The Dad stood on the jetty holding his three-year old daughter. He, smiling and waving. She, learning to wave. Out on the water, cruising in was the fishing headboat Jamaica, its rail lined with scruffy, tired men returning with their day’s catch. Exhausted? Maybe. But not so much that they couldn’t smile and wave back. The fishermen on the rocks, thinking they were being waved at, re-waved. The three couples heading out for cocktails on their cabin cruiser, returned their wave. Followed by a husband and wife in their beach chairs, sharing a number 7 sandwich from Jersey Mike’s. And then the sailboat, sails furled while their gas engine motored them through. Young lovers, fingers intertwined in that intimate sign of a new relationship, turned from watching the surfers on the south side of the pier and waved. And so it went, from land to sea and back again, people trading waves and smiles. Waving it forward.
On any given day, this is the Manasquan Inlet in New Jersey. Magical in its simplicity. Strangers, but not too strange to momentarily befriend each other. Along the sea wall, fleeting conversations borne of curiosity and enhanced by friendliness. “Anything biting today?” “What’s in the bucket?” Wha’d ya’ catch ‘em on?” What kind of fish is that, Mister?” “Nice fish!” (Is there any such thing as a not-nice fish?)
Kids jump from boulder to boulder showing off their boundless athleticism. A group of guys drinking beer, smoking cigars, and trading lies, oblivious to bothersome ordinances. There’s no cost of admission here; no one cares if you’re a D or an R, where you came from, or where you’re going. Maybe it ain’t Disneyland, but today it’s just a place to be happy.
On any given day, the main attraction is the parade of boats. Everything from wave runners and kayaks to party boats and center consoles. The biggest attention getters are the commercial trawlers. Those towering cruisers with outstretched riggers that nobody knows what they do. Clams, scallops, tuna? Who knows? We can only guess as they glide through the white caps, followed by a cast of seagulls in a cameo of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”.
Everyone gets out of their way. Fishermen reel their lines in; open boats with outboards hug the walls; even yachts bounce off their wakes like popcorn. So what would happen if one of these behemoths ran aground? If the channel suddenly filled up with sand and only inner tubes could be assured of safe passage? It almost happened, you know.
Sand drifts up along the Point Pleasant beachfront to the mouth of the inlet. The dune replenishment projects add to this build-up called “shoaling”. We non-nautical landlubbers know it as a sandbar. When these shoals build up to the point where the channel is shallower than fourteen feet at low tide, the health and safety of the Manasquan Inlet is in jeopardy.
Tom Toohey is an avid surf-fisherman. He can read the water. He’s also a Point Pleasant Beach councilman. One day, casting off the jetty, he noticed how, even with relatively calm seas, the inlet was uncommonly rough. Even the commercial ships were bouncing around like bobbers. He brought this observation to the attention of Mayor Steve Reid.
Mayor Reid grew up in the Beach. He knew the rocks for the inlet were mined from the excavation for New York’s Second Avenue subway. He knew that more boats come in and out of Manasquan Inlet than anywhere else in the state. He knew that the second largest class of commercial clammers passes through here. And he knew that any delay in fixing this problem would be a disaster. He jumped on it. On April 26, he sent a letter to Senator Chris Smith, describing the imminent danger. You could say “he just did his job”.
Within two days, Congressman Smith contacted the Army Corp of Engineers. While we often decry the longevity of some politicians, sometimes it’s exactly that kind of experience that carries the day. He knows how to get things done. He called Monica Chasten, the program manager for the Army Corp. “Program Manager” is the title they use for “decision maker”. It helps when you’re on a first-name basis. By May 2, they had performed a channel depth survey and confirmed the shoaling near the mouth of the inlet.
The federal government dredging ship, the Currituck, is now being directed from New York Harbor to Point Pleasant Beach to dredge the inlet on June 18. This is an extraordinary move on the part of the immoveable Army Corp.
We mortals never really get to see and appreciate what our elected officials do. We know that once they get to Trenton, inertia sets in. Sometimes they’ll sponsor some meaningful legislation. Sometimes they’ll get their name on any innocuous bill like outlawing menthol cigarettes or making it a crime to fly a drone while intoxicated. They’ll show up at a public event and get their picture taken. They’ll obediently vote along party lines and successfully mask their quid pro quo deals. All of this encourages our lack of trust and disdain.
But here’s one instance where a local and state politician got together, saw a problem, and bolted out of the starting gate to fix it. No news conference; no front page press release; no grandstanding or “look at me: see what I did!” Just two public servants going about their business; “doing their job”. It may not seem like much, but I’ll tell you what – they got my vote!