Channel to close to boats on half-days
Published in the Asbury Park Press 7/19/02
By TRACY ROBINSON
COASTAL MONMOUTH BUREAU
Fishermen and boaters have agreed with state officials on a plan to close the Shark River channel to boats for several hours on weekdays this summer so construction of a fixed-span bridge on Route 35 can continue.
Under the plan, the channel would be closed on 21 days during a five-week period, beginning July 29. Boats would be banned from the channel from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Normal boat traffic would be allowed Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
The state Department of Transportation, facing a one-year delay and a $3 million price increase for the new bridge, had proposed daytime closings without specifics. The channel has to be closed to allow concrete beams to be delivered by barge and installed by crane.
The agreement was reached yesterday at a meeting of representatives of the boating community, DOT and the construction company, as well as some elected officials and the Coast Guard. It was held at the Manasquan Inlet Coast Guard Station, Point Pleasant Beach. About 30 people attended. Coast Guard approval is needed before the channel can be closed.
"As long as the contractor puts it in writing and it is enforced, it is a plan my clients can live with," said attorney Ron S. Gasiorowski of Red Bank, who represents a number of fishing boat owners in Belmar.
One client, Denice Koch, a co-owner of the Big Marie S II, concurred.
"Out of a bad situation this sounds like the most doable with the least impact on our business," said Koch.
Party boats that make half-day trips would extend those trips by an hour to accommodate the closing schedule.
DOT Commissioner Jamie Fox said in a press release delivered at the meeting that construction delays have made it necessary to close the south Shark River channel now, during the summer season, as opposed to earlier in the year as originally scheduled.
The delays were due to the inability of the contractor to meet the construction schedule, the relocation of electrical and telephone utilities and the need to properly dispose of material dredged from the riverbed, said DOT spokeswoman Anna Farneski.
Wednesday, a DOT spokesman had said union problems, which he declined to discuss, were responsible for the delays and he said the contractor, Amec Civil of Fort Myers, Fla., is a non-union company.
But Farneski yesterday said the contractor is a union company.
The new fixed-span bridge is $3 million over budget and a year behind the completion schedule. Officials now say the structure -- replacing the current drawbridge -- will be done in 2004.
Seth Frankel, owner of the Shark River Yacht Club, wanted to know why the closing couldn't be delayed until after the peak boating season ends. "We waited this long and they are not even close to being done, so why not wait longer?" he asked.
Rep. Frank J. Pallone Jr., D-N.J., sent an aide, Mike Beson, to the meeting and he made the same point.
"I think this is ridiculous . . . doing this in the middle of the summer," Beson said. "Our message to the commissioner is get it done in the fall."
Pallone has written to Adm. James M. Loy, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, expressing opposition to the closure now, while the economy is in a slump. A shutdown could pose safety risks if boats are forced to line up to get into and out of the marinas at the scheduled channel openings, the letter said.
Coast Guard Lt.j.g. Becky Jones, who ran yesterday's meeting, said she expects a decision on the request to close the channel by today.