Last summer, Eatontown was outraged when HovWest withdrew its proposal to develop the Howard Commons section of Fort Monmouth, over disputes about issues with the groundwater, and the costs to remediate it. At the time, many assumed it was a weak excuse. But earlier this year tests of the groundwater by the U.S. Army did reveal some worrying results about the quality of the water on the base. Perhaps HovWest was justified in its concerns.
That wasn’t the only major project that fell through at Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority, the agency that oversees the redevelopment of the closed Army base. An attempt to work with Soldier On, a group which provides housing to homeless vets, fell through. Unlike many of the affordable housing plans for the base, this one had strong support from the community and wasn’t encountering resistance from local towns.
Or consider the failed attempt to sell Russel Hall. In January 2014, Kiely Realty group was very eager to take over the property and develop it into office space. After nearly 12 months of negotiations, they too walked away. The reason, according to a FMERA memo, was the use of a heliport for commercial purposes too close to residential buildings. However, the Request For Offers To Purchase clearly spelled out that the property included a heliport as part of the offer.
If FMERA merely wasn’t doing a quick job of developing the fort rapidly, that would be upsetting. But it might be forgivable. However, some of its recent actions border on cartoonish.
Take the clandestine agreement to allow the NJ Department of Human Services house people returning from Ebola stricken countries at the Fort as a quarantine zone. We’ve spoken about how ridiculous this was on so many levels – it may also have been done by the FMERA administration illegally. Under FMERA’s own by-laws, the FMERA Board must approve any lease agreements.
There’s also the way that it threatened the Oceanport Police Department with eviction. The police department had moved into the old firehouse on the Fort after their headquarters was destroyed during Sandy. Because this was, potentially, a temporary headquarters, they didn’t want to have a clause from the standard lease saying that they were responsible for environmental cleanup of the building – and for months, it appeared the state was willing to go along with this. Then FMERA insisted Oceanport sign the lease or evictions would start the next day.
Given the fact that numerous development projects at the Fort have collapsed, and that FMERA now seems to be treating host communities Oceanport, Eatontown and Tinton Falls with open contempt, it’s time for change. The agency needs to be able to get things done, to work with locals.
What we have now is unacceptable.
Originally published in the Feb. 19, 2015 edition of The Link News