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by Erik Weber
This derelict cabin cruiser, seen here on March 11th, was found by aerial photographer Kevin Doherty to be spilling oil into the river from where it had run aground last fall. KEVIN DOHERTY / OCEAN AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY

SOUTH TOMS RIVER – Nearly a year since it first appeared in the open water of the Toms River between Mathis Plaza and Crabbe Point, here, an aging cabin cruiser that originated from the Miller Yacht Sales/Cedar Cove Marina site has now been found to be spilling oil into the Toms River. The cruiser sits where it ran aground at the western shore of the point several months after it appeared to break from its mooring.

Over the course of the year, officials have been questioned regarding the boat and the legality of its presence without known legal pump-out services. One response from Robert L. Tarver, solicitor of the borough until last month, was that as it was not specifically within the boundaries of the borough, it was not the borough’s issue to address.

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This derelict cabin cruiser, seen here moored in the Toms River near Crabbe Point in July 2013, was this week found to be spilling fuel into the river by local aerial photographer Kevin Doherty of Ocean Aerial Photography. Last fall, the cruiser broke from its mooring and ran aground the shoreline of the point. ERIK WEBER / OCEAN SIGNAL
Last summer, when the boat drifted and ran aground, borough officials were further asked when it was going to be removed from its perch, but no specific answer was given.

Aerial Photographer Discovers Leak

This week, Kevin Doherty of Ocean Aerial Photography was out to take photos of the sunset on the mild weather night of March 11th when he came across the site of the cabin cruiser and the larger problem it is now giving boaters, swimmers, residents and communities along the Toms River shoreline.

Setting up his aerial photo equipment, he stated that he was “hoping to just have the boat in the photo as something interesting, but once we were in the air, it was apparent something was leaking.”

Oil found emanating from the derelict cabin cruiser. KEVIN DOHERTY / OCEAN AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY
Oil found emanating from the derelict cabin cruiser. KEVIN DOHERTY / OCEAN AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY
“The smell was really bad, too,” the photographer stated. “It’s a shame the marina close by has done nothing. Between the smell and the oil slick on the water, with the amount of time we know that the boat has been sitting there, they obviously have been just looking the other way.”


He added that simply driving by the scene, it would not be immediately apparent there was a leak as the sheen of the oil and diesel fuel is harder to make out.

A view facing west, with the oil spreading from the site of the boat below. KEVIN DOHERTY / OCEAN AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY
A view facing west, with the oil spreading from the site of the boat below. KEVIN DOHERTY / OCEAN AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY
“I think aerial [videography and photography] really brings to light that there is a problem,” Mr. Doherty said. “I also own a boat. My friends, family and myself spend countless hours on the water in the warmer months so I know about the dangers of a fuel spill and all the other chemicals usually onboard a boat.”

Incident Blights Recent Effort for Site Cleanup

This recent revelation is a reversal of the progress that had begun with a fervor in February 2012 when a team of state officials from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) were joined by various county and borough officials at Miller Yacht Sales, also known as Cedar Cove Marina, in order to investigate public access violations on borough-owned Green Acres protected property and water quality issues associated with the site, which included people living on the site and inside the drydocked watercraft. In the months that followed, the site was almost entirely cleaned up with many boats and various machinery removed and the perimeter fenced off.

The cabin cruiser that is now spilling oil into the Toms River, however, remained attached to the site, docked in one of its slips until it was later moved into the open water, where its occupant or occupants continued to live after having been upset by being told to vacate the premises.

In 2012, officials from the neighboring municipality Beachwood Borough stated that sources within the NJDEP speculated that this area of the river may be a source for fecal coliform pollution along their public swimming beach. NJDEP Press Director Larry Ragonese later dismissed the “absolute” nature of these claims, stating that “at this point basically what I could tell you is that there is obviously some waste coming from the boats over by Miller’s boat place, and it may be contributing and it has potential to contribute to bacterial issues over at Beachwood Beach, but we’re still assessing that and it takes some work to do.” Beachwood Borough continues to work on the issue to the present day, including a project to move stormwater outfall pipes from their beachfront to non-bathing beach areas.

Fuel Spills Common on Neglected Shoreline

Oil leaks are nothing new to this area of South Toms River, as it marks the third or fourth time in two decades that vessels linked to the Miller Yacht Sales/Cedar Cove Marina site and operations were found in violation of NJDEP’s Spill Compensation and Control Act. The first two incidents stemmed from oil leaks of a 1922 84-foot steel-hulled New York Harbor-based ferry known as the Fordham that was docked alongside the marina site for many years.

In 1992, the ferry was found to have first leaked oil into the Toms River, and on August 19th of that year the U.S. Coast Guard ordered all fuel oil removed from the vessel. Donald J. Miller, owner of the marina and vessel, did not remove the oil, and in 1993 was charged for the unlawful discharge of pollutants into the river. The following spring, his company pleaded guilty and was made to pay a $25,000 fine and $12,552 to the Coast Guard for cleanup costs. However, by entering into Ocean County’s Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI), charges against him were dismissed in 1997 and he did not serve time in prison.

Early winter 2001 saw a second incident related to the Fordham as residents and business owners along the northern shore of the river detected a foul odor shortly after a warm front and rain storm had thawed out parts of surface ice near Spinnaker Cove. Upon receiving reports of the odor and accompanying oil present on the water—oil that had been spreading below the surface of the ice for several weeks—the NJDEP asked the Coast Guard to clean up and analyze the spill, and it was determined that approximately 30 gallons of fuel oil had leaked and spread as far east as the Pine Beach shoreline, killing five geese in the process. At that time, Mr. Miller reportedly offered to pay for the cleanup but refused to take blame for it.

Two months later, county officials sued to have the Fordham removed from the river entirely or would bill Mr. Miller for the full amount of the cost of removal if he failed to comply. In late summer of that year, the marina owner and Miller Yacht Sales were indicted on one count of recklessly causing a hazardous discharge into surface waters and recklessly discharging pollutants into state waters without a permit, both violations of the state Spill Compensation and Control Act, in addition to a further fourth-degree offense of negligent unlawful discharge of pollutants, which could have carried with it an 18-month jail sentence in state prison. Mr. Miller pleaded guilty to the charges after repeatedly refusing to accept blame for the incident, and in exchange was again spared jail time.

The ferry was finally dismantled and scrapped by contractors hired by Mr. Miller that fall. Asbury Park Press reporter Gregory J. Volpe quoted then-South Toms River Councilman Stephen Marshall in a September 7th, 2001 article as stating the council was “going to be working very hard to get the rest of that area cleaned up… that area is our waterfront—that’s our recreation, that’s our heritage and the heritage of the whole area. Every nearby town has a beautiful waterfront and here is South Toms River right in the middle with a mess.”

Little progress was made in the decade that followed, until Mayor Joseph Champagne and the governing body began working on a concerted effort with county and state officials to reclaim their property, vacate its occupants and remove the decaying vessels. The mayor and current governing body remain committed to seeing the total cleanup of Crabbe Point and its use to be open to the public in the future.

Mr. Miller died in November 2012, and his wife, Monica, assumed control of his holdings, including Miller Yacht Sales/Cedar Cove Marina.

Due to the late hour of this breaking report, officials from the state, South Toms River and its surrounding municipalities have not yet responded to inquiries for this story.

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