BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The Bridgewater Township Council and the Somerset Patriots baseball club are suddenly at odds in a battle over fireworks and eagles.
On June 17, the council unanimously tabled a resolution that would have authorized fireworks displays at Patriots baseball games at TD Bank Ballpark for Aug. 24, Aug. 29, Sept. 6 and Sept. 21, along with accompanying rainout dates. Council president Matthew Moench said at that time that the governing body had to do some research regarding the situation, after a town like Wildwood canceled its entire free beach concert series for the summer when nesting wildlife was located in that area.
According to National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines, blasting activities, including fireworks, should not be within half a mile of active nests. Concerns arose after an eagle was seen near the stadium.
The council had already approved resolutions regarding fireworks at the beginning and middle of the season, when the concerns were brought up.
But Steve Kalafer, chairman emeritus of the Patriots, took the council to task July 1 before the resolution was considered again, and said that members would receive a letter regarding nesting eagles in the area, which he said isn't an actual problem.
“If anyone did their research, they wouldn’t have tabled the agenda,” said Kalafer, who told the council he wanted permission to speak for six to eight minutes that evening as opposed to the usually allowed two.
Kalafer told the Bridgewater council it has caused some 30,000 Patriots fans to be disregarded and disappointed with the resolution tabled.
He said the fireworks resolutions have been approved 20 years in a row, and that three different resolutions each year create three different fees.
In his speech, Kalafer specifically called out councilman Filipe Pedroso, citing a "conflict of interest" following an invitation he received from the councilman in late 2018 to invest in his internet company, and also called out Moench and township attorney William Savo.
Savo countered that he had indeed done research on the nesting situation.
Kalafer then had several members of the Patriots’ front-office staff wheel in three cartloads of cardboard boxes, believed to contain legal documents, for a total of 18 boxes in all. The staff also held up mounted posters highlighting photos of the Patriots, oversized representations of checks that the organization has donated to local causes and even a reproduction of the cover of an issue of “Living Bird” magazine.
He charged that political issues are coming to the Patriots for the first time in their history, although he told council vice president Howard Norgalis, councilman Allen Kurdyla and councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose, who was not present at the meeting, numerous times that he was not including them in his accusations.
“Stay away from the fans of the Somerset Patriots,” warned Kalafer, who also told the council not to punish the fans “for your political agendas.” "Stay away from what was the best of Bridgewater."
He said he would call for a special prosecutor to look into the situation, and perhaps also the attorney general of the state as well. He also held up a photo of Patriots’ manager emeritus, and former New York Yankees pitcher, Sparky Lyle, who he said had wanted to attend that evening but couldn’t.
Kalafer then added that Lyle would have been” embarrassed” by the whole matter, before he left the council chambers with his entourage.
Pedroso said publicly that the council had not voted for or against the fireworks resolution, but had merely tabled it for the sake of potentially protected animals.
“It’s our duty and our obligation to do our own due diligence,” he said.
He also said that wildlife are protected by state law, and commented that Kalafer had been “grandstanding” and had brought in boxes of “meaningless bills,” although he admitted he was happy that Kalafer had shown up.
Pedroso also pointed out that the fireworks in question will not be held until the Patriots game on Aug. 24, and that he doubts it will have any impact on the fans. He said he admires the Patriots organization and called it an asset to the community, adding that it is nothing personal and that Kalafer has “a different opinion.”
Pedroso said he was disappointed by Kalafer’s behavior that evening, as he had always admired him. Norgalis concurred and said he was also disappointed, while Moench said he had not received anything regarding birds, and no vote on the issue would be carried out that night.
The council did vote to again table the resolution for fireworks at the Patriots home games in August and September. Pedroso said prior to the vote that if the council did care about the eagles, it should table the vote, and he also mentioned that Kalafer could have mailed his letter to the council before the meeting was held.
The council voted to table the fireworks by a 3-1 count, and it is expected to be addressed again later in July.