By John Burton
FAIR HAVEN – Brian Rice wants to work on improving the Navesink River and has support from neighboring communities.
Rice and other like-minded individuals have re-established the Navesink River Municipalities Committee, which intends on working on issues related to the river, especially the rising level of bacteria that has been revealed in recent studies.
“I think it’s something that we can’t turn our backs on,” Rice said of the river’s current condition.
The committee was active in the early 2000s, involving government representatives and citizens from the communities bordering on the river. But by about 2008, “things kind of fell apart at that time,” and the committee really ceased to continue, observed Zachary Lees, ocean and coastal policy attorney for the environmental group, Clean Ocean Action.
“I just think it kind of ran out of steam,” as volunteer groups can on occasion, Rice said.
Cindy Burnham, a Red Bank Borough Council member, who is one of Red Bank’s designated committee members, said the original committee had a couple of members die, which contributed to the loss of momentum. On top of that, Lees pointed out, 2008 was the release of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s pollution source-tracking study, which at that time indicated an overall improvement to the water’s condition.
But since that time, there have been studies from county and state agencies, as required by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that have shown an increase of bacteria in the river waters, including a rise in fecal contamination. That has caused the DEP to increasingly expand the area where recreational and commercial shelf fishing is prohibited.
“There is a bacteria problem in the Navsink,” Lees said, resulting in “hundreds and hundreds of acres” closed to shellfish harvesting.
Rice is a fourth generation Fair Haven family, with his parents still living in the family home on the river’s shore where Rice grew up. In addition to operating a financial services firm with his father, Rice is a licensed charter boat captain— “My fun job,” he acknowledged.
“So, I have deep roots on the river,” he said, explaining in part his commitment to improve it.
The Navesink River plays an important role for not only the area’s environmental health but its recreational and commercial viability. As such, Rice has adopted a motto, he shared: “Keep and maintain the river, leave it better than we found it for the next generation.”
The newly-formed committee has had its first meeting, held last month at the Red Bank Municipal Complex, 90 Monmouth St., and will continue to meet the third Wednesday of the month at 7:30 p.m., with the meetings open to the public. At its first meeting in May, committee members selected Rice as its chair.
The group has established its mission statement involving monitoring the river’s condition to positively impact its health and wellbeing, Rice explained.
So far, Red Bank, Tinton Falls, Fair Haven and Rumson have appointed members and the committee is waiting for Middletown and Colts Neck to sign on, Rice said.
Burnham said the committee in its earlier iteration was instrumental “in getting things done,” encouraging the river’s dredging to improve its health, among other steps. She hopes the work will aggressively look at the pollution and its source to correct it, Burnham added.
“We’re really happy that they’re back,” Lees offered, believing it’s a good forum for environmental discussions and a means of communicating with local governing bodies. “We can get things done in a cooperative way,” working with the committee and local elected officials, Lees said.
Rice said he’s committed to improving the water’s condition and the committee’s work. “I’m going to see it through,” he said.
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