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Minutes of Special Commissioners Meeting   -   May 1, 2006

Note:  Complete Special Meeting Appears on Tape #13-06 on File in the Borough Clerk’s Office May 1, 2006
Wildwood Crest, NJ

Prior to the opening of the meeting, Mr. Groon led those present in the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.

The special meeting of the Board of Commissioners, Borough of Wildwood Crest, Cape May County , New Jersey , was held in the Crest Pier Community Center at 5:00 p.m.  On roll call the following answered to their names:

                           Cabrera – Groon – Yes                               Gould - Absent

 

Also present were members of the Wildwood Crest Recreation Commission and the Wildwood Crest Environmental Commission, who had been specifically invited to attend this special meeting by the Board of Commissioners in order to elicit their input on the possible extension of the bicycle path/pedestrian walkway.

 

Mr. Groon read the following statement:  In compliance with the Open Public Meeting Act, Chapter 231, P.L. 1975, the notice requirements have been satisfied as to the time, place and date of holding said special meeting by posting notice on the bulletin board in the Borough Hall and by mailing same to the Gazette-Leader and The Press on April 26, 2006 at 11:45 a.m.

 

Mr. Groon next announced the one-way in and the one-way out method of ingress and egress in case of emergency.

 

Mrs. Gould entered the meeting at this point in time, 5:05 p.m.

 

The Clerk stated that the authorization for this special meeting, and the only item for which discussion was permitted:  possible extension of the bicycle path/pedestrian walkway. He added that a letter was received from the State of New Jersey, Department of Transportation, addressed to Mayor Groon and dated April 14, 2006, indicating that with regard to the $250,000 grant, the appropriation for which was cancelled by the previous administration, the Borough has forty-five days from the date of the letter to determine definitively whether the extension of the bicycle path will be pursued utilizing the $250,000 grant.

 

Mr. Groon presented an information packet of the study conducted “three years ago” as to the three options for extension of the bike path with corresponding costs affixed thereto.

 

The Borough Engineer, Ralph Petrella, indicated that the Borough must decide whether to go forward with the ocean-front bicycle path, make a commitment to the State, pass a resolution rescinding the actions of the previous administration, and it was his opinion that “the money will be there for the Borough.”

 

Mr. Groon indicated that he was reluctant to return the $250,000 grant funds to the State of New Jersey without a final, full discussion on the subject with all affected parties. He indicated that the only option recommended by the prior administration was the “at grade” on the beach option. The other two options were to utilize Seaview Avenue or a raised boardwalk on the beach. He indicated that the raised boardwalk option was prohibitively expensive, and the Seaview Avenue option received negative reactions due to safety issues.

 

As to the “at grade” option, Mr. Groon indicated that it has been determined that the path would have to stop just north of Washington Avenue because Washington Avenue provides access to the beach for the Public Works beach equipment.

 

The Clerk interjected that in addition to pursuit of the project, funding must also be considered, as well as cost estimates.

 

Mr. Groon concurred with the Clerk, adding that the figures currently before the Commissioners were three years old. Mrs. Gould interjected that they will have to be increased.

 

Mr. Groon suggested that it will have to be determined whether some of the work can be done by Public Works “in house” or whether the entire project will have to be bid out. Mr. Groon inquired of the Environmental Commission and Recreation Commission whether they felt it was a project worth pursuing. If so, the project would have to be moved forward quickly.

 

Charles Schumann of the Environmental Commission stated that, with the condition of the beach presently, that entity does not feel it is a feasible project. Mr. Groon inquired as to what was meant by “condition of the beach.” Mr. Schumann responded that the beach has no barriers to wind or waves and has a tendency to flood to the bulkhead at high tide when there are high winds and heavy rains. Mr. Groon asked if Mr. Schumann was stating that the Borough cannot have a beach path. Mr. Schumann responded that it was his opinion that an asphalt path would hold up. Mrs. Gould asked about the feasibility of concrete. Mr. Schumann responded that concrete is not feasible. Mr. Schumann added that the Environmental Commission had recommended that a dune system be constructed to protect the path.

 

Mr. Groon concurred with Mr. Schumann, indicating his opinion that a dune system is a key component of the project.

 

Mr. Schumann suggested that the Borough would have to get the State of New Jersey to define where the beach ends, and he recommended that three zones be established: (1) the swimming zone to include sunbathing and all other beach activities; (2) a buffer zone, which could be 150 feet of sand or a dune system; and (3) from the buffer zone to the street or bulkhead, the recreational zone where the bike path would be built, as well as other recreational activities.

 

Mr. Groon stated that the purpose for this meeting was to determine whether the various entities wanted the bike path extended, and whether it would be feasible.

 

Mrs. Gould interjected that it is important to have a dune system because they would be protection if the dunes ever started to shrink. She suggested that the dune system could be “phase one” of the project.

 

Ed Masterson of the Recreation Commission stated that that entity is strongly behind the extension of the bicycle path and want to pursue the project. Lisa Fitzpatrick of the Recreation Commission objected, stating that she and Mr. Gentek still had some reservations about the project since they were not fully familiar with the study that had been done three years before. Mr. Groon stated that that was the purpose of the meeting.

 

Mr. Cabrera reported that in 2003 the State of New Jersey had a program to improve bike paths in the State, and the Borough requested that the State review the Borough’s bike path and how it might be extended. He reviewed the various options presented by the State of New Jersey , and indicated that the “at grade” option was the most desirable. He added that the project was never implemented and, in 2005, the previous administration determined to return the grant to the State of New Jersey . However, the State of New Jersey did not cancel the grant award and is still desirous of having the project go forward.

 

As to the cost estimates, Mr. Cabrera indicated that the “bulkhead option” was in the vicinity of $3.4 million, the “at grade” option was approximately $800,000 and the least expensive option of utilizing Seaview Avenue was approximately $350,000. He stressed that those estimates were 2003 dollars and have probably increased.

 

Mr. Groon interjected that he had spoken to the Beach Patrol Captain who had no objections to the extension of the bike path.

 

The Chief of Police stated that the Seaview Avenue option is the most dangerous option and did not recommend that route. He agreed that the development of a dune system would be an “added plus.” He did question accessibility to an at-grade bike path by his department in order to patrol the area.

 

The Clerk interjected from a liability standpoint with regard to the at-grade path that maintenance would be difficult due to blowing sand, high tides, storms, etc., without a dune system to protect the path, and that a documented maintenance schedule would be required.

The Engineer stated that the system would have to be anchored in some fashion and that will required CAFRA and DEP approval.

 

Mr. Cabrera stated that when public hearings were held in 2003, there were two issues expressed by the public. One was potential dunes blocking views, and that the beach from Rambler Road south was viewed to be the “quiet” beach.

 

The Borough Engineer indicated that the project could be conducted in phases, and that perhaps the State would be willing to contribute funding to each additional phase. He cautioned the Commissioners to not accept the grant funds and later decide to not go forward with the project. Mr. Groon responded that it was unfortunate that the State only gave the Borough 45 days to make a determination.

 

William Carr inquired as to what the negative aspects of the proposed project might be, since he could think of none. Mr. Groon responded that the lack of information by this governing body was the main negative, as well as the previously reported “keep the beach quiet” comments as reported by Mr. Cabrera.

 

The Chief of Police stated his opinion that the “raised” path at bulkhead level could be constructed in phases. He reiterated his statement that he was concerned about safety.

 

Mr. Groon then asked if the raised path would not increase safety issues, i.e., children falling over the side, etc. The Chief then asked the Borough Engineer how high the “raised” path would be. The response was “eight feet.” Mr. Groon inquired how access to the beach would be achieved with a raised path. The Clerk pointed out the drawings of the various proposals, referring to the raised path to illustrate how access would be possible. The Clerk added that the raised path would involve significant cost factors, since it would be in the $3 million to $4 million range.

 

Mr. Groon inquired if the path would be attached to the bulkhead. The Engineer responded that that could cause problems for the Borough, since the bulkhead is privately owned in some instances. Mr. Groon indicated his understanding of the plan that it would not be attached to the bulkhead.

 

Mrs. Gould stated her opinion that the letter from the State was a mistake, since the Borough has already rejected the grant in September 2004. She added that, as Commissioner of Revenue and Finance, it does not make sense to spend $4 million to get $250,000 from the State. It was her opinion that it would make more sense to utilize the $250,000 to widen the existing bike path, or add lighting, or in some manner enhance what already exists without putting the Borough in additional debt.

 

Mr. Masterson inquired if it would be permissible to utilize the $250,000 for the existing bike path. Mrs. Gould responded, “I don’t see why not.” Jim Verna, the Borough Engineer, interjected that he has had multiple conversations with State personnel and he has been told that the chances of utilizing the $250,000 for anything other than an extension of the path is, at best, one in one hundred. Basically, he was told not to waste the time submitting a proposal to enhance the existing path. Mrs. Gould inquired if connecting the bike path to Wildwood’s boardwalk would be acceptable. Mr. Verna responded that any extension other than what was shown in the original application would be “a slim chance.” Mr. Groon interjected that the $4 million option has not been considered; that the “at grade” option is the one that has been discussed. He agreed with Mrs. Gould that that option is excessive.

 

Mr. Groon added that the only option “on the table” is the at grade option. He went on to state that the addition of the dunes is something he would like to see whether the bike path is extended or not.

 

Mr. Groon then stated that the last cost estimate received on the at grade option was “in the eights” and the question is how much of the work could be done in house or if any of the work could be done in house. He indicated that he has not had any discussions in that regard with Mr. Cabrera, Commissioner of Public Works.

Mr. Schumann inquired as to how much work the $250,000 would cover. Mr. Groon responded that at the present cost estimate, approximately one-fourth of the cost would be covered by the $250,000. Mr. Cabrera interjected “five streets, maybe.” Mr. Cabrera went on to state that the cost estimate to extend the path from Rambler to Jefferson is approximately $1.5 million. Mr. Verna stated that a final estimate has not been calculated, but that realistically the costs are significantly higher than the $800,000 estimated in 2003. A question was asked whether the Borough could apply again for the grant funds. Mr. Verna responded that it is very rare for the State not to continue to fund projects for completion. The Clerk interjected that the State wants to see the project completed. Mr. Verna added that the State works off of a rating system, and continuation of projects automatically get bonus points.

 

Mr. Cabrera stated that the long-term aspects of the project must be considered. He reminded those present that the area between the at grade bike path and the bulkhead would be a potential recreation area, and that the Recreation Commission has discussed potential future projects for that area such as volleyball areas, horseshoe pits, etc. He added that it was his opinion that the bicycle path would be a step in a long-term recreation plan on the beach. He went on to state that it would have to be temporary, or removable, since the State does not want anything permanent on the beach. Mr. Petrella interjected that CAFRA has a category called “seasonal temporary activity,” which means if it is put down for the season, it would have to be removed during the winter months. Mr. Petrella added that he did not recommend installing any kind of permanent recreation facilities in that area.

 

Frank Basile, Recreation Director, asked for confirmation that the $250,000 must be utilized only for an extension of the bike path. Mr. Verna responded in the affirmative. Mr. Basile asked what the difference would be if the bike path is “extended” north and south, or “extended” east and west to increase the width. He suggested that the path be extended in a loop at Rambler Road back to Cresse Avenue . Mr. Verna responded that that plan would be considered a deviation from the grant application. He went on to state that if that option had originally been included in the grant application, it may be more easily considered.

 

Mr. Groon asked Mr. Basile if the option he suggested of “looping” the path would have the path running in front of the dunes. Mr. Basile responded in the affirmative. It was Mr. Basile’s opinion that extending the path from Rambler to Jefferson would create more problems for the police department.

 

Mr. Cabrera interjected that North Wildwood has a path that covers their entire community, and Wildwood has the boardwalk. Wildwood Crest’s path stops at Rambler Road and does not continue to the end of town. Mr. Petrella stated that if the Borough’s bike path were to be extended to Jefferson Avenue , there would be an ocean front bike path the entire length of the island.

 

An inquiry was next posed as to whether there was not a countywide plan for a bike path system. Mr. Groon responded that the proposed extension of the Borough’s bike path is incorporated into that bike path system, and has the county’s approval. The county did not offer any funding, however.

 

Mrs. Gould stated her opinion that the best course of action would be to construct the bike path in stages and apply for additional funding for each stage of the project. Mr. Groon indicated that the Borough could talk to the state to try to ascertain if that would be feasible. Mr. Cabrera responded that “staged” projects do not work well since they usually don’t get completed. However, Mr. Cabrera added that if that would be the only way to get the project done, he would not object.

 

The Clerk reminded the Board of Commissioners that a consensus was needed as to the direction the Commissioners wished to take with this project. Mr. Groon indicated he would like to try to obtain additional information from the State with regard to potential additional future funding before he would be comfortable making a determination for further action. He added, however, that he would like to proceed with gathering information on the at-grade option. Mr. Cabrera concurred, adding that he would like to see firm construction costs on the at-grade option, and perhaps contact CAFRA for their input. Mr. Petrella again voiced his concern with regard to “permanent structure versus temporary” on the beach since CAFRA could order the Borough to remove any structure placed on the beach. Mr. Groon agreed that input from CAFRA would be desirable.

 

Mr. Schumann next raised the issue as to whether the bike path would be located in the velocity zone (V-Zone). Mr. Petrella indicated that the V-Zone was changed by FEMA in the late 1990’s.

 

Mrs. Gould suggested that a representative from the State be invited to discuss the matter with the Board of Commissioners. Mr. Groon concurred.

 

The Clerk summed up the current status for moving this matter forward: that the at-grade, on the beach, option was the most desirable; that state representatives be invited to meet with regard to potential funding in future years if the project is done in phases; that the Engineer would firm up cost estimates; and that the plan include a dune system as a buffer. It was also determined that Mr. Cabrera would be the lead Commissioner in this matter.

 

There being no further discussion or public comments, Mrs. Gould motioned, seconded by Mr. Cabrera, that the meeting be adjourned.

Vote:          Gould-Cabrera-Groon-Yes

 

Dated:        May 24, 2006

____________________________________

Kevin M. Yecco, Borough Clerk

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