Berkeley Township: A Look Back At 2018

Bud the dinosaur looks out over Route 9. (Photo by Patricia A. Miller)

BERKELEY – The year began with the swearing in of the four incumbent Republican council members – James Byrnes, Sophia Gingrich, Angelo Guadagno, and Judith Noonan – to new terms. Their terms run until the end of 2021. Byrnes was selected to serve as council president for the year. There were no municipal elections in November. However, next year the mayoral seat is up. Current Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr. told The Berkeley Times he plans to seek a third term next year.

Winter Storms

The winter of 2018 was relentless. The first blizzard came in early January. Another followed at the end of the month. Berkeley received the most snow in Ocean County during both storms, according to the National Weather Service. Four, count them, four Nor’easters hit just in March.

Township Council Says No To Pot Sales In Berkeley

The Township Council adopted an ordinance that forbids the sale of marijuana even if it becomes legalized in the state. Mayor Amato called it a “gateway” drug that leads to other more harmful drugs.

“For every pro, there’s 10 against,” Council President James Byrnes said.

The sale of marijuana for medicinal use is more appropriate, but even that can be abused. Byrnes said he would rather see the penalties for marijuana possession lessened than to see it legalized.

“In half of our dropouts, the common denominator is pot,” he said.

 Golf Course Privatized

The Township Council decided to privatize the municipally owned Cedar Creek Golf Course, since it had lost money for many years.

Atlantic Golf Management took over in the spring. Both the management company and township officials said that the golfing experience would be the same or better.

The course lost six figures a year each year for the last decade. This amounts to $2,473,000 in losses since 2007. Prior to that, it did make money. Additionally, township officials were looking back on $2,387,000 in capital investments dating back to 1999.

“The taxpayers of Berkeley Township have subsidized the golf operations nearly $2.5 million over the last 10 years in addition to providing nearly $2.4 million of additional funding for capital improvements. Capital improvements are both equipment and course improvements,” Mayor Amato said. “That is a cost of nearly $5 million of taxpayers’ funds. It is unacceptable.”

Amato said at a December council meeting the course was now showing revenue.

Oyster Creek Shuts Down

Although Oyster Creek Generating Station is in Lacey, its closure impacts its neighbors. The oldest nuclear plant in the United States shut down permanently on Sept. 17, nearly 49 years since it began operations. Oyster Creek went online on Dec. 23, 1968.

Photo courtesy Exelon

It was announced earlier this year that Exelon Generation, owner of the plant, wants to sell Oyster Creek’s license to Holtec International, a Camden-based dry cask storage manufacturer. The NRC is currently reviewing the terms of the sale to Holtec; a decision is expected to be made by May 2019.

Exelon surprised many when officials announced the plant in Lacey Township would close fourteen months earlier than expected, in part because of economic reasons.

“Lacey Township has been working with other entities to bring in an alternative power source to the site,” Lacey Committeeman Nicholas Juliano said. “In addition, we have been working with the office of state planning for approval on our Plan Endorsement Town Center application that will allow for more impervious coverage on our commercial ratable properties, allowing for expansion and redevelopment on many of the commercial sites along the Route 9 and Lacey Road corridor to help offset tax base loss from Oyster Creek closing.”

Berkeley Island County Park Reopens

The popular Berkeley Island County Park in Bayville finally reopened, much to the delight of residents. The park had been closed for six years since Superstorm Sandy battered it into near oblivion. The park was later renamed in October after Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr., who was instrumental in getting the park on Barnegat Bay renovated and reopened. The park retained much of its original character with some upgrades. It has a fishing pier picnic area with a pavilion. The new feature is the county’s first splash park, inspired by a splash park Bartlett visited in Philadelphia.

The morning gray gave way to blue skies for the afternoon re-opening of Berkeley Island County Park. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)

New Turf Field Installed

The Township Council received $750,000 for the field from the state Department of Environmental Protection for a new turf field in Veterans Park. The township made up the $50,000 difference for the $800,000 field. The turf was installed at the Sam Pepe Memorial Field.

The location already has bleachers, lighting, and a concession stand. Anyone can use the field, but Berkeley residents have first priority.

The township joined a cooperative purchasing agreement with Keystone Purchasing Network. These agreements are ways for towns to buy things that other towns are buying so they get a group discount. The actual cost that came in at about $804,000.

Enrollment Up At Central

School officials say that increasing enrollment is one of the main causes of the proposed increase to the district budget.

The total budget would be $40,567,096, an increase of $1,330,886 over this year’s $39,236,210.

The amount to be raised by taxes would be $33,006,880, an increase of $1,303,884 from this 2017-2018’s $31,702,996.

Central Regional is made up of five sending districts, each affected differently by the budget.

Business Administrator Kevin O’Shea said that the tax levy has increased by 1.97 percent over the course of the last three budget years, while enrollment has increased by 2.97 percent.

“If our projections for next year are correct, our enrollment will have increased by nearly 200 students within 3 years,” he said. “In order to maintain a good educational structure and maintain our ideal class sizes, we felt it was imperative to put additional teaching positions into the budget as well. This budget addresses our rising enrollment in a way that will benefit everyone.”

Wunder Wiener Owner Badly Injured, Business Destroyed

The man whose car slammed into Gerry LaCrosse’s popular food stand, destroyed it and nearly killed him in a crash in June was sentenced to careless driving in Municipal Court in December. The other charges were dropped as a result of a plea bargain that LaCrosse agreed to, Municipal Court Judge James J. Gluck said.

Photo courtesy Beachwood Police

Berkeley police originally charged Mark Poplawski, Lacey Township, with careless driving, reckless driving, failure to maintain lane, driving in an unsafe manner, operating a motor vehicle on public lands, and failure to exhibit registration, Berkeley police said.

Poplawski first told police he may have fallen asleep when the accident occurred. But he later told police he didn’t remember falling asleep and didn’t remember the accident.

Poplawski will pay a $236 fine and $33 in court costs for the careless driving charge.

“Your remedies lie in the civil courts,” Gluck told LaCrosse.

James Butler, Poplawksi’s attorney, said his client has no memory of the accident. Butler apologized for the accident.

“It was not an intentional act,” he said. “My client doesn’t remember. He can’t put on the record what occurred because he can’t exactly remember.”

LaCrosse, a Beachwood councilman, is still recovering from his injuries. He hopes to rebuild his business.

Samuel R. Britton, Berkeley’s First Police Chief, Dies At 90

Samuel R. Britton Sr

Samuel R. Britton Sr., the township’s first police chief, died on Nov. 3 at Community Medical Center, surrounded by his family. He was 90. He leaves a legacy that will probably not be surpassed in the future.

Britton became the township’s first chief in 1954, when Berkeley had only a few officers in a township that was largely rural. By the time he retired in 1984, the department was a large and progressive agency.

Bayville Dinosaur Is Back And Better Than Ever

The renovation of Bud, the newly renamed Bayville dinosaur, is finally complete. His body has been moved further back from his former perilous perch on Route 9. His new head and neck no longer jut out so close to the heavily trafficked highway. They now point north, not east.

And if you drive by Bud at night, you can see his sparkling new amber glass eyes. He used to have lit eyes years ago, but not for some time. He even has a slight smile.

But his new look has been a long time coming. The Save the Dinosaur Committee was formed three years ago. Just why the improvements took several years to complete depends on who you talk to.

Anthony Zangari, who owns the Heritage Square complex on Route in Bayville, became the dinosaur’s owner when he bought the property several years ago. Zangari doesn’t want to focus on what happened to the original project. He wants to concentrate on Bud’s future.

New Water Filtration

Residents complained about water issues with Aqua America, and the company worked on the installation of a new iron filtration system this year. Residents said the water was discolored and had an odor. They were also concerned about radionuclides. Aqua representatives said that the new filtration system would take care of the iron in the water, and they are continually working to reduce the amount of contaminants, even naturally occurring ones like radionuclides.

Traffic Light At Frederick

A new traffic light was installed at the intersection of Frederick Drive and Route 9. Although some complained about having yet another light on 9, many locals had wanted it for a number of years.

There have been at least three fatalities at that intersection and numerous other injuries. It is impossible to say how many near-misses there have been.

Thieving Attorney Sentenced

Robert Novy used to have a good name in this county. With an office in Manchester, he was known as an elder law expert, advertising his specialties on local media. Doctors and bankers gave him referrals.

People then learned that he had been robbing from clients who were not of sound mind, and who had no close relatives to advocate for them. In court, his prosecutors accused him of being a predator that victimized easy targets. The state’s investigation found about $3 million stolen from at least two dozen victims. Because of his victims’ state of mind and health, the total number of victims and money stolen might never be known.

Robert Novy (Facebook)

He was jailed for 10 years. He has to pay $4 million in restitution: $3 million to the known victims, and $1 million must be set aside for any future victims that are found from further investigation.

Opioid Epidemic Continues

According to Ocean County figures, there were 53 overdose deaths in 2012. This doubled to 112 reported overdose deaths in 2013. That number would almost double again to 216 in 2016, before dropping to 163 in 2017. However, the county is back up to 193 as of Dec. 4.

With a new governor came a new Ocean County Prosecutor. Joseph Coronato’s five-year term was up, and Bradley Billhimer was chosen as his successor. Billhimer pledged to continue Coronato’s Blue HART (Heroin Addiction Recovery Treatment) program, which allows addicts to come to certain police stations and get help without fear of arrest. He also will look to expand drug education in school.

Local officers were part a multi-state drug bust that led to 28 drug arrests, three fugitive warrants issued, and nine illicit drug facilities. More than 90,000 dosage units of heroin, more than 19 lbs. of cocaine, 20 fire arms, 27 mostly high-end vehicles, and $848,481 were seized. The task force worked in Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Passaic, and Union counties and the Bronx in New York. Locally, search warrants were executed in Brick, Howell, Jackson, Lakewood and Toms River. One local production facility found on East Connecticut Concourse in Jackson was dismantled.

Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer addresses the Ocean County Mayors’ Association at the Cove restaurant in Toms River. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

Gun Violence Elsewhere Impacts County

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, claimed 17 lives. And while there’s been no shortage of mass shootings, this particular one sparked changes in how school security is handled.

Several school districts made physical improvements to their buildings, such as bullet-resistant windows, security systems, doors and vestibules. They also expanded police presence in schools.

The students coped with it as best as they could. Several schools, like Southern Regional and Central Regional high schools, held walk-outs. Some schools were restricted from leaving the building for security reasons. Donovan Catholic held a prayer service.

“People our age should never have to deal with this,” said Laura Esposito, a Southern student who helped organize the walkout. She noted that the shooting struck very close to home when she heard about it, reminding her that she and her friends at Southern Regional could have just as easily been victims.

New Performing Arts Academy

Ground was broken on the campus of Ocean County College for the new Ocean County Vocational Technical School Performing Arts Academy

The new OCVTS Performing Arts Academy will be a 50,000-square-foot building intended to “provide a rigorous education for creatively gifted high school students, (offering) majors in theater, vocal, dance, and audio engineering,” according to their press release. The construction of the building is already underway, and is expected to be completed by December 2019.

The PAA is a four-year public high school, currently located at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. When the announcement of the new academy was made last year, it came as welcome news. The current location is distant and difficult to get to and from.

The academy will provide students with credits for college. In collaboration with OCC, OCVTS’s early college program will allow high school students to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from OCC at the same time. Students will be exiting high school already halfway to a bachelor’s degree, all for a fraction of the tuition cost of a university degree.

In turn, OCC students will be able to use the new building at night.

The state will fund $10.6 million toward the funding of the construction. Ocean County and the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation will each contribute $8 million. OCC will provide $2 million.

Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. Dies

Longtime Ocean County Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. died in December at his Pine Beach home, after a hard fought battle with colorectal cancer. Bartlett was the longest serving freeholder in the history of New Jersey. He announced at his last freeholder meeting that his health would prevent him from running for another term. Lacey Township Committeeman Gary Quinn won the seat in November.

John C. Bartlett Jr. sits near the sign that bears his name with Berkeley Mayor Carmen Amato. (Photo by Patricia A. Miller)

– Chris Lundy contributed to this story