New Year’s Day started off on a low note, with a markedly reduced employee roster, following the layoffs of 42 workers on New Year’s Eve.
2009 ended with Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis preparing to be sworn in to his first full term.
The Bulletin has selected what we consider to be the top 10 local stories of 2009, in order of importance. Let us know what you think we might have missed.
Acropolis wins in landslide
1. Republican Stephen C. Acropolis won a decisive victory over former Democratic Councilman Gregory Kavanagh. Acropolis had a nearly 6,000-vote margin over his Democratic opponent.
It was a vote of confidence for the mayor, who was first elected in November 2007 to fill the unexpired term of former Democratic Mayor Joseph C. Scarpelli. Scarpelli, who was elected to an unprecedented four terms, went down in disgrace after pleading guilty to accepting bribes and spent time in prison.
Control of the Township Council and administration is now firmly in Republican hands. All four of the Democratic council candidates, including veteran Councilwoman Kathy Russell, went down in defeat. Councilmen Joseph Sangiovanni and Daniel Toth were easily re-elected to their second terms. Dominick Brando, who failed to win a council seat in 2005, was elected to his first term.
2. Scarpelli released from prison
Former Democratic Mayor Joseph C. Scarpelli walked out of a halfway house in Brooklyn, N.Y., on May 15, after serving nearly 15 months in a minimum-security federal prison in Fort Dix. Scarpelli admitted at his plea hearing in January 2008 that while he was mayor, he took cash payments, totaling at least $5,000 from 1998 to late 2003. Scarpelli also admitted he accepted the cash payments knowing the payments were intended to influence him to help the developer obtain township approvals for potential applications.
3. School referendum goes down
Voters let the Board of Education know they didn’t think much of the $172.9 million referendum when they overwhelmingly rejected all four ballot questions Sept. 30.
The school district would have received $57 million in state grants if all of the questions had been approved. The most costly question on the ballot — $90.8 million renovation of Brick Township High School — garnered fewer “no” votes than any of the other questions. The other questions dealt with safety and security upgrades at all elementary and middle schools; replacing heating and air-conditioning systems, boilers and lighting in all of the schools and the installation of solar panels in the two middle schools; and an expansion to the Primary Learning Center on Chambers Bridge Road.
School officials are waiting for the results of an online survey offered to residents to see how they will proceed. A preliminary, scaled-down referendum of $92,462,845 is being considered, with a taxpayer share of $59,126,336, and a state share of $333,336,509, according to board documents. The district plans to be “more specific” with information in the next referendum and emphasize the savings the district could reap once improvements are made, Superintendent of Schools Walter J. Hrycenko has said.
4. Uproar over new football coach
Hundreds turned out at the May 14 Board of Education meeting to protest the hiring of Patrick Dowling as Brick Township High School’s second football coach in the school’s 51-year history.
espite last-minute appeals by legendary
coach Warren H. Wolf, who served as coach for 51 seasons, parents and students, the board voted unanimously to hire Dowling. Many questioned Dowling’s record as a head coach, the number of schools he coached at, his lack of familiarity with the Brick Township High School football tradition and his lack of ties to Brick Township. Dowling ended his first season as coach with a 4- 6 record. It remains to be seen if the board will rehire him for 2010. All coaching appointments in the district are made on an annual basis.
5. Beaches take a hit from November nor’easter
A two-day nor’easter that struck in mid-November took its toll on Brick’s three oceanfront beaches, with 15-foot waves reaching almost up to the dune lines. Township officials estimated the damage from the event at $1,940,660. Brick submitted paper for damages to the Ocean county Office of Emergency management shortly after the storm, Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis said.
6. Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission gives Oyster Creek nuclear plant a new lease on life
The NRC on April 8 relicensed the controversial plant in Lacey Township for another 20 years, much to the dismay of a coalition of citizen groups, who claim the aging plant is unsafe.
A July 12 unplanned shutdown tipped Oyster Creek into the NRC’s “white” performance indicator. NRC regulations allow nuclear plants no more than three unplanned shutdowns for every 7,000 hours of operation. Oyster Creek’s number of unplanned shutdowns, also known as scrams, was 2.7 during the first quarter of 2009.
NRC officials announced on Oct. 26 it would step up oversight on the plant because of the number of unplanned shutdowns. Oyster Creek, which went on line on Dec. 23, 1969, is the oldest nuclear plant in the nation.
7. Traders Cove gets big boost from state
The township is slowly recouping the $8 million purchase cost of the Traders Cove site on Mantoloking Road. Acting DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello came to Traders Cove on June 25 to present Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis with two checks — one for $3.4 million as partial reimbursement for the site acquisition costs and a $1 million check for redevelopment costs. The site, now known as the Traders Cove Marina and Park, is still in the process of being redeveloped. But it was open to the public this summer for fishing, crabbing and picnics.
8. Brick budget total drops for first time in history
The municipal budget dropped nearly $3 million in 2009. Much of the savings came from the layoffs of 42 employees at the end of 2008 and attrition, as township officials struggled to cope with a 4-percent state cap on municipal expenditures, declining revenue and the loss of an additional 4173,531 in state aid. Democratic Councilwoman Kathy Russell cast the lone vote against the budget’s adoption. Russell said the $75,651,524 budget left a “dangerously low” amount of surplus for the remainder of the year. Russell had voted yes to introduce the budget in March.
9. Traffic improvements
After years of maneuvering through traffic-choked Brick, motorists found it easier to make their way through the Chambers Bridge Road and Route 70 intersection in 2009. A change in the traffic pattern eliminated left-hand turns from Chambers Bridge Road onto Route 70 east or west. Traffic on Chambers Bridge Road is now able to travel north and south simultaneously, which increased the time for green lights and allowed more cars to travel through the intersections before the lights changed. Drivers who want to access Route 70 east from southbound Chambers Bridge Road now go to the intersection of Chambers Bridge Road and Route 70. Motorists who want to get on Route 70 west from northbound Chambers Bridge Road use the U-turn on Ovation Way.
The traffic changes were the result of extensive traffic studies conducted by Birdsall Engineering, which examined traffic flow counts on Route 70, Chambers Bridge Road, Cedar Bridge Avenue and Brick Boulevard.
10. Snowstorm buries Brick in 2 feet of snow
The two-day storm during Dec. 19 and Dec. 20 challenged public works crews to clear Brick’s 1,762 roads of snow. Both Public Works Director Glen Campbell and Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis said workers were hampered by the number of parked cars on streets in some areas, which made it difficult to plow.
Acropolis plans to ask the Township Council to consider regulations that would require cars to be taken off the streets during snowstorms.
The mayor estimated the storm’s cleanup costs at between $200,00 and $250,000.