When Mayor Michael Gonnelli drafted a letter expressing his frustration and disappointment with delays, setbacks, and missteps related to the federal Rebuild by Design (RBD) flood remediation program, he knew exactly whom to send it to. On Thursday, Feb. 25, that letter went directly to Pres. Barack Obama.
“Rebuild by Design was a competition program and the Meadowlands Project was awarded $150 million for phase one of the project, which was more or less engineering, planning, design, permitting, condemnation, everything that paved the way for construction,” said Gonnelli at the Secaucus Town Council meeting on Feb. 23.
Formulated in response to the tragic impact of Superstorm Sandy, the Meadowlands Project was intended to create comprehensive solutions to flooding problems throughout the region.
“In the second phase of Rebuild by Design, the Meadowlands Project, which was looking for in excess of $250 million, was awarded $15 million,” said Gonnelli. “Which pretty much killed the project.”
“Much of the $150 million awarded in the first round for flood protection projects remains unallocated.” –Mayor Michael Gonnelli
Gonnelli goes on to describe a 2005 New Jersey Meadowlands Commission study that identified 58 projects, including 28 in Secaucus, that could be implemented to help protect the region from flood damage at a total cost of $35 million. He also cited a 2014 Flood Mitigation Engineering Resource Center project from NJIT that reinforced some of these findings and added further suggestions.
“A reoccurring theme in both of these reports is that there are many projects that can be designed and constructed relatively quickly and inexpensively to address critical local flooding issues,” the letter states.
Gonnelli plans to hold press conferences and push for adoption of his suggestions to use the money immediately for specific flood remediation projects within the Meadowlands District’s 14 municipalities rather than hold the funds in abeyance for the RBD project, which is not scheduled to begin until 2017 or finish until 2022.
$152,000 resolution rescinded
The Feb. 23 meeting included another contentious issue when the council voted to rescind its earlier resolution to pay more than $150,000 to Star Insurance Company for services rendered in renovating the Washington Hook & Ladder firehouse.
Renovations to the firehouse took years longer than planned and involved numerous major problems resulting in considerable cost overruns. Eventually the town removed the original bonding company and contractor and completed the work with their own contractors.
Nonetheless the council voted at their previous meeting on Feb. 9 meeting to pay two outstanding bills to Star Insurance, with Mayor Gonnelli being the only party to vote against the proposal. (Councilman Mark Dehnert was absent for the vote.)
“I just think it’s totally ridiculous that we give either the bonding company or the original contractor an additional cent,” said Gonnelli at the time. Several other council members went on record to state that while they agreed with the mayor in principle, New Jersey state law did not permit the township to retain any amount owed to Star Insurance Company, and the matter would need to be resolved by arbitration after the fact.
However, a review of the original documentation revealed that one of the two invoices did not receive all the proper signoffs. “Our architect and our project manager signed off on one of the invoices for work but the architect did not sign off on the second invoice,” said Councilman Gary Jeffas.
Consequently the council voted on Feb. 23 to pay one invoice in the amount of $75,024.71 and not pay the second invoice for $77,496.38. Gonnelli again voted against the proposal, stating that he still felt no money should be paid. Dehnert also voted no. The motion passed by majority vote.
Secaucus receives state funds
“It’s always nice to read something in which the town is receiving some money instead of paying out to something,” said Councilman James Clancy, noting that the state Department of Transportation recently sent a letter stating that Secaucus would receive an allotment of $495,000 for the pump station at Born Street. The project will include fixing the pump and extending a pipe to Meadowlands Parkway. Installing the pipe may require digging along the property line of residents on Grace Avenue.
“It is hoped that this project will start in the beginning of the summer, and the mayor has made it clear to the engineers that we have to have the project done during the summer because once the fall comes, September, October, it’s hurricane season,” said Clancy.
Gonnelli took a moment to provide a summary of how much monetary aid is received by Secaucus schools ($999,000) compared to those in other Hudson County municipalities (from $5 million for tiny Guttenberg to a whopping $400+ million for Jersey City). “Even though our aid is the least by far in the county, our schools are the best by far in the county,” he said.
The meeting also included a presentation by Hudson County Health Commission Risk Communicator/Health Educator Monique Davis on the Zika virus that has been much in the news recently. She advised that the virus is continuing to spread but is chiefly dangerous to pregnant women, while others may experience no symptoms at all, or have fever, headache, muscle pain, pink eyes, and/or a rash lasting about a week.
The virus is mosquito-borne or sexually transmitted. Davis advised taking precautions to prevent mosquitos from breeding in standing water, and use effective insect repellent with DEET. More information is available in English, Spanish, or Portuguese at hudsonregionalhealth.org. Davis’s full presentation at the Feb. 23 council meeting will be posted on the town website at secaucusnj.org.
The meeting also included the swearing-in of Victor Paone as firefighter in the Secaucus Fire Department, Tower 2.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.