SAYREVILLE — Unlike a previous meeting on the issue, those gathered to hear about the Towne Lake development were relatively quiet on Feb. 29.
Work stopped on the 260-home development in October, after a bout of tremors allegedly shook and damaged homes on Hillside Avenue and North Edward Street. The tremors, described by some residents as "mini-earthquakes," were caused by a method of ground preparation called compaction.
After closing down the project, borough officials required the developer, the Highland Park-based Kaplan and Associates, to conduct geotechnical testing on the site. Around Thanksgiving, residents affected by the procedure had their homes inspected by a company hired by Kaplan. At an informational meeting last month, however, residents criticized the developer for not issuing the inspection reports on time.
Despite the previous delays, residents indicated that they had at last received their inspection reports by last week’s meeting and few had any major disagreements. Builder Michael Kaplan said that he would personally visit the homes addressed in the report to address residents’ questions and determine how any damage would be repaired.
"So far, from the report it doesn’t look like anything major," he noted. "We’ll look into it on an individual basis."
According to Kaplan, either his firm or a subcontractor would perform the repair work, with no invoices sent to the residents in question. Indoor corrective work should be completed in three to four weeks, while exterior repairs may take a little longer, depending on the weather.
"It should all be done by mid-April," he added.
Borough Engineer David Samuel of CME Associates added that Kaplan may consider additional landscaping in some upland areas, which have been experiencing heavy winds since the original trees were removed.
The developer also noted that the necessary field tests have been completed, although they ran a week behind due to weather conditions. By the middle or end of March he should have the results of the geotechnical study and the recommendations therein, he said.
One method of ground preparation seems particularly promising to the developer. Called a wick drainage system, it would eliminate the compaction responsible for the tremors. According to Samuel, this system involves drilling holes through the hard layers of clay, then inserting a mechanism or membrane to draw water from the holes. The fluid would then be drained away via a layer of free-draining soil on top.
Residents, however, would still face the compaction techniques common to sites under development. These would include rollers to flatten the soil, he said. Nevertheless, this would not resemble the previous compaction work performed by Constructors Inc. of Red Bank. This method, called hydrodynamic soil compacting, involved 16- and 10-ton cranes dropping a large metal plate from either 44 or 70 feet.
North Edwards resident Andrew Lytkowski knows full well the impact behind the other compaction technique, which allegedly damaged the central fireplace in his home. Before joining the meeting, he spent the day researching the issue at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, finding out about the soil composition and Newton’s Law.
Noting that a falling body accelerates at 32 feet per second, "46 million foot pounds of force were applied to the ground," he said. He also questioned whether the contractor tested the composition of the soil, which is mostly clay in that area.
"They would have known that they can’t compact clay. Clay is a solid mass and when you drop a mass on a mass the pressure has to go somewhere," he asserted.
According to Lytkowski, Kaplan’s inspectors did visit his home, taking pictures of the ceiling and cracks. However, he added that he was still upset over the fate of his fireplace, which may require a structural engineer to fix. If not corrected, the 22-ton fireplace may pose a liability should he choose to sell his house.
"I called masonry contractors and they laughed at me," he maintained. "They said I needed a structural engineer."
Residents also asked questions about the lake at the site, around which the 260 homes will be built. While work was performed at the edges of the lake to give a safe slope entry, the lake itself will remain at the size specified in the plans, Samuel said. The lake’s upkeep would fall under the purview of the development’s future homeowners association, not the borough, officials said.
"The borough would have to accept it and the borough isn’t accepting lakes at the moment," Mayor Kennedy O’Brien said. "But it works both ways. None of us can go down and enjoy the lake without the association’s permission."
If residents have any serious disputes with the report or the work, they would go through the borough attorney, who would attempt to intervene and arbitrate, borough officials said. O’Brien emphasized that residents with any concerns should feel free to contact the governing body at any time.
"We’re here to get the thing done. The minute there’s any conflict or disagreement or question, let’s deal with it," he asserted.
The next informational meeting on the subject is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 2 in Borough Hall. A meeting may be held prior to that date to review Kaplan’s plans for ground preparation. Until the proposed method is reviewed, there will be no building on the site, Samuel said.