Gov. Chris Christie chose Barnegat’s municipal dock as the setting to today announce $650 million in funding for water quality management in the state, including $20 million to $25 million for stormwater projects in communities around Barnegat Bay.
The money will come from the Environmental Infrastructure Trust Fund, giving municipalities in Ocean County and around the state access to grants and no- and low-interest loans to tackle projects aimed at stopping polluted runoff from ending up in coastal and inland waters.
After signing three bills allocating the funds, Christie addressed a crowd of more than 100 local elected officials and residents in the sunny municipal waterfront park, saying the protection of Barnegat Bay and the state’s other water resources is a bipartisan issue.
“These are not Republican or Democratic issues, they’re New Jersey issues,” Christie said. “We need to solve them as New Jerseyans.”
At the same time, he said, “we have to invest in the things that are going to make New Jersey the model for balancing ecological protection and economic development,” he said. “You can’t have one and not the other.”
Staunch environmentalists might say his to protect Barnegat Bay doesn’t go far enough, Christie said, and others have said the measures hurt businesses.
“As long as both sides are complaining, I’m doing all right,” he said.
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said the state funding will be available for projects starting in the fall.
“These are tough economic times, and a lot of these project get put on the back burner,” he said.
Funding through state grants and loans steers money to needed projects, but gives local municipalities a stake in where the funds are directed.
“We want (municipalities) to step up and be involved in the decision making process,” Martin said.
In May, that would have allowed, but not required, Ocean County municipalities to charge a fee to developers building in the Barnegat Bay watershed that would help offset the cost of pollution and stormwater management.
At the time, Christie said raising fees was not the right way to deal with the underlying issues affecting Barnegat Bay, saying it would be a further burden to residents and business owners.