Development projects dependent on money from Essex County and on community block development grants were front and center at the October 1 meeting of the Maplewood Township Committee. Plans to build these projects had to be substituted by an alternative project or postponed.
Speaking before the committee, Community Development Director Annette DePalma said that an application had been made for one such project, a plan to build restrooms in the Skate House at Memorial Park, but it was rejected. The county, which administers block grants with money funded through the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Department, rejected it because officials decided that HUD regulations wouldn’t support it. Instead, the county has suggested that existing public restrooms in Maplewood could be renovated to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). DePalma explained that block grant money is limited.
“We still do have quite a few projects, though, that are appropriate for this,” she added, “so in consulting with the engineer, what we have decided to do, in consultation with the folks in the county, is to install ADA-compliant curb cuts at intersections that are not compliant.” DePalma estimated that there are about 21 such intersections that would receive the improvements, and she said that she could provide Mayor Vic DeLuca and the committee members with a detailed list of the intersections.
Meanwhile, Township Attorney Roger Desiderio updated the committee with news on ADA improvements to the Woodland venue. A plan to make the improvements had been approved, but Essex County, which controls the money to be spent on the ADA project, refused to endorse it because the bid submitted did not comply with the required specifications. Desiderio said he sent a letter to the contractor advising them that the project would be rejected due to lack of funds and that the township would have to start over. He asked that the committee reject the bids submitted and send out a new request. The committee responded by unanimously approving resolutions for each action.
In an unrelated infrastructure story, Mayor DeLuca reported that he was on a call with officials from the Department of Environmental Protection, along with state legislators as federal representatives, and that he was told that the township would have to “take or leave” a proposal to build a dam on the west branch of the Rahway River in South Mountain Reservation. The proposed dam has been an issue since the Army Corps of Engineers studied the area and released a series of ideas and cost-benefit analyses for a dam in the spring of 2014. The dam would act as a detention basin that would flood a low-lying area in South Mountain Reservation and keep downstream communities like Cranford and Springfield from experiencing severe flooding but would not retain the water. The dam would still allow the river to flow freely when there is no heavy rainfall.
“Our position has been throughout this whole process that while we do recognize the severity of flooding downstream,” Mayor DeLuca said, “we can’t sacrifice the reservation.”
He said that there have been efforts at proposals that would incorporate storage of water and more channelization downstream, and he added that without one remedy, the other remedy would not be enough. The mayor promised to keep the committee informed of ongoing developments, though he did concede that the Army Corps of Engineers has been playing “pretty significant hardball,” and that it has a history of doing what it wants.
“Either nothing can happen, or something could happen that we might not like,” he said.
The committee also addressed the issue of fees for large parties at the community pool for the summer of 2020. The township may change fees next summer, after having set for 2019 a rate of $200 for parties of fifteen on weekdays and $500 for parties of fifteen on weekends, and an additional $10 for each participant in groups greater than fifteen. Committeeman Gregory Lembrich said that any changes made to the pool-party fee structure ought to be made soon so that the township committee can plan for it and that the pool committee is aware of any changes made.
Deputy Mayor Frank McGehee asked if there were actual cost-analysis numbers available. Committeeman Lembrich said that the township’s chief financial officer has been going through the numbers and should be able to have a presentation for the committee by the time of its October 15 meeting. Preliminary numbers suggest that the township could lower the fee for each additional pool-party member in a group greater than fifteen could be lowered to $8 and still allow the township to break even. Committeeman Dean Dafis said that the committee needed more data, so that it could give groups who use the pool for parties the opportunity to offer their feedback. He said that, until then, he is not prepared to make a decision on 2020 pricing. Deputy Mayor McGehee agreed.
“Let’s see that data so that we can decide,” he said.
In public comment, resident Steve Latz urged the committee to rescind the resolution it passed in September encouraging a phase-out of contracts between Essex County and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureau. While Latz agreed that Ice should be eliminated, he said that, if the county canceled the contracts, thousands of detained immigrants would be relocated far away from relatives and any lawyers who could help them. He said that the committee should instead pass a resolution demanding better conditions in the county facilities where immigrants are held.
The committee unanimously passed on final reading an ordinance defining electric vehicles as being vehicles that run entirely on electricity and without gas-hybrid systems and an ordinance encouraging charging stations for electric vehicles.