The township council, in a 3-2 vote Friday morning, awarded two contracts that add up to about $3.6 million for the Traders Cove redevelopment project.
The township council used the annual year-end morning meeting to vote on the two contracts, which will include the second phase of redevelopment – essentially, adding all of the elements, including parking, that will be needed to turn the former derelict marina into a park – and the construction of a spray park at the site that officials hope will generate revenue for the township.
The contracts are separated into two items: a $3 million contract for the second phase of work at the site and a $643,200 contract for the installation of a splash park at the site. The larger contract was awarded to Eagle Construction of Burlington; the smaller contract would be awarded to Stone Ridge Aquatic Construction of Feasterville, Pa.
Council members Dan Toth and Domenick Brando – the two Republicans who will remain on the council in 2012 – broke with fellow GOP council members and voted against awarding the contracts. Council members Brian DeLuca, Michael Thulen and John Catalano voted in favor of awarding the contracts. Council members Ruthanne Scaturro and Joseph Sangiovanni were not present at the meeting.
John Ducey, who will take a seat on the council Jan. 1, took issue with the contract award and asked the council to hold off on a vote until the new council is seated.
"This is right at the very last meeting," he told DeLuca, the council president. "With these contracts, is there any important reason why it has to be done by Dec. 31?"
Business Administrator Scott Pezarras said no grants were at stake, but if the idea of the opening the park for the summer of 2012 was to come to fruition, construction would have to start in the next couple of weeks since the state Department of Environmental Protection will not allow certain types of construction work during the winter flounder migration.
Winter flounder are abundant near the Mantoloking Bridge, which abuts the would-be park.
"If that's not done, basically you're going to end up with a dirt pile there for another season," Pezarras said.
But for council members on both sides, the arguments were more philosophical in nature.
"Why, at this time, when homes are being foreclosed on, people are out of jobs, why are we spending money on something like a water park?" asked Ducey.
Thulen said that by developing the park, the township would actually be putting people to work, and the facility would eventually begin to generate revenue for the township.
"This money has already been put aside," said Thulen. "It's a plan that was put together three or four years ago."
Indeed, the funding for both the project's second phase and the splash park was appropriated in the 2010 capital budget. The funds cannot, by law, be transferred to the operating budget, Pezarras said.
"I just don't feel that $3.6 million, 36 hours before you leave office, is necessary," Ducey said.
Toth, explaining his vote against the plan, echoed the thoughts of his colleague-to-be in Ducey.
"The financial times are not what they were ... when we acquired that piece of property," Toth said. "The ultimate goal for this should be a park, but the vision should be downsized a bit."
"I loved the idea for the spray park. I was one of the biggest proponents of it at the time. But that's a luxury that I don't think Brick Township wants to spent money on in this economy," said Toth.
"I believe it's a great project," said DeLuca. "I did when we started talking about it a few years ago, and I still do today."
Cathy Ericksen, the only township resident aside from incoming council members to speak on the issue, said she was in favor of moving forward with the project.
"This has been worked on for so long," she said. "I realize the new council hasn't been coming to meetings as long as I have. I've been coming for 10 years. I remember the work that went into this project."
Now that the contracts have been officially awarded, work can begin soon. Pezarras said crews may start as soon as Jan. 16. The park, officials say, will most likely be ready by mid-summer 2012.