StagingContractors working on improvements to a nearby intersection are using the borough-owned lot as a staging area. A wooden form for making concrete slabs was built at center, and a load of stone was dropped closer to the river.

A publicly owned parcel of riverfront property that redbankgreen calls Whatchamacallit Park appears on its way finally to getting a new moniker: Maple Cove.

But that tidbit of news was all but swamped at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Red Bank council, when tempers flared over who’s doing what on the Navesink River site.

The issue triggered a verbal free-for-all of sorts, with one resident complaining that the borough government has stood in the way of a grassroots effort to make simple improvements at the site; borough officials retorting that even basic changes — which haven’t been approved by the governing body — would cost the town more than $80,000 in state permit-related costs; and zoning board vice chairman Tom Williams blasting volunteers for having “destroyed” a natural habitat in an effort to please out-of-town kayakers while sticking Red Bankers with the bill.

Amid all this arose complaints that for the past week, the site has been used by a road contractor in ways that the borough has otherwise prohibited.

The controversy erupted after James Crawford of Leroy Place complained that Fair Havenite Cindy Burnham, who has spearheaded an effort to create a canoe and kayak launch at the site, can’t seem to get any backing from the borough government in her efforts to place a sign, a stone path and a bench there.

That prompted Mayor Pasquale Menna to say that state Department of Environmental Protection permits for a bench
alone would cost $9,000, assuming a permit was issued. He said it could cost $80,000 in site mapping and other engineering services just to get through the application process.

Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels added that the town is now in the midst of advancing a handful of other major recreation-related projects that have been in the works for years, while the Burnham effort arose last year and has never been formally discussed or approved by the council.

“Right now, we have limited funds and other projects that we need to see through to fruition,” he said. Sickels cited the former Sunset Avenue dump and incinerator site, for which the town has a $200,000 grant to remove a smokestack, but must first complete other engineering work to avoid seeing that grant expire.

And contrary to assertions by several speakers that the DEP is on board with the changes proposed by Burnham for the Maple Avenue site, Sickels claimed the state has laid down clear lines.

“Everything that’s been proposed has been shot down by the DEP,” Sickels said, referring to the stone path and bench. “We were told, yes, that needs a permit.”

Going ahead without DEP authorization could open the town up to tens of thousands of dollars in fines, officials said. “We’re responsible down there,” said Councilman Art Murphy. “Something happens down there, we’re responsible.”

According to both borough engineer Rich Kosenski and Williams, too much has already happened at the site.

Contrary to assertions by Burnham, who has led two annual cleanups at the site to maintain a path through weeds to the riverbank, Kosenski insisted that no such path previously existed. “I’m telling you — that path wasn’t there before,” he said.

Williams, of Locust Avenue, said that the borough spent $65,000 and took two years to develop a comprehensive waterfront plan, published two years ago. In that effort, in which he participated, “Maple Avenue was not identified as place for access,” he said.

Without identifying Burnham by name, Williams said that process now appears to have been usurped, resulting in environmental damage.

“In my opinion, that habitat has been destroyed,” Williams said.

Meantime, he said, a private entity has spent more than $200,000
on engineering and getting proper approvals for an office building on
Shrewsbury Avenue that will also have a kayak and canoe launch and
storage facility. 

“I really don’t think it’s appropriate for the council to give
away access to the river,” Williams said. “I don’t believe we need to have access to every inch of the river.”

Late last week, contractors working on the rebuilding of the intersection of Maple Avenue, West and White streets began parking their vehicles overnight on the site, with permission from the borough, according to Sickels.

The contractors also built a wooden form for creating concrete slabs, and dumped a load of stone on a portion of the site where Burnham-led volunteers just three weeks ago worked to remove years of illegally dumped construction debris and invasive plants.

Afterward, Sickels told redbankgreen that he was unaware of the concrete forms and stone pile on the site and would investigate.

By the way, the Maple Cove name, coined by Red Bank Regional students Adriana Burton and Alex DeRonde, was selected from more than 70 submissions by students, said Councilwoman Juanita Lewis, who led the five-person naming committee effort.

The name has not yet been formally presented to the council for consideration.

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