Memorial Day, the traditional start to summer, is once again upon us. Less than seven months removed from Superstorm Sandy, this holiday weekend is certain to be marked by mixed emotions across the shore region – awe in the power of nature, sadness over the tremendous losses we experienced, pride in our resolve to recover.
The Jersey shore is indeed coming back strong. Yes, we have many challenges ahead, but our hardest hit communities are starting to rebuild. And in parts of the shore, most signs of Sandy are already gone.
Boardwalks are humming with early-season visitors. Hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, mini-golf courses, and so much more are back in business. In fact, we have both been down to the shore for work and pleasure and have seen the shore's resurgence.
Marinas and charter fishing boats are geared up to help you enjoy our beautiful waters or land that trophy fish. Water quality is excellent. And perhaps most important, New Jersey's beach communities are open and ready for visitors.
This remarkable recovery, in the face of what last fall and winter seemed to be impossible odds, is the result of strong leadership from Governor Christie, unprecedented cooperation among all levels of government, and an unfailing determination by our people to get back to normal.
Visitors planning their summer vacations to the Jersey shore can rest assured that everything possible is being done to ensure they have a safe and enjoyable time.
The state began work immediately after Sandy struck to clean up and get the shore ready for the summer season, which is so important to our state's economy and identity.
First we worked closely with our towns and counties to spearhead the swift and safe removal of some eight million cubic yards of land debris, one of the largest undertakings of its kind ever in the nation.
Then we shifted focus to making sure our waterways are safe for boating and fishing, removing intact houses, boats, cars, trees, pieces of docks and bulkheads, and much more. We've also been working hand-in-hand with our state and local partners to ensure our beaches are safe for swimming.
We still have a lot more to do this summer and ask for your cooperation and caution as all of this work continues.
In general, Sandy's record storm surge pushed debris and sand into our bays, creeks and rivers. Cleanup priority has been given to navigation channels, which have been re-marked as necessary.
Still, boaters need to be aware of potential obstacles and adjust their speed accordingly for safety, especially if they venture from the marked channels. We will continue working on removing remaining debris and sand from these waterways throughout the summer and the fall.
Work has been ongoing for months out on the ocean beaches, where municipalities have worked tirelessly to remove big debris, and then thoroughly raked the sand for any smaller pieces. This work has been supplemented by volunteer efforts and by the New Jersey Clean Shores program, which uses inmates to keep beaches clean.
To ensure your protection, state aircraft will be flying over the coastline all season long searching for any debris that might have been missed. State water debris removal contractors are also using side-scan sonar, a tool commonly used to detect obstructions on the seafloor, to search for debris off the beaches.
As we do every season, the state is working closely with municipal governments as they conduct thorough safety sweeps before opening beaches. We're encouraging municipalities to take an extra look each day. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Department of Health have advised lifeguards to keep a very close eye on the beaches and surf zone.
Of course, you should always use common sense and caution and be aware of your surroundings when swimming in the ocean. While we are not seeing very much debris in the ocean, normal currents and wave action could uncover materials at any time. If you see any debris, it is important that you contact a lifeguard immediately. If no lifeguard is available, contact local police or the local health department.
Enhanced pre-season water quality monitoring, meanwhile, indicates that water quality meets state and federal standards. We expect excellent water quality throughout the summer, as usual.
The Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program, a state, local and federal partnership, will continue to monitor water quality at beaches all summer long. The counties and municipalities play a key role in the process of ensuring water quality and making determinations about beach closures. Should any beaches need to be closed for any reason, they will be posted at: www.njbeaches.org
You can also find a wealth of information on the DEP's Sandy recovery efforts at: www.state.nj.us/dep/special/hurricane-sandy/
New Jersey certainly has come a long way in a short time. While we still have much work ahead of us, the upcoming summer season will be one of healing – and one that will give us a deeper appreciation for this special place we call the Jersey shore.
Bob Martin, Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Mary O'Dowd, Commissioner New Jersey Department of Health