ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ – Several residents, many accompanied by their small children, came together with their own creative ideas on how the South Avenue Neighborhood Park should be restored as remediation of the contaminated land is close to being completed.
However, agreeing with information presented by resident Thomas Broadbent, Borough Engineer Douglas Rohmeyer, confirmed that part of the park falls within 50 feet of the mean high water mark for Many Mind Creek. Broadbent noted that at least one-third of the basketball court would not be allowed under both federal and state laws governing wetlands. Under the 1970 Wetlands Act, construction of anything, including fences or paved surfaces, is prohibited within 50 feet on either side of Many Mind Creek.
The South Avenue park is part of the land the NJ Natural Gas Company has been restoring from contamination that dates back to the second World War. The company, like many other companies had dumped contaminants in local waters, in this case, through an outlet pipe into Many Mind Creek.
Mayor Loretta Gluckstein called a committee meeting to get input from residents of the area as to what they would like when the neighborhood park is restored.
Residents responded and gave input to the mayor, Councilwoman Lori Hohenleitner, the administrator and borough engineers.
Borough Administrator Robert Ferragina encouraged residents to voice their opinions and further noted suggestions, comments and information will continue to be accepted either by e-mail, in person at Borough Hall, or any other means residents wish. Gluckstein also assured the gathering this is the first of several meetings before any work is begun on restoring the South Avenue Park. It is likely residents will be in attendance at Thursday’s regular 7 p.m. Council meeting of the Mayor and Council to hear more about plans, funding, and ideas.
“I think this has been a great meeting and a way for residents to come together to begin putting together the decades old Many Mind Creek Green Corridor Project,” Broadbent said after the meeting. The resident has done exhaustive research on the Creek, the environment and state and federal regulations governing non-disturbed areas such as Many Mind Creek. “This is giving the residents the opportunity to play a role in the greenway project, restoring the creek and salt marches, and being able to enhance their own neighborhood and properties with the encouragement of birds, small fish and terrapins, who thrive in the brackish waters of a creek,” Thomas Broadbent said.
The Greenway Project first came up two decades ago when the Friends of Many Mind Creek, in concert with Rutgers University, designed and urged a greenway project to restore the creek and salt marshes.
Erin Dougherty, who attended the meeting with the youngest of her three children, urged walking paths which would enable children to see and experience the natural elements within the area. “This could be nature inspired,” she said, “there could be programs where our children could learn about the environment and nature at play.” Such an idea would fit in perfectly with the Greenway project, Broadbent said.
Dougherty was one of a minority of residents at the meeting who said she did not feel the basketball court is the best use for the park, naming the several other locations in the borough where there are basketball hoops. It was this surface in the park Broadbent said would not be allowed because of the 50 foot prohibition on non-disturbed land.
Other residents said they would like a basketball court, some suggesting one where the net was either lower or adjustable; others said they wanted swings, with Rohmeyer explaining while it is a popular recreation, it requires considerable space for safety reasons and might limit what other equipment is offered. A picnic table, benches, a jungle gym, rock climbing wall and fencing were all also suggested. Residents suggested more natural colors for equipment, with the engineer adding that surface materials must also be designed to be compatible with the ground and water levels. Residents appear to be in general agreement that the recreational equipment that had been in the park and has been stored during remediation should no longer be used.
Kate Sharkey, 39 South Avenue, said something has been promised for the park for the 29 years she has lived here and first brought her children to the park. “I just want to be sure it happens,” she told the Mayor.
In response to questions, Councilwoman Lori Hohenleitner said the Gas Company is financing approximately $100,000 toward whatever improvements the borough decides on, and the borough might also have some funds available to help finance whatever is decided.