Wetlands: To fill or not to fill
By: Matthew Kirdahy , Staff Writer
South Brunswick Post, 06/10/2004
Route 92 would require creation of 57 new acres
The state Department of Environmental Protection says there are several
ways a developer, or in the case of Route 92 the N.J. Turnpike
Authority, can mitigate wetland damage, including, restoration,
preservation and the construction of new wetlands.
However, the Wetlands Institute,
located in Stone Harbor in Cape May County, says it's difficult to tell
if manmade wetlands are a permanent fix for damage caused to existing
According to a draft Environmental Impact Statement by the Army Corps
of Engineers on Route 92, building the 6.7-mile road would mean filling
12.03 acres of wetlands, while an additional 1.16 acres would be
permanently affected by shading from elevated sections of the road.
The Army Corps is conducting the review because federal and state
environmental agencies disagree over whether permits should be issued
for the filling of wetlands. The federal Environmental Protection
Agency refused to issue permits in 1998, saying there were less
environmentally disruptive alternatives, while the state Department of
Environmental Protection issued permits in 1999.
The state permits expired March 29, but the N.J. Turnpike Authority has
said it would apply to renew the permits, but wasn't sure when.
Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers will continue its review.
To lessen the wetlands impact, the Turnpike Authority would create 57
acres of new wetlands, extending north and south from the proposed
highway, east of Haypress Road.
Route 92 is slated for the Devil's Brook wetland complex — a 1,650-acre
wetland forest. The highway would traverse the forest near its
southerly edge, with 500-acres to the south and 1,150 acres to the
north. The constructed wetlands would connect to the existing wetlands
bordering Devil's Brook, which will be filled in because of the project.
The EIS says the impacts to water circulation of existing wetlands
would be minimized by the construction of culverts and bridges.
According to the EIS, Route 92 also
would bisect the Plainsboro Preserve, with 12.5 acres of the property
being separated to the north.
Also as part of the project's mitigation, the N.J. Turnpike Authority
will preserve an additional 202 acres of forest wetlands with some
forest uplands in the vicinity of Friendship and Miller roads.
However, there is still some question
whether manmade wetlands are the same as natural wetlands.
"Is a manmade wetland ever going to be
as good as a natural one?" Phil Broder, director of education at the
Wetlands Institute, asked. "Probably not. But most manmade wetlands
haven't been around long enough to answer that question."
The Wetland Institute is an educational facility located in Stone
Harbor that "promotes the conservation and preservation of coastal
ecosystems by providing a fun and educational experience for families,
school groups and vacationers of all ages," according to its Web site.
Mr. Broder said wetlands are one of
the most valuable environmental assets the state has. He said
the types of wetlands people find in South Brunswick are freshwater
marsh and swamp.
"Wetlands are more important than most
people realize mainly because of their flood control value and (ability
to) filter out pollutants," Mr. Broder said. "If you build
artificial wetlands and there hasn't been any flooding nearby, then you
say, well, there is a success. But
can you improve on Mother Nature's work?"
For builders who destroy wetlands, the state Department of
Environmental Protection provides rules and guidelines on wetlands
The state protects its freshwater wetlands under the Freshwater
Wetlands Protection Act. The act says the state must provide general
permits before someone can disturb wetlands by constructing anything
from a fence to a building. On its Web site, the DEP provides a list of
freshwater wetlands protected under this act.
According to the DEP, wetlands are
protected because they filter pollutants out of the water supply, store
flood waters, control erosion and provide habitats for wildlife.
"The state takes a lot of steps to
prevent disturbances that would require building wetlands," said
Erin Fallon of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Ms. Fallon said land elevation and the amount of water on the site are
the most important factors in choosing a place to reconstruct or
construct artificial wetlands. There has to be enough water to saturate
the ground and support the vegetation and wildlife. In order to
maintain the water balance, the land elevation must be a certain
height, which varies by project, she said. If the site can sustain the
wetland creation, topsoil is brought to the site.
After wetland construction, the state monitors the area for three years
to make sure vegetation is thriving, Ms. Fallon said.
Ms. Fallon also said it's an "if you build it, they will come" scenario
regarding attracting wildlife to a manmade wetlands area.
According to the DEP, other wetlands mitigation activities include
wetlands enhancement, wetlands restoration, purchase of wetlands
mitigation credits, preservation of upland, wetlands mitigation fund
contributions and donation of land.
Middlesex County's largest manmade wetland is a 12.47-acre tract in
Woodbridge, a DEP spokesperson said.
In the case of wetland mitigation, developers also can rebuild wetlands
in a wetland mitigation bank, a tract of land dedicated to manmade
wetlands. Monroe Township has a wetland mitigation bank on Wycoffs Mill
Road at the southwest corner of town.
Monroe Township Engineer Ernie Feist said the DEP operates the
approximately 100-acre bank in conjunction with a private wetland
Members of the National Association of Industrial and Office
Properties, a trade association for developers, owners and investors in
industrial, office and related commercial real estate, has members who
contribute to these banks based on association policy.
The executive director for the New Jersey chapter of the group, Michael
McGuinness, said the association recognizes and respects the states
requirements for filling wetlands and wetland mitigation.
"We're trying to live within the framework of existing legislators and
regulators," Mr. McGuinness said. "We understand what's out there and
that's what we're going for."