Princeton Township witnesses an active 2003

From war, to deer, to cable TV.

By: David Campbell
   In the year 2003, Princeton Township officials debated the war in Iraq, defended their deer-management program and helped bring the region a little closer to resolution over the former Millstone Bypass.
   The outgoing year also witnessed an untimely curtain call for Opera Festival of New Jersey, a renamed and revitalized health-care system, and the arrival of a new cable franchise in town — with a changing of the guard that was not always smooth.
   Around this time a year ago at the Township Committee’s reorganization meeting — the 2004 reorganization is scheduled for noon this Sunday — a standing-room-only crowd was on hand for Phyllis Marchand’s reappointment to an eighth term as mayor, and her dedication of the new municipal complex off Witherspoon Street.
   The ceremony was a milestone for the new building, which had witnessed construction setbacks before finally opening in September 2002, and has since gone on to win a statewide design award and already hosted its share of civic activity.
   The year 2003 ends with Committeeman Leonard Godfrey’s last bow after nearly a decade of public service on the governing body. Last spring, Mr. Godfrey said he would not seek another term on the Township Committee. Democrat William Hearon is scheduled to be sworn in to fill his seat at the township’s reorganization meeting on Sunday.
   Meanwhile, the township’s deer-management program got off to a rocky start last January when the state Fish and Game Council unexpectedly shot down the municipality’s proposal for a third year of culling. However, the township and its attorneys managed to salvage the application, which included a first-ever experimental birth-control program to be conducted in cooperation with Rutgers University in the southeast corner of the municipality.
   In order to win approval from the council, which wanted to see more opportunities for sport hunters, the township agreed to open four parcels of public lands to limited and supervised bow hunting, which is now under way.
   The cull proceeded after all, as did the experimental vaccination program, which treated 20 animals and is ongoing. The fourth round of extensive culling, which is expected to begin soon, could be the township’s last, the township indicated this year.
   The past year, which saw the nation mobilize for war against Iraq, in turn saw a debate in the township over whether or not to oppose the invasion.
   The Coalition for Peace Action asked the Township Committee to consider a resolution opposing hostilities and calling upon the Bush administration to return to international diplomacy to resolve the crisis in Iraq. The committee voted against considering the resolution.
   Cable TV also commanded the attention of Princeton residents this year. In February, the state Board of Public Utilities approved the sale of former cable provider RCN’s central New Jersey assets to venture capital firm Spectrum Equity Investors for $245 million.
   Thereafter, Connecticut-based Patriot Media and Communications, the company financed by Spectrum, undertook the unenviable task of rebuilding RCN’s aged cable system throughout Princeton, and converting Princeton’s roughly 7,000 customers over to a new, state-of-the-art digital network.
   But the switchover was not the smoothest. This summer, residents complained of technicians missing appointments to convert their homes, poor customer service and shoddy work by technicians.
   In a joint meeting in November, Patriot officials appeared before the Township Committee, the Princeton Borough Council and the public to speak to those complaints. Jim Holanda, Patriot’s president and general manager for Central Jersey, assured the community that the problems largely were unique to the rebuild, and vowed to do better. As Princeton enters the new year, the TVs seem to be working, which is a good sign.
   If Patriot stirred things up a little this year, Princeton HealthCare System healed old wounds when it decided in February to cease using the houses it owns on residential Harris Road for professional offices. The decision ended almost a decade of strife with neighbors and the township.
   In addition to mending fences in 2003, the hospital undertook a system-wide name change to Princeton HealthCare System and launched a brand for its many services. It also has neared completion of its long-range strategic plan, which it began in 2002 and expects to release this winter. The plan will consider the feasibility of a new hospital campus in the area.
   In 2003, Princeton Township officials also weighed in on the former Millstone Bypass, several alternatives to which were evaluated in a draft environmental impact statement completed this summer.
   Officials and residents participated in a community roundtable which assisted the Voorhees Transportation Policy Institute at Rutgers University in preparing the document. The draft document seeks resolution on the former 2.3-mile bypass, which has been in dispute since 1986. The state Department of Transportation is expected to release its final EIS with a recommended roadway alignment around the end of January.
   The year 2003 also saw the curtain call for a cultural mainstay for Princeton. In November, Opera Festival of New Jersey, burdened with financial troubles, closed after more than two decades of operation. The festival’s artistic director, David Agler, at the time called the closing "a very great loss to the American opera world."