RED BANK: BULKHEAD, BELLHAVEN DEBATED

rb bulkhead 041314The council approved a bond to pay for a bulkhead to halt erosion at North Prospect Avenue, above. A change to another bond, for a possible spray park at Bellhaven Natural Area, below, drew criticism. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

bellhaven-parkNot for the first time and almost certainly not for the last, Red Bankers picked over a pair of big-ticket projects at Wednesday night’s council meeting.

One was a bond ordinance council members were in a hurry to approve in order to save two Navesink River yards from severe erosion.

The other: A possible spray park at Bellhaven Natural Area that has pitted environmental activists against West Siders desperate for a playground.

The $566,000 bulkhead bond, ostensibly for two riverfront bulkheads, ran into no resistance as it applied to one: shoring up North Prospect Avenue. Replacing that one would halt imminent erosion that has already swallowed up a portion of one homeowner’s property and a large orange traffic barrel.

“We’ve lost three sections of fence,” said homeowner Jack Callahan. “It’s undermining my slope.”

But while no objections to that aim were voiced, the matter was complicated by the fact that the $566,000 bond for the work would also cover a new bulkhead at the library, which almost no one appears to favor but could be built anyway to satisfy a legal obligation.

The possibility that approving the bond would clear the way for a bulkhead at the public library had opponents on edge.

Lone Republican Councilwoman Cindy Burnham, who ultimately voted in favor of the bond, initially said the two projects should be separated. But Menna administration officials said, as they did last month, that doing so would delay the necessary fixes at North Prospect by months.

They also insisted that approval of the bond was not in itself an approval of a bulkhead at the library, where environmentalists would prefer to see a return to a natural shoreline. To move ahead, the council would have to authorize the borough engineer to design a bulkhead, they said.

The library bulkhead, which is opposed by Burnham and Democrats Ed Zipprich and Kathy Horgan, appears to be alive solely because the 1937 deed under which the estate of industrialist Sigmund Eisner gave the town his home specified that a bulkhead be “maintained” at the site. If any conditions of the deed were unmet, the property is to be sold, with the proceeds going to Harvard University.

Mayor Pasquale Menna, who sought an failed to contact Harvard officials on the issue, insisted that an approval of the bond was not itself sufficient to greenlight the library bulkhead.

“If it is the council’s pleasure to do one [bulkhead] and not the other, you would still be able to bifurcate the ordinance,” Menna said. “But you’ve got to do something at North Prospect.”

Approval of the bond was unanimous.

Likewise, administration officials said that nothing would be built at Bellhaven Nature Area, at the western end of Locust Avenue, without extensive public input. At present, the parks and recreation committee is meeting with borough Engineer Christine Ballard to determine what improvements might be built.

Bellhaven came up in the form of a technical change to another bond ordinance passed in April: the costs of two capital projects on the $2.2 million bond were mistakenly swapped, said borough Attorney Dan O’Hern. Still, the public hearing on the “ministerial” change prompted a handful of residents to once again plead their cases for and against the facility.

Kathleen Gasienica, an American Littoral Society officer who lives next door to the site, sought assurances from the council that “when the plans for the playground are brought to the council, there will be a public hearing.”

Sickels and Menna assured her there would be.

Several residents questioned the wisdom of taking on the cost of a new park when the borough has difficulty maintaining its existing parks. West Sider Rose Sestito brought nine children to the hearing to illustrate the need for a playground for active kids.