LACEY – A presentation touched on which industries could save the community from the looming economic catastrophe triggered by the imminent shutdown of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station.
The closure of the nuclear plant has already impacted local jobs and will ultimately have a profound effect on tax revenue. Until 2018, Oyster Creek was one of the largest employers in the county, generating $70 million in wages.
Authorities estimate a tentative completion date of the decommissioning in 2029, with fuel removal to begin in 2030.
A study was performed with an initial focus of maintaining employment opportunities and bringing people into the community to work.
Alisa Goren, a planner and project manager for BRS Incorporated, identified her company as a small New Jersey-based planning, economic development, environment firm that participated in the submittal of the federal grant application.
According to Sonia Martin, an economist with BRS, the study allows Lacey to analyze options to replace some of what it’s losing with Oyster Creek’s closure.
While the 800-acre former Oyster Creek Nuclear Facility stands as the catalyst for redevelopment, other vacant or underused sites throughout the community have also been targeted. These include a 19-acre site adjacent to Exit 74 on the Garden State Parkway at Lacey Road and an 8-acre parcel on the canal in the Forked River Center zone. Additionally, a 68-acre parcel of land across Forked River from the former nuclear plant holds the potential for new jobs within the Lacey Industrial Park.
Goren said that Lacey officials have been in constant contact with Holtec, the plant’s owners, as they go through the decommissioning process. The spotlight is on understanding the timeline and determining appropriate areas for reuse.
Among the site’s reuse considerations is renewable energy generation, industrial development, recreation, or a research and development facility.
“The site at the Garden State Parkway currently has residential zoning in the back and office/commercial zoning along Lacey Road,” shared Goren. “It’s a really great opportunity because of its access to the Garden State Parkway and the connection into the town and the shore.”
According to Goren, the area along the canal is currently underutilized. A closed-down business and restaurant could represent a great opportunity with the expansion of the industrial park or Oyster Creek revitalization. There is potential for a mix of residential, commercial, and civic uses in a walkable, village-like environment.
Goren said that mall businesses within industrial parks provide a significant multiplier effect in local communities and offer further expansion opportunities. Manufacturing, processing, and assembly operations are among the suggested uses for the industrial park. Warehousing and distribution facilities, trucking terminals, and transportation facilities represent additional considerations.
“We’re looking at the health of the industries themselves,” Martin emphasized. “And, how that ties to the health and growth of employment in each of the sectors.”
“It’s not just the number of jobs,” said Martin. “We also want to make sure they’re good, well-paying jobs, and that they’re not something where the demand for what they produce is already being satisfied in nearly surroundings.”
A little under 40 people listened to the presentation live and offered their input on the analysis. More than one person commented that retail appeared to be a low priority in the prospective plans.
Lacey resident Ron Martin said he’d participated in a prior conference call when the presenters identified Lakehurst as a community experiencing growth with different opportunities related to the defense department. Goren confirmed this was another industry the planners intended to explore for the local municipality.
“I was impressed by the presentation and how BRS is working to identify industries that would be a good fit for Lacey,” said local community member Paul Dressler. “They’re trying to move the town to a place where everybody would want to live.”
The study was predominantly grant funded.
Just over a year ago, the federal government approved a $160,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) for an Economic Adjustment Assistance project to support the local municipality in developing and executing strategies to adapt and revitalize its economy after experiencing structural damage to its underlying economic base.
The funding, matched by $40,000 of local investment, is intended to aid communities affected by nuclear plant closures under a program known as the Nuclear Closure Community Economic Development Plan.
“Approximately 18 months ago, we applied for the economic development grant as a municipality with a closing nuclear plant,” shared Veronica Laureigh, Township Administrator. “At that time, there were only two towns in the country that qualified for this grant to do a study on how to replace the economic loss that we could face with Oyster Creek no longer operating.”