There were many positive stories as well as tragic ones in the area. We selected the biggest newsmakers and summed them up here:
Oyster Creek’s Eventual Close
Although the Oyster Creek Generating Station is not scheduled to begin the decommissioning process until 2019, and that process could take decades, local officials are wary of the future.
Township Committee members expressed concerns of tax revenue declining until another big company takes its place. They see what happens in other communities that lost their nuclear plants: Municipal services drop significantly. Long-time residents move out and renters move in. Meanwhile, Lacey would be left with the spent fuel (nuclear waste) unless Yucca Mountain’s waste repository is reopened and every state from here to Nevada agree on shipping it to there.
Heroin, often mixed with fentanyl, has become an epidemic in Ocean County. Hundreds of people have died of overdoses, and hundreds more have had their lives saved by Narcan sprays administered by first responders.
Local police have battled the problem by increasing drug education in schools and cracking down even harder on dealers.
They are also differentiating between the crimes of dealing drugs and possessing drugs. Those who are caught up in addiction are being given another chance by coming into certain police departments and being evaluated for free rehab. They turn in all their drugs and they don’t face any charges under the Blue HART (Heroin Addiction Recovery Treatment) program. Brick, Manchester, Stafford, Lacey, and Ocean Gate are now part of this program.
The root cause to the epidemic is addiction to prescription painkillers, police said. That’s why there are places to drop off unused medications for the police to burn and keep it out of the hands of addicts. Also, Toms River, Brick and Lacey have joined a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies to recoup costs from dealing with this epidemic, and to force those companies to change the way they market their medicines to everyone.
2 Planes Crash
Two private planes crashed about a month from each other near the Eagles Nest Airport in Eagleswood. The first was a vintage 1947 plane that had to make an emergency landing in the trees on May 16. The second, on June 12, crashed just outside the airport during landing.
There were no serious injuries in either crash. Both were caused by mechanical issues. But two crashes in a short amount of time caused a stir among residents.
Barnegat Police Changes
There were big changes in Barnegat police, and more on the way.
The PBA Local 296 and the town agreed to a new contract. The last one expired at the end of 2013. It is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014, and will last until Dec. 31, 2021.
The department announced its third chief in two years. Lt. Keith Germain will take over in February, 2018. He succeeds current Police Chief Richard Dugan. Dugan had been officially sworn in as chief in March. However, he had been acting as chief since the former chief, Arthur Drexler, was suspended in 2016. There had been a disagreement between Drexler and the governing body over the use of comp time. Ultimately, it dragged into court. The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office reviewed the case and stated it was a misunderstanding over unclear language in the contract, and that there was no criminal intent. He was exonerated of all charges and his status changed to separated from the department. He retired after 31 years.
Meanwhile, the station itself shows signs of disrepair, including water damage, mold, and rotting floors. Some of the issues make the building unsafe. The Township Committee bonded for a renovation of the police station and adjoining municipal building, although some would have rather seen them move into the abandoned Elizabeth V. Edwards School. Officials have said that it could cost just as much to renovate the Edwards School, and it isn’t a better location.
Barnegat Park Renovation
Every park in Barnegat was part of a township-wide improvement plan. Some parks, like Project Playground, were completely redone, while others were able to be improved with smaller fixes.
Stafford Community Center
A long-term argument, spaced over multiple meetings, took place between township officials and some residents of Beach Haven West over the Mill Creek Community Center.
The Mill Creek Community Center was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy. This was in Beach Haven West. The town built a new community center on East Bay Avenue, which opened in December, 2016. Then, they bought a neighboring building for additional recreation.
Some Beach Haven West residents wanted to be made whole after the storm, wanting a community center in their area, with the same amenities that the old one had. Town officials said they couldn’t afford to build another one for that location, and said they would wait and see if the demand for recreation would warrant having another location.
The Pinelands Regional School District had some renovations being done. But when staff and students complained of odors during renovation, they were worried about illness. Testing done by a third party showed that the chemicals in the air were within state standards of safety.
After being closed a week, a nail fell from the high school ceiling while class was in session. This caused the high school to close for the renovations and for all the students to use the middle school in a split session.
Lacey And OCC Partner
The class of 2019 might graduate with a diploma from Lacey Township High School, and an Associate’s Degree from Ocean County College. This comes from the expansion of the OCC Academy, a special track that allowed students to take as many as 18 college credits. Now, the program will be expanded to as many as 64 credits, enough for a degree that a student can then take to a four-year college. This is the first district in the county to do this.
Performing Arts Academy
A new Performing Arts Academy building for the Ocean County Vocational-Technical School was announced. Currently, the Performing Arts Academy is housed in Hangar 1 of the Joint Base-McGuire/Dix/Lakehurst. Its lease will be expiring soon. Additionally, with added security regulations, parents and staff have said that location is not as convenient as it once was.
Students will select from four majors: theater, vocal, dance and audio engineering. This would be in addition to its academic curriculum. The 60,000-square-foot building is expected to open in 2019. It will be located on the campus of Ocean County College. The goal is to create a continuity of education, so that OCC classes can be taught to high school students. The high school and the college students would be able to share facilities, although not at the same time.
The Ocean County Freeholders created a $27 million bond to pay for the school. They committed $8 million of its total cost. The state of New Jersey will be paying 40 percent of the project, or $10.6 million. The Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation has pledged $8 million.