County lease for DPW facility at fort approved

FMERA grants sublease over public concerns about contamination, transparency

Staff Writer

Despite public opposition, plans for a regional public works facility at Fort Monmouth will proceed now that the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) has granted a sublease to Monmouth County.

After a contentious discussion that was punctuated by disapproval from members of the public, FMERA approved a resolution to sublease the former fort motor pool property to the Monmouth County Department of Public Works at the Oct. 17 meeting in Tinton Falls.

“I think we have put a plan together that is really good and will work in the future,” Bruce Steadman, executive director of FMERA, said.

According to the resolution, the sublease will run for one year with an option for an additional six-month extension or until FMERA conveys title to the property, to the county, or the U.S. Army terminates the lease.

Eatontown Mayor Gerald Tarantolo abstained from the 8-0 vote due to concerns that the site could contain contaminants.

The issue of potential contamination was raised by Ed Dlugosz, chairman of the Eatontown Environmental Commission, who said residents whose properties border the fort have been exposed to ongoing pollution of groundwater, surface water and soil caused by landfills at the fort site.

“Until recently members of the community were unaware of the toxins and health threats imposed by this site. We don’t know what health effects they have been exposed to. The DPW could be a continuing source of pollution,” Dlugosz said, citing site investigation studies.

Steadman replied that no contamination was reported in the finding of suitability to lease (FOSL) which was conducted by the U.S. Army and reviewed by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

“The county has agreed to maintain the environmental integrity of the property as it currently sits,” Steadman said. “We are confident … that the sublease of that property to the county will in fact protect the environmental condition of that area. I am quite confident that no one onsite or offsite will be exposed to any contaminants as a result of the county’s use of that property.”

Freeholder Lillian Burry, a FMERA member, assured those in attendance that the county would not take over, purchase or occupy property that is tainted with environmental substances that can be toxic.

Eatontown resident Lynn Hansen, of Rose Court, asked who would be responsible for monitoring the property for future contamination.

John Tobia, director of the county Department of Public Works and Engineering, explained that the county must comply with state regulations.

“All our salt facilities are closed and all our facilities are monitored by the state and our own health department. The county is very rigorous in the compliance with DEP regulations,” he said.

Tarantolo acknowledged the county’s efforts to address the concerns of residents but said that the possibility of contamination needs to be looked into.

He said there are many contaminated sites on the fort, including the motor pool property, and it was the rationale for designating the motor pool site as green space.

“One of the reasons the mayors of the three [host] municipalities supported the green space efforts of the county was that the contaminated areas were going to become green space. The assumption was that the contamination was going to be capped or cleaned,” he said. “Now that is not the case and I have some reservations about what actions we are going to be taking tonight.”

The motor pool property is comprised of six buildings and parking areas on approximately 10.5 acres on the Eatontown area of the Main Post.

The buildings include a truck wash and several service bays and the county is planning a $3 million renovation project of the site to include a salt storage facility, fueling station and a 260-foot emergency communications tower on the site.

The facility has been subject of contention since September after residents protested the plan’s potential impacts to traffic, property values and quality of life.

To minimize any impacts on residents, the county revised the plan to deed-restrict vacant property on Rose Court as green space, enhance buffering along property lines to reduce visibility and relocate an access road.

The revised plan also proposes to move the emergency communications tower away from the residential area.

Several members of the public complained during the meeting about a lack of transparency, stating that the DPW plan was discussed “behind closed doors” and was presented to the public late in the decision making process.

Steadman explained that the county submitted a notice of intent in 2007 for the property to be used as open space. It was revised in 2009 to show the motor pool use, he said.

Burry added that the county’s interest in the motor pool property has been discussed for four years.

“I can assure you that nothing has been done behind closed doors. I have been reporting on the county’s interest in the motor pool for the last four years, not only at these meetings but at the freeholder meetings,” she said.

Tarantolo countered that discussions centered around the property being green space until a year-ago.

“Freeholder Burry has indicated that we had been talking about this four years ago. Well, we have. We have been talking about open space, not a county facility for public works,” he said, adding that the reuse and redevelopment plan would have reflected the change.

“That area would have been designated as a public works facility and not green space back when we adopted the reuse plan for the redevelopment of fort Monmouth.”

Eatontown Borough Council President Anthony Talerico Jr. added that in 2011, Burry and the mayors of Oceanport, Eatontown and Tinton Falls passed a resolution reaffirming their commitment to the 2007 memorandum.

“If you look at public record, what the public relies on for transparency, all three towns and the freeholder [Burry] voted unanimously that the document would include all the open space as part of a public benefit conveyance as listed as parks and recreation,” Talerico said.

In abstaining, Tarantolo cited residents’ concerns.

“There is still a cloud that has to be cleared on this issue,” he said, “and until I get a better, clearer understanding of what is involved I think as mayor, I have to take this position.”

“I have to respect the concerns of my residents on some of these issues and that’s why I want to be more involved in the process. I think we do have a good plan but this one issue on contamination and impact on the area is a concern to me. I feel very strongly that we have to delve deeply into these issues.”