incinerator-ballard-mennaMayor Pasquale Menna with engineer Christine Ballard of T&M Associates at the incinerator site last Friday. (Click to enlarge)

The work of finally pulverizing Red Bank’s 70-plus-year-old incinerator smokestack to dust could begin as soon as tomorrow.

But replacing the stack and adjoining garbage dump, both long out of service, with a pristine 8.5-acre park overlooking the upper Navesink River may still be years from beginning, borough officials acknowledge.

They don’t know, for starters, if there are drums of waste buried around the incinerator, and will have to x-ray the ground to find out, borough engineer Christin Ballard says.

Even if tests come up clean, though, local officials may face strong objections from neighbors of the West Sunset Avenue property, some of whom envision nothing but trouble at the dead end of their street if a park is created there.

“I’m just afraid that’s going to be a hangout,” Marcelle Seruby, a senior citizen and West Sunset resident for over 50 years, told redbankgreen recently. “I just feel that it’s unsafe for us. The police have enough to do.”

During a press conference held at the site last week, borough officials praised the $510,000 in grant money from the state that will pay for the stack removal and site testing work.

They gathered there soon after the arrival of a special boom crane that will be used to grind the 100-foot stack down while a hose sprays a constant stream of water on it to keep dust down.

After that begins the work of “cleaning up the entire site so it can be used as parkland,” Ballard said.

Mayor Pasquale Menna called the property “eight acres of usable, and in my opinion, potentially pristine land, in a great neighborhood” for a park.

But officials acknowledge that they’re not sure what potential problems lie in the ground around the incinerator structure. Also unknown is what lies beneath the layer of soil that was used to cap the dump in 1984, though groundwater monitoring wells have been in place for years and there’s no evidence of a problem.

“Basically, what we’re doing is remedial investigation work,” Ballard said, “finding out the extent of the contamination.”

Beyond the issue of contamination, there is also no clear plan for how to use the site. The borough council approved a resolution several years back expressing its preference that a park be created there, but planning hasn’t begun, and in the current cash-strapped environment, isn’t likely to unless more grant money pays for it.

Menna said such funds would be sought from the state and Monmouth County so that there is “no impact on the local tax base.”

“This has been a long road, and hopefully it’s the beginning of a short road, and we’ll have a park here in five, six years,” said Councilman Art Murphy.

Meantime, proponents of a community center have focused on the site as a location for such a facility. There was even talk last year of a swimming pool at the site.

But neighbor Seruby said she is “adamant” in her opposition to Red Bank adding a park to its holdings, which she said are underutilized, even in the summer.

Because of its location, tucked away at the dead end of a street and partly hidden behind the Montgomery Terrace public apartments project, Seruby believes the former dump site will be a magnet for troublemakers and few others.

During the press conference, a black Cadillac Escalade with a passenger standing up through the sunroof and blasting music was seen screeching to a stop at the nearby corner of Tilton Avenue and West Sunset. The driver then put the vehicle in reverse and drove at high speed back up Tilton. The press conference continued without interruption.