Manchester’s Biggest Stories Of 2018

Freeholder John Bartlett, Mayor Ken Palmer, and Councilman Craig Wallis present a map of the new park. (Photo courtesy Ocean County)

MANCHESTER – Manchester Township tends to be a pretty quiet town, but there are certain issues that capture readers’ attention. Here, The Manchester Times presents the stories that resonated most with residents.

DEP Denies Heritage Plan

Hovsons’ plan for the former Heritage Minerals site has been an important issue for well over a decade. The Department of Environmental Protection denying the latest plan had to be on the top of the biggest stories.

The DEP issued a 23-page report that listed deficiencies in the development plan. Hovsons was applying for 3,862 single family homes, apartments, and townhouses, 40,000 square feet of commercial space, a clubhouse, and recreation facilities. The development would be on about 1,008 acres, leaving 2,916 acres of the property largely undisturbed.

The developer sought to make a larger development than what had already been approved. The DEP, Hovsons, the Pinelands Commission, and Manchester Township had originally agreed to a settlement in 2004. This would have been for 2,200 homes, with a development of 995.4 acres, with 6,179.7 acres in the property to be preserved.

This denial does not mean that nothing will ever be built there. In fact, the original 2,200-home agreement could still be an option. The DEP’s denial simply means that Hovsons can’t build their current plan.

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.

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.

Robert Novy (Photo courtesy Ocean County Jail)

Summit Park Renovated

In a grand ceremony, Summit Park was re-opened after being closed for renovations. The park, off Alexander Avenue, had been in need of improvements for years. Now, the basketball and tennis courts were resurfaced, the playground was replaced, and new fencing was installed. Additionally, there was a pavilion built in the middle of it.

The renovation was part of the township’s plan to improve parks on a regular basis.

A New Park In Manchester

Not only did an old park get refurbished, but Manchester will eventually be home to a new county park.

The new park will be built across from Ridgeway Liquors, at Routes 571 and 547 and the railroad tracks, bordering Jackson. The township owned 247 acres, and 13 acres was privately held. With wetlands restrictions, 120 acres was developable. It would be the 28th county park/conservation area. Although things were only in the discussion phase, one thought was to have passive hiking trails that are ADA accessible on the eastern end, and soccer and other playing fields on the western end, though the plans are subject to change.

The park was only announced this year, but it’s still big news for people who want more recreation and less development. The actual construction of the park will be a few years from now.

Lakehurst Elementary Closed

Upon getting the building ready for the new school year, officials found that mold had overrun Lakehurst Elementary School during a particularly wet summer. The school was kept closed, and students were redistricted to other schools and public buildings in Manchester and Lakehurst.

To make matters worse, when the school was being remediated, asbestos was found, which pushed the re-opening date back further.

Lakehurst Elementary School remains closed. (Photo by Jason Allentoff)

Reassessment Announced

Manchester will be performing a town-wide reassessment. Every so often, a town is ordered to adjust the property assessments to make sure that everyone is paying their fair share. Manchester has historically done reassessments, which are done in-house, as opposed to a revaluation, which is when they bring a private company in to do it. Generally speaking, a reassessment is less expensive, and town officials estimate a savings of about $1 million.

The reassessment must be completed by November 2020.

Manchester Students Can Get OCC Credits

Juniors and seniors at Manchester Township High School were able to have some of their classes double as Ocean County College courses.

OCC would designate what Manchester classes would qualify for college credits. Some advanced placement courses would be candidates. The students would pay a fee, stay at Manchester, and get the credits from OCC.

The program had been existing at Manchester on a smaller scale, officials said, back when teachers needed to have a Masters degree in order to be considered. Now, OCC is more interested in the curriculum than the degree. If the course is college-level work, it can be considered.

The option will not cost taxpayers anything, since the cost will come from the families of the students. They will be paying $94.50 per credit.

Marijuana legalization

One of the biggest stories on the Jersey Shore was about something that didn’t even happen yet.

When Phil Murphy was running for governor, one of his campaign promises was to legalize recreational marijuana. There was no set plan for this, but it sent towns scrambling.

Point Pleasant Beach and Berkeley Township were among the first towns to ban dispensaries that sold recreational marijuana. “We’re in the midst of the worst opioid epidemic,” Mayor Carmen Amato said. Legalizing a drug is “bad public policy.” The county government, Beachwood, and Manchester also followed suit. Jackson Township Council passed a resolution stating they were opposed to legalization.

The borough of South Toms River held an online poll. There were 4 votes not to allow any dispensaries (medicinal or recreational). There were 26 votes to allow them. And there were 5 votes to allow medicinal but not recreational.

Toms River introduced an ordinance to ban it, but ultimately tabled it. They were concerned that any state law would supersede their local one, and wanted to wait until the law was passed.

The towns that created a ban made it a point to say that the ban was only on recreational use, and not marijuana sold for medicinal purposes.

A state Senate vote for recreational marijuana was scheduled for December, but was put off until 2019.

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)

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 Bartlett

John Bartlett, a seated Freeholder, passed away at the end of his term in December. He had spent almost 40 years crafting the finances of the county.

As a history teacher, there was a special place in his heart for children, education, history, and parks and open space. In fact, he was involved in a few of the stories on this list, such as the new school at OCC.

Oyster Creek Closure & Sale

One of the biggest news stories of the year was the official shut down of the oldest operating commercial nuclear power facility. Oyster Creek Generating Station closed its doors and turned the reactor offline for the last time on September 17, 2018 after 49 years in service.

The plant began operation on December 23, 1969, gaining its full operating license by July 2, 1991.

Oyster Creek was in the news consistently as it changed and moved up the date of closure from December 31, 2019 to September 17, 2018.

The plant is currently in the beginning stages of the decommissioning process, which encompasses the removal of fuel from the reactor into a spent fuel pool. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) original timeline, decommissioning will be complete in about 60 years. The process would allow for the removal of spent fuel from the site, as well as the dismantling and decontamination of the site for future use.

On July 31, Exelon signed a purchase agreement with Holtec International, a Camden-based dry cask storage manufacturer, for the ownership of the nuclear power plant, which could significantly speed up decommissioning.

Under the terms of the purchase agreement, Holtec will take over the decommissioning process, decreasing the decommissioning timeline from Exelon’s estimated 60 years to just 8 years.

Should the sale be approved, Exelon would be transferring the license of Oyster Creek over to Holtec. The NRC is currently reviewing the terms of the sale to Holtec; a decision is expected to be made by May 2019.


Photo courtesy Exelon

Kimberly Bosco contributed to this story