The Maurice River system has been the focus of considerable attention since February 14, 1986, when the New Jersey Hazardous Waste Siting Commission included an area in Maurice River Township, between the Manumuskin and the Menantico Rivers, on its list of five potential sites for a toxic waste entombment facility. One of only two pristine rivers in the 1.4 million acre Pine Barrens, the Manumuskin and her sister river, the Menantico, are virtually unspoiled treasures in a rural, little-developed area of otherwise densely populated New Jersey. As a result, the toxic waste proposal was a shock to the entire region.
In response to this threat, the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders established an Ad Hoc Committee to research issues and develop a plan to prevent the proposed siting. In June more than five thousand people attended a public meeting at Millville High School, hosted by the Hazardous Waste Siting Commission, to protest the selection of the 3000-acre tract. Meanwhile, Congressman Bill Hughes introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to initiate the study of the Maurice River and its tributaries to determine their eligibility for inclusion in the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Program. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Senators Bill Bradley and Frank Lautenberg. Our site was delisted in April of the following year as a result of intensive field studies which demonstrated the environmental sensitivity of that area. In their decision, the Hazardous Waste Siting Commission stressed that the site was delisted "based on the impact of development alone." Particularly important was the use of the target property as fishing and roosting territory for the bald eagle, which can often be seen soaring overhead or perched on a branch, searching for food in the brown cedar water of the Maurice.
Recognizing that more plans to place undesirable state facilities in our locale would surely follow, given the low population density, favorable hydrogeology, and access via a major highway, Maurice River Township and Cumberland County continued their efforts to include the tributaries: the Menantico, the Manumuskin, and the Muskee; and the main river, the Maurice, in the federal Wild and Scenic River Program, to protect them from such proposals. As part of this effort a Wild and Scenic River Task Force was established to explore issues surrounding designation and work with the communities and individuals which would be affected. A unique and innovative aspect of the proposed legislation, from the National Park Service point of view, involved allowing the municipalities along the rivers to develop their own management plans before formal designation, so that everyone could be clear at the outset on what the impacts of Wild and Scenic inclusion would be.
After a long and sometimes contentious public process which often pitted industry against environmentalists, a series of compromises were reached which enabled the designation to go forward. On December 1, 1993 President Bill Clinton signed the legislation approving the inclusion of our rivers in the Wild and Scenic program, and on October 26, 1994, Vice President Al Gore presided at a celebration on the banks of the Maurice to commemorate the signing of a local management plan as the last step in the Wild and Scenic process.
The Maurice River