NJ asks judge to block ocean blasting plan
BARNEGAT LIGHT, N.J. (AP) -- New Jersey environmental officials went to federal court Thursday trying to block a federally approved research plan that involves blasting the ocean floor off New Jersey with loud sound waves.
The state Department of Environmental Protection sought a court order to block the plan, which could begin next week.
No action was immediately taken on the state's request. Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the DEP, said the department expects the court to consider the request and act on it Monday.
Rutgers University, the University of Texas and the National Science Foundation want to do research on sediments deposited on the ocean floor by changing global sea levels dating back 60 million years. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has signed off on the request. A spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.
Environmentalists say the tests will harm dolphins, whales, turtles and other marine life. In its court papers, the DEP backed that stance.
The department said it believes the proposed research, which would use loud, powerful sound blasts to map the ocean floor over a 30-day period, will likely have a detrimental effect on New Jersey's fisheries and marine mammals.
"We must carefully safeguard those resources, which play such a key role in our state's $40 billion tourism industry, for the benefit of our residents, businesses and the environment," DEP Commissioner Robert Martin said. "We have made our concerns clear to the NOAA and remain hopeful that, at the very least, this initiative will be rescheduled for a less impactful time of year. The timing of this program will be detrimental to various marine species that migrate and breed off the New Jersey coast and will negatively impact the commercial and recreational fishing industries, and related tourism, that relies heavily on these resources."
Several hundred opponents of the plan held a rally Wednesday in Barnegat Light. Fishing industry workers fear the impact the blasting noises will have on fish, scallops and lesser members of the food chain. Divers worried about the impact on the ears of people who dive in that area.
The DEP contends that NOAA wrongly denied New Jersey's request to study possible impacts of the research on fisheries in the area. That request was made in addition to comments the DEP provided for a federal permit allowing for incidental harming or killing of marine mammals in the study area.
The study aims to investigate features such as river valleys cut into coastal plain sediments now buried under nearly 3,300 feet of younger sediment and flooded by today's ocean. But some environmental groups also believe the research could be used to probe for undersea oil and gas deposits in the event drilling is opened off the New Jersey coast someday.
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