By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank residents delivered a message to borough officials Friday night about a new park proposed at the town’s long-closed landfill site: not everyone wants it.
At a town-hall-style meeting held at the Celestial Lodge #36 on Drs. James Parker Boulevard, area residents expressed concerns that the dump might never be made safe for public use.
The forum was arranged by Tinton Falls resident Freddie Boynton, who owns a home on Shrewsbury Avenue in Red Bank. The format elicited questions on a range of topics, including access to Count Basie Fields; plans for Bellhaven Nature Area; and who should cut the grass in parks.
On the dais were Mayor Pasquale Menna; council members Erik Yngstrom, Linda Schwabenbauer and Mark Taylor; parks and rec director Charlie Hoffmann; police Chief Darren McConnell; and Administrator Stanley Sickels.
Questions and concerns about the park proposed at the western end of West Sunset Avenue dominated the first two hours of the meeting. Residents said they feared long-range impacts of contaminants at the site, which was was also used to burn waste from around 1930 to 1984.
“If somebody’s kid ends up with three arms two heads, there should be a clause that says they get $400 million,” said one speaker.
“There was body parts from the hospital there,” said resident Phillip Rock. “You can’t build nothing there on that property. No matter what you put on top of it, it’s going to come up again. Don’t do it.”
Another read a statement about health issues alleged to be associated with public housing on the site of a former manufactured-gas plant in Long Branch.
The 8.6-acre Red Bank site, with 800 feet of Swimming River frontage, has never been formally named “Sunset Park” — the name is a placeholder. Nor has there ever been a formal action to create a park. But officials said Friday that the idea to create one was in response to long-standing calls by West Side residents for new open spaces for children.
“This is not going to be, ‘we’re just going to put some turf on top of the dirty soil,'” Sickels told the audience. In addition, he said, no structures could be erected there because the soil would not support them.
“We want to make a neighborhood park the neighbors can enjoy,” he said. “We’re going to do it in such a way that you don’t have to worry about environmental contamination.”
“It’s still going to come to the surface,” Boynton said. In addition, contaminants leaching into the Swimming River pose a threat to children who will surely make their way to the water’s edge once the now-fenced site is opened, he said.
Sickels noted that “right now, there’s no protection” on the site, and whether or not it becomes a park, it needs to be either capped or completely excavated, a process that would require digging down 60 feet, building a bulkhead to prevent inundation by the river, and at least $10 million in costs.
“We have a contaminated site. We need to contain it,” Menna said.”The second step is what comes after.”
If there’s a public consensus not to create a park, “then the public has an obligation to listen to that,” he said.
The engineering firm T&M Associates is presently working under a $47,000 contract issued by the borough earlier this year to develop a “remedial action plan.”
In order to come up with that plan, “we have to define a little bit what we want the site to look like,” T&M engineer Christine Ballard said a concept-development meeting in April. How much active and passive recreation goes into the site is “really to be decided by” the public, she said.
An online survey being conducted by the borough is available here.