By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr
Eatontown – During a November 2014 conference call between Eatontown officials and FMERA’s Bruce Steadman and Rick Harrison, officials were informed that a section of the former Fort Monmouth property would be used to house people returning from Africa that may have been exposed to Ebola. In on the call for Eatontown were former Eatontown Mayor Gerald Tarantolo, current Mayor Dennis Connelly, and Borough Administrator George Jackson
The Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) is the entity that was created to provide investment, continuity and economic growth to Tinton Falls, Oceanport and Eatontown. All of those communities were impacted when the government closed Ft. Monmouth in September of 2011.
Connelly stated that all those on the conference call were told that the information was confidential and that the decision was made at the state level. “I assure everyone, no one that was involved in the conference call was happy about this news,” said Connelly. However, Eatontown had no say or ability to deny the plan. “We were also told that the New Jersey Department of Human Services (DHS) will be the authority handling the situation.”
Eatontown was advised that the Borough volunteer fire department will receive training by DHS as they are the agency that will respond to any fires at the proposed Megill Circle, which is located near the Suneagles Golf Course. Also in that immediate facility is Monmouth Regional High School and the Ranney School. “Our volunteer first aid squad was not going to be utilized because the DHS will have their own services on site if any patients are housed there,” added Connelly.
In December the FMERA Ad Hoc Committee members were updated that seven duplexes, 14-two story living units, have been refurbished to house possible asymptomatic persons that had possible exposure, according to Connelly.
The DHS plan according to Eatontown officials is that anyone flying into Newark that does not reside in New Jersey that may have been exposed to Ebola will be quarantined on the site in Eatontown. Garden State residents will be under home confinement. “The Ft. Monmouth property in Eatontown will be a secondary site and only used if the primary location in North Jersey, an old psychiatric hospital, is full,” added Connelly.
DHS has driven potentially exposed people out of state, but has not yet housed any patients. Connelly spoke with Jennifer Velez, Esq., the Commissioner of NJ DHS who said they have successfully transported people that may have been exposed, but is now setting up their own facilities.
This confidential plan was leaked to the community by a DHS email which was sent to several residents. Word quickly spread and people are angry and outraged that this entire process took place without community involvement or borough approval.
“The word has quickly spread throughout the medical community in Africa to avoid New York and New Jersey because of the stricter rules regarding quarantine regulations,” said Connelly. The mayor wanted everyone to remember there is a very strict screening process going on to identify possible exposed people in Africa and no one that has any signs of the illness will be held at the quarantine locations.”
Last week, members of the Ad Hoc Committee were told that NJ DHS has a six month lease on the proposed quarantine location on Megill Circle. It was not announced how much that lease will cost, but did state a renewal will be available for an additional six months.
“The longer the property at Ft. Monmouth sits abandon, the more uses they will find to occupy it,” Connelly said of the government. “This entire situation is out of our control. Now the golf course property will remain off the market until this quarantine location is closed.”
Connelly also stated that if he was able to he would have informed the residents of Eatontown.
Oceanport Mayor Michael Mahon was asked about what he knew. “I’m minimally aware of a plan as it doesn’t involve the Borough of Oceanport or any portion of the Fort within or bordering our municipality,” said Mahon.
Councilman Joe Irace of Oceanport had some strong thoughts on the matter. “The fact that I learned ‘asymptomatic Ebola exposed subjects’ will be housed at the Fort from The Link News pretty much sums up how FMERA deals with its constituent communities,” said Irace.
Oceanport which suffered tremendous losses during Superstorm Sandy has been trying to get property from FMERA but has very little success. “We have been unsuccessful in our attempts to acquire Fort Monmouth land from FMERA for schools and or municipal services yet FMERA grants DHS a lease on a moment’s notice for something like this? I just don’t understand.”
The Link News reached out to the NJ DHS and the Governor’s office for a statement and have yet to receive a response.