By JOHN T. WARD
Two years after abandoning a controversial “sprayground” proposed for the Bellhaven Natural Area, the Red Bank borough council is moving ahead with plans for a playground at the site.
At its semimonthly meeting Wednesday night, the council approved nearly $20,000 in additional engineering costs for the site, a move that prompted fresh objections.
“This is deja vu all over again,” said Bill Meyer, owner of a downtown commercial building. The borough has already spent $73,000 engineering fees on the site, and “that money was burned and wasted,” he said. The 1.25-acre nature area, which adjoins the Swimming River at the western end of Locust Avenue, was envisioned by proponents as location for a small playground and concrete-pad “spray feature” that would have allowed neighborhood children to cool off in hot weather. But public opposition over environmental, economic and safety concerns forced the council to retreat from that plan in 2015.
The issue was further complicated by contamination from a residential oil tank that was once on the site. The seepage was not within the area of the parcel contemplated for a playground, and would be off-limits to children and other visitors, secured by fencing, officials said at the time.
On Wednesday, the council authorized consulting engineer Christine Ballard of T&M Associates to draw up revised remediation plans “at a cost not to exceed $19,700.” Remediation expenses of $22,900 were also approved.
According to a letter Ballard wrote to the borough in May, the design fees “represent the required effort to prepare construction ready documents from the point of which [earlier] design was stopped. It is our understanding that approximately $14,000 remains allocated to this project from the previous design efforts. Therefore, this proposal represents an increase of $5,700 over the current allocation.”
The letter, which was not available to the audience at the time of the council’s public comment session, also says T&M will “work with the borough and play equipment manufacturer to select appropriate play equipment for the park.” [The full letter is below.]
Both Meyer and Kathleen Gasienica, president of the American Littoral Society and resident of the condominium project next door to the site, teed up the council over the spending.
“What do you have to show for that $73,000?” Gasienica asked. “I would not have paid one dime for that plan” because of Bellhaven’s unsuitability as anything more than an educational preserve, she said.
Administrator Stanley Sickels responded that the earlier tab grew as design changes were repeatedly requested by the parks and recreation committee and council to allow for the possibility of sprayground.
On the “advice of the borough’s experts,” “said Mayor Pasquale Menna, “what we’re authorizing is basic environmental work to try and eliminate whatever the issues are once and for all.”
“We have the same experts who didn’t even know there were deer in that area, or that salt kills plants,” Gasienica replied.
Here’s the full T&M letter: RB T&M Bellhaven 050817