization. However, the question of financing these initiatives remained, as none were budgeted for the current year.

Potential solutions for the sediment problem were discussed, including dredging the lake or using a method known as “hydra raking.” Yet, these approaches were met with concerns about the handling of the dredged materials and potential backlash from taxpayers if public funds were used for a private lake.

The council’s efforts to address these challenges extend to testing for the presence of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in dredge materials, managing the consequences of erosion control, tree removal, and bank stabilization, as well as educating homeowners on their environmental responsibilities.

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