SEA BRIGHT: PROBE NOW, BUILD LATER

Img_3327The Highlands Bridge and overpass to Sandy Hook as they appeared in mid-February, shortly after the arrival of construction equipment.

By SUE MORGAN

The stroke of a state official’s pen has Sea Bright officials on edge about who or what is behind the imminent reconstruction of the 75-year-old Highlands Bridge.

Allegations of official misconduct leveled earlier this month against a 22-year state Department of Transportation employee in connection with the sale of land near the Route 36 drawbridge prompted Mayor Maria Fernandes to ask Gov. Jon Corzine and Attorney General Anne Milgram for an independent investigation into the pending reconstruction plan earlier this week.

With the request, Fernandes joins Congressman Frank Pallone in demanding a probe, as reported in this week’s Hub.

Even as the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office continues to investigate allegations that the accused official, James J. Duffy, falsified documents authorizing the sale of land on the Highlands side of the span, Fernandes and other Sea Bright officials called for the state to stop the ongoing construction until their concerns are completely addressed.

“The state should stop any further construction while the investigation is going on,” Fernandes said at the borough council’s Tuesday night meeting.

Pointing to the charges of falsifying or tampering with records leveled against Duffy on April 1, Councilwoman Dina Long urged her council colleagues to advocate for halting the reconstruction until borough officials know if the controversial plan is really necessary.

“We should be talking about this bridge issue,” Long said. “The credibility of the whole project has been called into question.”

Skeptical from the start about the DOT plan to replace the 35-foot-high structure with a 65-foot-high fixed span, Councilman Jack Keeler agreed with Long.

“We need to look at the intent” behind Duffy’s alleged crimes, Keeler said.

Milgram can also expect missives seconding Sea Bright’s requests from state Sen. Sean Kean and assembly members David Rible and Mary Pat Angelini, Fernandes reported. All three are Republican officials representing both Sea Bright and Highlands in Trenton.

Duffy, of Morrisville, Pa., is accused of twice forging the signature of the Highlands borough clerk on documents identified as agreement of sale for the transfer of two land parcels from the municipality to the state according to the county prosecutor’s office. He’s also charged with notarizing the false signatures.

The DOT needed access to that land to go forward with the planned demolition and reconstruction that’s now due to begin on or about June 1, according to state documents.

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