OCEAN COUNTY – A time capsule was buried in Stafford Township, containing artifacts that won’t see the light of day for 50 years. It serves as a good metaphor as we look back on a very eventful year.
Perhaps one day, people will read this article to remember what life is like right now.
COVID, Of Course
No discussion of the year is complete without the defining story of 2021. Although the virus made landfall in 2020, on an international level, the coronavirus dominated the 24-hour news cycle to the point of exhaustion.
The vaccines became widely available in 2021. Although ‘breakthrough’ cases of COVID-19 do happen among the vaccinated, they are generally of a weaker intensity. Statistics showed that unvaccinated were six times more likely to have to go to a hospital.
As the medical community learned more about the virus, state regulations reflected that. Many people expressed frustration that the guidance and the Executive Orders seemed to change almost weekly.
Erin Pein, a school nurse for the Stafford Township School District, was suspended for refusing to wear a mask to work. People rallied in support of her.
One Lacey Board of Education meeting had to be adjourned because too many members of the public refused to wear masks.
Residents urged school officials to fight back against Trenton, but school officials have said that they face punishment from the state if they don’t follow the rules.
Since March of 2020, the CDC have emphasized that wearing face masks is a “critical step to help prevent people from getting and spreading COVID-19.” The latest guidance from the CDC states that face masks are no longer necessary when outdoors or indoors in small groups of fully vaccinated people.
There isn’t a year that goes by where Oyster Creek Generating Station isn’t part of the news cycle.
A settlement was reached between the town and Holtec International. They had launched lawsuits against each other. Holtec will be storing 68 spent fuel (nuclear waste) storage containers. Eventually, Holtec wants to transfer this to New Mexico, but that would have to be approved on a federal level. Since this is unlikely, critics have said that Holtec’s temporary storage of waste is actually permanent by default.
There is also a possibility that Holtec will build a smaller nuclear reactor on site.
As state voters approved a referendum in 2020 to legalize cannabis industries, each town had to decide whether to allow them or not. Most decided against it. Only South Toms River and Lakehurst approved them.
Lacey Township held their own referendum to determine whether to allow them. Although people in the town voted to approve it in 2020, they voted against it in 2021. Township Committee members said that it was important to ask the residents again, since now they had more information available about what legalization would actually look like.
Old boats that were not being used anymore were given a new function – as part of an artificial reef system that will help preserve the shore’s environment. Stockton University reported that a tugboat, a push boat and a barge were sunk on an artificial reef site in Little Egg Harbor.
The boats sank on January 14 and joined dredge rock, cables, concrete, and heavy steel military vehicles. The reefs create a habitat and a location for recreational fishing and diving. It also gives sea bass and fluke and other species of fish a purpose for staying around the area. This all helps to support the local coastal tourism economy.
Sonar and other scans will be sent out from the reef, allowing students and scientists to learn more about the maritime environment.
The National Weather Service confirmed that violent tornado winds first landed in Ocean County in Wells Mills Park. It spread throughout the area. Houses were wrecked, large trees were uprooted, and heavy items like boats were swept aside. Many were left without power in the aftermath.
Commissioner Little Retires
County Commissioner Gerry Little, 72, of Surf City, announced he would not seek re-election. He had been appointed in 2003 to fill the term of the late James Mancini. He has held the seat ever since.
The title of “commissioner” was once called “freeholder.” They oversee all county operations. Upon his announcement, many prominent Republicans stepped up to fill his shoes. Ultimately, Little Egg Harbor Mayor Barbara Jo Crea was selected by the local GOP, and she won the seat in the November election.
Commissioner Vicari Eyes Trenton
County Commissioner Joseph Vicari threw his hat in the ring for the GOP nod for governor early in the year before eventually withdrawing his name.
He urged that whoever does get the nod should faithfully serve Ocean County residents and not just look to them as a pack of votes.
This was not the first time Vicari had considered a run for this office. At least one other time he had put out feelers to gauge his candidacy going back at least 15 years.
GOP Boss Pardoned
President Donald Trump granted clemency to 143 people on his last day in office, including former Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore.
Gilmore, of Toms River, was convicted of not paying federal income tax for his employees and lying on a loan application. He was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. Gilmore had been in the process of appealing his conviction on the tax evasion and fraud charges.
According to The White House press release, he has made important civic contributions over his career in New Jersey.
Gilmore’s law firm did work for a number of towns, which dissolved their contracts with him after his arrest. He also had to step down from being chairman of the county Republicans. Frank Holman took his place, but Gilmore is reportedly still very influential in local politics.
Sandy Loans Forgiven
It’s been nine years but municipalities that still owed the federal government money after Superstorm Sandy had their loans forgiven.
This amounts to more than $25 million in New Jersey alone. In Ocean County, there were $12 million outstanding in these Community Disaster Loans.
The bill forgiving these amounts was championed by Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-6th), Congressman Andy Kim (D-3rd), and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12th). It was signed into law as part of the government operations bill by President Joe Biden.
Some towns have already started repaying these loans but there was still a lot left over. The only way towns would have been able to pay it back would be to raise taxes.
Protection From COVID Lawsuits
There was a great sigh of relief when senior communities opened their public buildings and allowed residents to use their amenities like pools and meeting rooms. However, the protection from lawsuits against these communities was not to last forever.
State law was changed to indemnify those who run these buildings. They are called “common areas” and include more than just senior communities. However, in this area it is almost entirely seniors who are being impacted.
The law granted protection from any lawsuits against the community and members of its boards. Before this protection was granted, a visitor could theoretically sue the Board of Directors and the directors individually if they thought they contracted coronavirus in the clubhouse, for example. That protection ran out on January 1, 2022.