By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Styrofoam coolers, chunks of cardboard, paper cups, sheets of plastic wrap, empty flower pots and even a dead seagull are among the litter and assorted debris marring the bayside scenery on Sea Isle City’s main entryway.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio has even seen some hazardous debris.
“I picked up a chair in the middle of the road. I was afraid someone would hit it,” he said.
Sea Isle Boulevard, the primary artery in and out of the resort town, offers panoramic views of the surrounding bays, but now that vista is spoiled by unsightly litter accumulating along the road.
“There’s a lot of Styrofoam, boxes, cardboard and on some days construction debris,” Desiderio pointed out. “It’s got to be cleaned up.”
Sea Isle Boulevard is a Cape May County road. In the past, the county would have inmates from the county jail pick up litter one or twice a month to maintain the boulevard’s normally inviting appearance.
“It was really looking good,” Desiderio said.
But the inmates are not being let out of the jail for roadside cleanup duty during the coronavirus pandemic, he explained. In the process, the litter has become worse.
In addition to serving as Sea Isle’s mayor, Desiderio is also a member of the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the elected body that oversees county government.
He said he has noticed the litter over the past several weeks and plans to discuss the problem with county officials during Tuesday’s freeholder meeting.
“We’re going to get it cleaned up,” he stressed in an interview Monday.
Desiderio suspects that some of the litter has been blowing out of the back of trash trucks or construction vehicles heading out of Sea Isle en route to the county landfill.
While some trash has been swirling around on the road and shoulders, other litter has gotten trapped underneath the guardrails in metal fencing that was installed to prevent turtles from crawling across the boulevard and being struck by cars.
Legions of diamondback terrapins emerge from the marshlands each summer in search of dry sand or soil in which to lay their eggs. The slow-moving turtles often cross over local roads – frequently with deadly consequences.
County engineers, though, devised a novel way in 2019 to protect the diamondbacks from summer traffic on Sea Isle Boulevard, one of the shore’s busiest roads. An intricate barrier of chain-link fencing was installed under the guardrails along both sides of the boulevard to prevent the turtles from venturing out on the road and getting run over.
The turtle fencing was required by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as part of the regulatory permits issued for the road’s $12.7 million reconstruction project. Both sides of the boulevard have been raised by 4.5 feet to protect it from flooding during coastal storms. The multiyear project was completed in 2019.
The turtle fence, though, acts as an unintended litter trap, marring the appearance of the road. But it also prevents trash from being blown into the environmentally sensitive bays that surround Sea Isle Boulevard.