rb lib bulkhead 4 071013Borough residents are on the hook for replacing the library bulkhead, at right, where environmentalists argue a natural shoreline should be restored.  (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)


Its scientists and policy experts may be thought leaders on issues of global warming and ways to head it off. But on the matter of the Navesink River bulkhead at the Red Bank Public Library, Harvard University can’t be bothered to speak, it appears.

Harvard’s continued silence almost a year after Mayor Pasquale Menna reached out to the university for help on a legal issue is about to cost Red Bank taxpayers and, environmentalists contend, result in a wrongheaded fix along the shoreline.

A controversial plan to rebuild the crumbling bulkhead, rather than allow for the restoration of a natural shoreline, is expected to move ahead Wednesday night.

It’s time for “finality” on the issue, which involves insurance and liability issues as well as environmental ones, Menna told redbankgreen Monday.

What’s Harvard got to do with it? When the heirs of industrialist Sigmund Eisner deeded his riverfront mansion to the town in 1937, it was on the condition that only be used as a public library, and that the bulkhead be maintained “in good repair.” Otherwise, the property is to be sold, with the proceeds given to Harvard.

Here’s the deed: Eisners deed house to library

Local environmentalists, backed by the American Littoral Society and scientists at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, contend that a natural shoreline could be created at no cost to the town, and would be better both for storm protection and animal life in the river and on the shore.

After the library board of trustees endorsed the living shoreline option in 2013, Menna wrote to Harvard to ask if the university “would have any objection” to the installation of a living shoreline. He additionally asked if Harvard would view the creation of the shoreline as a trigger for the reverter clause in the deed.

Here’s Menna’s letter: Menna Harvard letter 073113

Menna said he got no response, even after follow-up letters and calls. And as a lawyer, he said he understands why “they would not issue an advisory opinion on a property they don’t own.”

After two years of discussion, the council in May authorized the issuance of a $566,000 bond to cover the cost of replacing both the library bulkhead and the one at the north end of Prospect Avenue, a project environmentalists did not oppose because of slope and erosion issues.

On Wednesday night, the council will take up a resolution to greenlight the library bulkhead job, using money from the bond.

“Let’s just get some finality on this,” Menna said. “We can’t not make a decision on this.”

In addition to environmental considerations, he said, there is also the implied threat of a lawsuit by residents of the adjoining Corinthian Cove condos, who contend their property would be imperiled if the town fails to replace the bulkhead.

The borough council meets at 6:30 p.m. at borough hall, 90 Monmouth Street. Here’s the agenda: rb agenda 072314