By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr
West Long Branch – At the in-person council meeting of August 5, it was announced by Councilwoman MaryLynn Mango that the borough will be canceling the fireworks show this year. Every July 4, West Long Branch holds a fireworks display at Franklin Lake, however due to COVID it was postponed to Labor Day.
“Unfortunately we don’t feel with the governor’s executive orders we will be able to hold an event safely,” Mango said.
Mayor Janet Tucci addressed dealing with Tropical Storm Isaias slamming into the area on Tuesday afternoon wreaking havoc. “I was part of a conference call with JCP&L executives this afternoon and told them that 2,089 out of the 2,992 West Long Branch customers are without power,” Tucci said. She also was told that over 500 roads in the state are closed as a result of the storm damage. “They could not provide any details on when they expect full service back to our residents. We were told it will take several days.”
A large transformer located on Highway 36 just east of the Home Depot was a big reason power was out in the borough according to the mayor. “Power companies are comparing Isaias to Super Storm Sandy, except without the flooding damage,” said Tucci. Most times during these type of weather events power companies expect tree limbs to take down wires, however Tucci stated that they hadn’t expected trees to become completely uprooted and taking down power poles.
Councilman Steven Cioffi, who also serves as the Office of Emergency Management coordinator for the borough, said that JCP&L told him they brought in 1,800 additional crews from around the country and are staging at Monmouth Park Race Track in Oceanport. “Monmouth, Ocean and Morris counties were the hardest hit. For those in need of water and ice, JCP&L has set-up several sites for residents to get those items. In West Long Branch residents can go to the Shop Rite store located at Highway 36 and Monmouth Road. Another local site is Foodtown in Ocean Township,” said Cioffi.
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Cioffi also stated that if residents hire a private contractor to cut up a downed tree, the limbs, branches and trunk cannot be placed on borough streets expecting the Public Works to pick them up. “You’re paying a private contractor and it is his responsibility to remove whatever he has cut up,” said Cioffi.
Another major issue in West Long Branch is mail service. Tucci stated that she and other members of the council have received many complaints from residents about the postal service. “One day you get mail, then you get nothing for two days,” Tucci said. The mayor added that Cioffi had a meeting with the Post Master in Eatontown, which is responsible for delivering mail to West Long Branch. “I can’t wait to hear what Councilman Cioffi has to say in his report.”
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Cioffi reported that he had a very good meeting with the Post Master and now understands what the issues are. West Long Branch has seven postal routes and nine mail carriers assigned to the borough. However, as a result of COVID, many of the older carriers have retired and others have accepted new positions. “The problem is completely in the lack of manpower and the ability to retain replacement workers,” said Cioffi. Even with an aggressive hiring campaign, the postal service just can’t keep enough staff on hand to cover the workload. Cioffi said that they are hoping for improvements in staffing sometime in late August.
Councilman Steven Bray asked his fellow councilmembers to reject bids that were received for the renovations to the community center. “The bids we received were far exceeding what we had planned on,” said Bray. The committee working on the project will reconvene and look at what they can do to help reduce the scope and cost of the project. “We hope to have something very soon so we can go out to bid again.”
Councilman John Penta who handles the public works department said that they were planning on canceling brush pick-up for the month of August so they could catch-up on other projects. “However, after the damage from Isaias, I don’t think this is the proper time to suspend that service,” he said. He also spoke about road projects within the borough. He stated that West Long Branch just didn’t have enough money to get as many roads fixed as needed. “I don’t have a Facebook account so I don’t read the comments. However, my wife does and I will tell you right now that no road where a councilperson lives have been paved. The current project is for Maryland to Locust.”
West Long Branch had rule if a utility company had to open a road, they only had to pave from the centerline to the curb. That is why some roads look new on one side. However, Penta stated that the new rule for West Long Branch is curb-to-curb paving.
Councilman Matt Sniffen stated that a property that was gifted to West Long Branch on November 7, 1995 known as the Owen Farm which is nearly eight acres might be eligible for a grant that would allow the borough to build a parking lot. The site is located next to St. Jerome’s Catholic Church and School on Wall Street. However, between the two sites is a private home, which was the former Owen farmhouse that was not part of the gift. “That property was sold in a private sale. The problem is there is no parking to access the Owen Farm. If you park at the Frank Sorrentino Park and try and cross Wall Street, it could be very dangerous,” said Sniffen.
After Super Storm Sandy many homes, businesses and government buildings added generators to their facilities. West Long Branch experienced two issues after Isaias hit. The generator for one fire house and the police station did not work. “We need to get a better grip on these generators and have them thoroughly checked over and tested so we don’t experience a situation like we have here today,” said Sniffen. The police department and fire house were running on portable generators.
Lori Cole, Borough Clerk, stated that results of the primary election held in West Long Branch on July 7, were just received by her office. Gregory S. Baxter, Borough Attorney, read resolution R-20-86, which states that the mayor and council opposes the exclusive use of mail-in ballots in the general election in November 2020 and any future elections, except for voters who have requested or request to vote by mail-in ballot, and that the Governor and legislators should proceed to plan for an election process as set forth in the current New Jersey statutes.