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26th
Jan 2015

Berkeley Township Council Meeting DECEMBER 22, 2014

 
Berkeley Township Council Meeting
DECEMBER 22, 2014
Bill McLaughlin
 
As the holiday season came and went, Berkeley’s council closed out old business and got ready for the start of a new year.
 
The formal reorganization will begin 5 p.m. Friday Jan. 2 at the township building. Judith L. Noonan will replace James Byrnes as council president. Otherwise there are no changes to the elected body.
 
Mayor Carmen Amato hailed Byrnes for the stellar job he did shepherding the council through rough times.
 “I want to personally thank you for the leadership you showed the past few years,’ Amato said. “Through difficult times, you stepped in and did a great job.’
   
Byrnes joined the council in 2008 when Karen Davis resigned due to health issues.
   
He was council president when super storm Sandy hit two years ago, and has a distinctly personal insight to the recovery and the frustrations dealing with government entities.
   
“I’ve been back in my home for a year now and I haven’t seen dollar one yet,” Byrnes told the audience at the final council meeting of 2014. He said help is on the way but moves at a snail’s pace. And even when you think it’s over, it might not be over.
   
“FEMA right now is trying to (claw back) money from about 16,000 residents who did everything they were told to do,” he said. “Now, the government comes along and says, ‘
 
 We paid you too much, we want our money back.”
   
The next few months could be the end of a lot of heartburn and heartache for affected residents. The federal monies already allocated by Congress - after delaying approval and cutting back a healthy chunk of money requested - may finally be filtered through the pipeline to where it’s needed.
   
“Out of nearly $16.4 million allocated, only $5 million so far has gotten to the people affected by the storm,” the outgoing president added.
   
Byrnes said when everything is restored to normal, then local, state and federal authorities need to work together to make sure “this never happens again.”
 
 Township engineer Alan B. Dittenhofer led a brief discussion on the state DEP Flood Hazard Risk Reduction and Resiliency Grant Program, which will fund new solutions to old problems and fosters new ideas for dissipating storm surge.
   
Dittenhofer listened to the ideas of a handful of residents most affected by storm surge and on the spot formed an ad hoc committee to personally see the residents’ concerns. Amato, Byrnes and the town engineer were in agreement a personal walking tour Dec. 23 was needed if tweaks to the fund application were necessary.
   
The four-fold defense is aimed at dissipating the effects of storm waves on the shoreline, storm drainage enhancement, elevating a porton of Bayview Avenue and construction of interlocking forms and pilings to reduce wave effects.
 
Other long-term, local stories that will be prominent in the new year include settling the fate of the old Beachwod shopping center and efforts to restore and renew the plaza to its former prominence.
 
A resident asked for an update on the site, which is said to be an enormous buried repository of drums filled with toxic waste.
 
Almost a decade has passed since a new initiative by another administration trotted out a vision of the future for the shopping center and adjacent land. It would have been a game-changer for the Route 9 corridor, but has become ensnared in litigation and also delayed by new economic realities.
 
A number of residents questioned the wisdom of making any stab at rehabilitating the property, fearing the town would be burdened by cleanup costs in the billions, a mind-numbing confusion of who owns what portion of the property. A 1959 site map used as a template for subsequent transactions apparently has been altered or amended some nine times in the intervening years, according to one oldtimer.
 
A staggering cleanup bill estimated between $25 million to over $100 million has residents worried what would happen if the town foreclosed on the site.
“If the Beachwood Shopping Center is foreclosed on, we’re responsible for the entire cleanup,” said resident Sam Cammarano.
Until the legal ramifications are clear and settled, expect no improvement to an eyesore that desperately needs beautification.
 
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