SPOTSWOOD, NJ - Red Bank Road resident Christina Martin was excited about the borough's Cottage Streets project that was supposed to bring curbs, sewers and paved roads to the area. Martin was thrilled her youngest would learn to ride her two-wheeler without falling over because of unleveled streets. Now, after months of work, unforeseen delays and construction nightmares, Martin's three children cannot even go outside to play.
Martin, like most parents in the small neighborhood sandwiched between Mundy Avenue and the Red Band Watershed, do not allow their children to ride bikes or run around outside for fear of injury or worse because of the conditions of the streets and the way the roadway construction work zone is being managed.
"The condition in which this job is being run is an absolute horror show to say the least," Martin said.
Construction trucks rumble up and down the Cottage Streets roadways. Debris is scattered around especially near Martin's corner lot on Red Band Road which backs up against the watershed. Piles of old garbage sit next to a port-a-john. Just steps away from Martin's garage sit mounds of old tires, rotting pipes, boards and crushed concrete.
"I'm going to have rats the size of monsters coming into my backyard," Martin said of the amount of rotting garbage left behind by the crew.
Martin and her husband moved into their Spotswood home back in 2008. Talk of the Cottage Street improvement project was a topic of conversation back then. Work finally began last fall and was delayed by the coronavirus shutdown in the early spring, but has been up and running for weeks. Problems began right away, but Martin and her neighbors overlooked a lot of issues initially.
"I was trying not to go and get all crazy with everything because I know they are trying to make the neighborhood better," Martin explained when asked if she'd brought her concerns to one of the monthly Spotswood Borough Council meetings. "I'm thinking long term, Kira can ride her bike on the street without falling down. So, let's just get this done. We had so many delays with COVID and all this stuff so don't muddy the waters too much."
Martin and her family dealt with having to navigate around pallets, being blocked into their driveway for hours, not being able to park in front of the house to unload groceries and the state of her chopped up front yard which was supposed to have a retaining wall installed. However, she and her neighbors began to complain to the CME site manager, they know only as Nick, when they began to notice open gas cans at the foot of driveways, antifreeze and containers with what looked like oil being left lying around in addition to garbage and unsecured equipment. After weeks of complaining back in December, some mess was cleaned up before the holidays. However, once work resumed after the coronavirus shutdown, more issues quickly began to crop up.
"There isn't a resident here who doesn't have a horror story," Martin said of the ongoing Cottage Street project.
Martin began documenting the issues with her cell phone after numerous conversations with the site manager did not get any results. One of Martin's videos shows a truck running for the majority of the day without anyone in the vehicle right next to her backyard fence.
"Did I ever think to look outside to see if diesel fuel was running for eight hours," an exasperated Martin said. "As a mom, you have your check marks. Who's looking to see if toxic fumes are coming at them when they are jumping on the trampoline?"
Martin was shocked when she actually sat down to see the results of the family's documentation.
"Unless you see it with your own eyes," she continued. "It's kind of hard to believe this is going on."
Martin took to social media last weekend out of frustration after a cement truck turning the corner by her home ripped down internet cable wires. Her work Zoom meeting went dark and when she went outside to see what had happened, she found the driver cleaning off his truck with the cement runoff heading right into a stream that heads into the watershed. It took Martin a day and a half to get the wires fixed. She contacted Borough Engineer Bruce Koch in an attempt to make an appointment for a face-to-face meeting or phone conversation to discuss the work site issues along with her and her husband's property problems. Martin was willing to go to CME's Parlin office for a meeting. However, her phone call to Koch was never returned and the site manager said he cannot speak to her any longer about her issues with the construction project.
"At this point, I don't know what to do," Martin said. "I got so aggravated on Friday with the disrespect of not getting at least a phone call back to say hey, I am acknowledging your request to have a meeting with me to talk about your concerns. Nothing. Obviously my voice is not being heard. So, social media was my next step."
Karalyn Herban lives across the street from Martin on another corner lot on Red Band Road. The Herban's sprinkler system was cut by the workers when they were digging to install the curb along her property. When Herban's husband asked when the system would be repaired, he was told by the site manager that it wouldn't be fixed because the lines were dead when the workers started digging. The Herban's have said the sprinkler system was working fine until the construction workers cut the lines. Herban's husband notified the borough last week, leaving a voicemail message about the problem, however the couple have not been contacted regarding a solution to the sprinkler system problem.
Both Martin and Herban have safety concerns for their young families and their neighbors. The Cottage Streets have a mixture of elderly residents and younger families. However, on a sunny, July afternoon not one child was outside playing. Walking dogs is a challenge. Herban said she routinely has to battle her dog to dislodge some litter left behind by the construction workers that the canine has gotten into his mouth.
According to Spotswood Borough Mayor Ed Seely's latest letter to residents, the Cottage Street project will be completed in the next few weeks though neither Martin nor Herban could foresee how the disheveled streets were ready to be paved in the near future.
TAPinto Milltown/Spotswood contacted Borough Councilman Charlie Spicuzzo regarding the issues Martin has been having with the project as well as to ask if other residents have addressed concerns with the Spotswood Borough Council regarding the Cottage Streets project. Spicuzzo said the council received some complaints early on, but not in recently. He did have a phone conversation with Martin and will be visiting her home on Thursday evening to see first hand the issues she and her Cottage Street neighbors have been experiencing.
"We want it done," Martin said of the Cottage Street project. "But there is a point where you cross a line."