Partner Blog 24 – Save Barnegat Bay

Save Barnegat Bay’s Journey towards Justice

53 years ago a group of concerned neighbors met around a kitchen table to figure out how they could stop the nature in their backyard from being destroyed by development; their hard work and drive then is what helped form Save Barnegat Bay into who we are now. Since that day we have had many fights for the Bay and watershed we all know and love, and through all of our success, our grassroot legacy has been present in it all. We pride ourselves on being the only independent environmental nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring Barnegat Bay, and by being nonpartisan we have had the privilege to work with people from all walks of life united through a common love of our Bay. It is this legacy that has helped us accomplish so much and it was these principles that were on our minds December 5th, 2022. That was the day our organization learned about the then planned Natural Resource Damage (NRD) settlement at the notorious and still polluted Ciba-Geigy Superfund site in Toms River.  


During that holiday season, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) was approached by the owners of the Ciba-Geigy plant, BASF, who had aspirations to remove themselves of the liability of a polluted site they willingly purchased a decade prior, with a special type of settlement geared towards making up for environmental damage known as NRD. When it came to this woefully inadequate “deal” BASF set the terms by initially offering a settlement amount of $100k. The chemical corporation also sought to keep the development rights for 250 of the cleanest acres of the site, while offering to build a community park and nature center with the leftover polluted land; which is still an active superfund site… The DEP decided to not involve the towns most affected by the pollution of Ciba-Geigy in their settlement conversations, they did not give appropriate notice, and even tried to get other environmental groups to use their credibility to advertise their deal. When our organization got the same call, we knew we needed to act.

Since that day, our organization has been engaged in what is shaping up to be one of the most important and biggest fights in our history, and the roadmap to get justice for our community has taken us to, and through some major milestones. NRD settlements are difficult to understand in the best of circumstances let alone those with less than 60 days notice, with that in mind and at great cost to our organization, Save Barnegat Bay secured the services of the best environmental expert team in the country, The TBLS Group along with a star legal team to help us, help our community. From there we held a public hearing last January to bring the affected communities of Ciba-Geigy’s pollution up to speed and give them the voice our Department of Environmental Protection denied them. After getting the public involved and successfully compelling the DEP to hold their own public information hearing, our team filed an Open Public Record Access (OPRA) request to see what more information we could learn about this complex issue.

Save Barnegat Bay along with close to 15 dedicated volunteers, headed to the DEPs headquarters in Trenton where we got to work combing through and scanning thousands of documents relating to this Superfund site going back 70 years. Throughout March of 2023 our team spent 20 eight-hour days scanning in and compiling technical data and interoffice correspondence relating to the pollution at Ciba-Geigy for our experts to review. That spring our experts were able to review the data the team at Save Barnegat Bay collected and were able to identify the true scope of harm our community endured. It was this evidence that informed us that the DEP failed to account for the environmental damage done to the Toms River, Barnegat Bay, Atlantic Ocean, and the Kirkwood Cohansey Aquifer and that the overall NRD settlement proposal was flawed from the beginning and that the money offered was a fraction of what it should be. Our time in Trenton and the incredible determination of our team helped to inform us of our next move and soon we began preparation to introduce our experts and update the public on what we had found at our annual summer meeting.

Our goal throughout this long battle for justice was to try and bring the DEP and the towns most affected by Ciba-Geigy’s pollution together and get the department to listen to their affected communities and make them a part of the decision process. But, when this NRD settlement was signed the day before our organization’s annual meeting to update and inform our community, it was clear that the DEP did not want that dialogue. And when the department chose not to provide any restoration projects elsewhere in Ocean County, aside from cosmetic ones on top of the polluted superfund site itself, including a conservation easement, which is a violation of Toms River law, we needed to take action. It is for these reasons that both Save Barnegat Bay and Toms River filed to appeal the DEP’s decision in the appellate court to compel them to listen to the towns of Ocean County to get them a settlement that actually makes up for the damage done to their land, air, and water.

 Since we have historically been more involved with land use and development issues, it may be easy to ask, why are we doing this? What do we get out of it? The answer is simple. Justice for our community and justice for our environment. Save Barnegat Bay is a 501c3 nonprofit, we don’t have a monetary interest in this fight, a win for us is seeing the communities of Toms River and Ocean County get funding for projects that will actually repair their natural resources both on and off this Superfund site. Put simply, next to climate change, one of the single biggest threats to our watershed’s health is the legacy pollutants coming from Ciba-Geigy. Any planned projects to “close the book” on the harm that has been done, NEED to actually heal the community and their environment which have both suffered so much. As a grassroots organization with 53 years of experience, we have prided ourselves on being able to work with bridging the gap between community and town/state government, and helping to empower both with the tools they need to keep Barnegat Bay protected for all who live, work and play here.

These appeals are just the beginning of what will be a long battle for our community and for our Bay, but with the towns by our side, it’s one we are ready to go the distance for. 


Please donate if you can, like, follow and share our work on social media, and help us stand together for our towns. Together we can get justice for Toms River and the communities of Ocean County and make sure that no other community has to live in the shadow of a superfund site again. We are so grateful to EarthShare NJ and our partner organizations who have helped us and supported us this last year and if you would like to get more information on this issue and learn about the ways you can get involved please email Alec Boss at