CRANBURY, NJ—The dredging of Brainerd Lake began in October and construction continues on the multi-million dollar project.
Brainerd Lake is an important community asset and popular spot for fishing, kayaking and sightseeing. But while the construction is underway to improve its health, residents are dealing with inconveniences like loud noise, truck traffic, odor, and muddy conditions.
Dredging is a process of removing silt, sediment and other materials from bodies of water in order to maintain the lake’s physical features and ecological health.
Located near the center of downtown Cranbury, great views of the lake are easily accessible from South Main Street. The lake feeds into Brainerd Dam, located next to Memorial Park.
The lake’s health has been steadily declining over the last few years, as reflected in its rising temperatures.
According to Township Engineer Tom Decker, “The township has treated the lake with herbicide over the last three years. These treatments pose a threat to wildlife and have not provided a significant improvement to the lake’s health. Dredging will be the most safe and cost effective means to achieve restoration.”
For now, the lake is off limits. Lakeshore residents had to remove their docks and watercraft prior to September 12.
Residents are permitted to work on their properties during the dredging as long as no permit is required.
Neighboring Village Park remains open, but residents are urged to use caution and not enter restricted areas.
In November, Cranbury Police issued an alert reminding residents the lake is not accessible during construction.
“Access to Brainerd Lake is not permitted during the ongoing lake dredging project,” reads the alert. “The site is considered an active construction area at all times. No unauthorized person should enter the lake bed or construction area for any reason.”
It was determined at a February Township Committee meeting that a $4 million bond ordinance would be used to fund the work. This includes bonds in the amount of $2.2 million, $1.6 million from a capital improvement fund and $200,000 from capital surplus.
After receiving seven bids from various contracting companies, the project was awarded to SumCo Eco-Contracting, headquartered in Peabody, Massachusetts during Cranbury’s May 24 Township Committee meeting.
The heavy site civil construction firm specializes in ecological construction and has served on hundreds of Eco improvement projects across the United States.
SumCo estimates there are 60,000 tons of sediment at the bottom of Brainerd Lake, approximately 20% of the lake.
The lake has not been dredged since the 1970’s, causing sediment accumulation at a level that threatens water quality, aquatic vegetation, and recreational activity.
Pre-dredging activities included removal of fish living in the lake. According to a frequently asked questions document from Van Cleef Engineering,”native fish species (such as trout) were relocated downstream to Mill Pond in Plainsboro Township, and invasive fish species (such as carp and koi) were humanely destroyed.”
After lowering the level of water in the lake, workers are now removing approximately 39,000 cubic yards of silt and sediment with excavators and trucks.
Van Cleef Engineering warns that those in the area “may notice an unpleasant odor due to exposure of dead algae and other decaying matter.”
“The odor intensity will also increase as dredging activities disturb and remove the underlying sediment layers.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection regulations requires that the “lake lowering” work can only take place between September 15 through November 1.
The engineering company’s timeline said that “water drawdown” began on October 8, and dredging was set to begin the week of October 18.
According to the timeline, construction is “expected to progress through late December 2021 or early January 2022.”