SIGNS POINT AGAIN TO ‘CONTROVERSY COVE’

img_4119101209 Kathleen Gasienica, left, and Cindy Burham, third from left, speaking with Administrator Stanley Sickels after last night’s council meeting.

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Less than a week after Mayor Pasquale Menna pledged to make their requests a reality, backers of a plan for modest improvements at Maple Cove returned to the Red Bank council last night to keep the pressure on.

They met some resistance. The session became a forum for disputes, not-so-subtle accusations and pleas, and ended with borough officials vowing to review the matter anew.

At issue are a sign, a pair of benches and a footpath that kayak, canoe and environmental enthusiasts want to see installed at the one-acre, borough-owned property at the north end of Maple Avenue.

A naming contest among borough kids earlier this year led to the selection of ‘Maple Cove,’ but town officials have yet to make the moniker official.

Last week, Menna told the Asbury Park Press that he’d see to it that the benches and sign were installed by the end of the year.

But borough officials say there are other factors that prevent those small improvements from happening just yet.

One is the question of how much it might cost to get through state Department of Environmental Protection red tape. Officials have said in the past that the process of obtaining permits to make any changes at the site could cost Red Bank tens of thousands of dollars.

Then there’s a plan to improve a crumbling parking lot on the site, which needs to get done before anything else does, borough administrator Stanley Sickels said. Installing a sign and benches before that wouldn’t make sense, he said.

“It’s a matter of scheduling,” he said.

But that didn’t mollify proponents of cove improvements. About a half-dozen of them turned out urge the council follow through on Menna’s pledge.

Kathleen Gasienica, a borough resident who is a trustee of the American Littoral Society, said that informal discussions with DEP employees — including three who recently went kayaking from the site — led her to conclude that no agency permits would be required. She urged officials to resolve the question.

At the forefront of the push was Cindy Burnham, who said the council is making the project out to be more of a challenge than it is. She said DEP officials have told her that getting an OK from the department to make the improvements is quick and easy. Getting the sign and benches are even easier, she said.

“The bottom line here is you guys have come up with one excuse after another excuse why things can’t get done,” she said. “To us, to me, it looks like you guys are avoiding the whole issue.”

“There have been no plans by this council to make this anything but a public access,” Sickels responded. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

Councilwoman Juanita Lewis said the parks & recreation committee, on which she is the council representative, will take a look at just how the cove improvements might happen. But even if the borough takes quick action at the cove, she’s not sure how the improvements would be funded or maintained in the future.

“We already have a number of parks and fields we’re having a hard time maintaining,” she said. “I’d really have to look at it from soup to nuts. I cannot spend money that’s not there.”

The only sure thing is that there’s a contingent of paddlers anxiously waiting for a nicer version of Maple Cove to happen. Several kayakers spoke last night of having recently used the site as a launch for the first time, and described it as the only spot of its kind from Red Bank to Rumson: a natural habitat that’s easily accessed by anyone who wants to use it.

“This is really a joy to be able to carry your kayak and disembark into the most wonderful river in Monmouth County,” said Virginia Amend, of Colts Neck. “I look forward to the time when Maple Cove is a reality and I can enjoy that.”