By JOHN T. WARD
After years of revisions, and no small amount of controversy, changes to the Bellhaven Natural Area in Red Bank could be completed by this summer, officials said last week.
Once again, the project has been scaled-back from a version of a plan that called for a spray park and triggered loud protests four years ago, they said.
“We’ve been working on closing the loop on this and bringing the project to an end, and we’re getting there,” Business Administrator Ziad Shehady told the borough council at its workshop session last week.
Officials said bid specifications to land a contractor to build the project would be ready for advertising within a few weeks.
The latest plan calls for an observation deck, picnic tables, information plaques and some playground equipment on the 1.25-acre site overlooking the Swimming River, at the western end of Locust Avenue. The site is now dense with phragmites.
The deck would allow for Americans with Disabilities Act access, and include “some sort of binoculars” to enable birdwatching, said T&M Associates engineer Christine Ballard, who has shepherded the project since its inception.
The plan has been reviewed by both the council’s parks and rec committee, which “refined it,” Shehady said, and sent it on to the so-called “citizens'” parks and rec committee for comment.
“Overall, we got the endorsement” at a meeting also attended by members of the Environmental Commission and nearby residents, said Councilman Erik Yngstrom, who chairs the council committee. “Everybody liked the updated proposal.”
Ballard said the work includes remediating some “fairly localize contamination” from a heating oil tank used when the site had a home on it. “Right now, it’s listed as a contaminated site. When we’re done, it won’t be,” she said.
The borough also needs the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to sign off on some changes, Ballard said. “We are reducing the impervious [coverage], we are reducing the extent of the project,” she said, “so we don’t foresee any objections by DEP.”
A 2015 proposal included a “splash pad” with spray nozzles to help children cool off in summer months, but that plan prompted numerous objections. Critics said it would have limited usefulness; would be unsanitary; would attract out-of-towners; and was too expensive and hard to maintain.
Objectors also contended that the wetlands site is unsuitable for any use other than an educational preserve because it often floods.
After the spray component was scrapped, a $250,000 Monmouth County Open Spaces grant — which the borough was to have matched — had to be returned because the project no longer matched the one the county had approved. An attempt in 2017 year to win a second MCOS grant for the modified project failed.
Ballard said scaling back the project has reduced its projected cost by about $200,000. Mayor Pasquale Menna asked if naming rights for the site might be sold to offset the cost.
Ballard also told the council that construction of another project she’s overseeing, a new emergency access road for the Red Bank Primary School, could begin in March, when the school is on spring break, and be completed in the summer.
The road links the riverfront school to Locust Avenue opposite Bellhaven.