Members of Ortley Beach voters and taxpayers assc. continue to fight for a public park
Bayville-- It's been a fight of more than two years for the members of the Ortley Beach voters and taxpayers association (OBVTA) seeking a piece of a 6.5 acre tract of land currently owned by the Ocean County Utility Authority (OCUA) to turn into a public park for residents, and that fight continues this past week into another month.
They came with signs to the OCUA public meeting to protest at the complex in Bayville Thursday night in search of answers.
Their hope is for the Utility Authority to grant them permission to use the land they own along Route 35 to build a public park.
OBVTA members aren't looking to buy the land just use it for recreational purposes, adding it will help both residents and tourists find an alternate place to walk their dog or play sports.
"We waited a while because they told us they needed this property, the Ocean County Utility Authority, for a number of projects," said Paul Jeffrey, President of the OBTVA. "They said they needed all the property. They've only used a small portion for those projects and it looks like most of those infrastructure improvement projects are pulled out, there's no more equipment there now."
The exact location being referred to is a piece of land along Route 35 North, and Jeffrey believes the protest was needed to open the dialogue on the matter.
"We wrote to them last September and asked for a meeting, and they said 'well we can't because of all this work that's going on' " said Jeffrey. "We wrote to them again in June of this year, and they wrote back and said 'well our September letter stands' but if you go over to their property there's no equipment there, there's no work going on...so they're just using this as an excuse."
The OBVTA is looking to use the eastern portion of the property and all together they say almost 80% or the property remains fenced but vacant according to the OBVTA.
"This is the time (right now) when everyone's down for the summer as well as the beach," said Jeffrey. "They'd like some open space and some park land to go play with the kids and throw a ball, and kick a soccer ball and a little while throw a football."
Yet the journey towards their goal has been a long and frustrating one but the OBVTA looks to stay the course and they have the backing to prove it.
"Toms River has collaborated with us to look at the needs for Ortley Beach going forward as a community as more and more people come and live there permanently," said Jeffrey. "One of the big needs is for open space for parkland because we were built so densely as a beach community. The professionals have come in and said there is open space here not being used. Why can't we come to the utility authority and ask them if we can have use of this space as a park?"
Jeffrey argues that if the land is sitting vacant then it should be made available for the whole community to use.
"After all we pay the sewer authority and people pay their taxes, so in fact the land doesn't belong to the Ocean County Utility Authority, it belongs to the public, let us use it," said Jeffrey.
Meanwhile there is currently one member of the OCUA that is deeply concerned of providing this piece of land to anyone because of the dangers it presents.
"I've been fighting with this group, or arguing with this group for at least 10 years," said OCUA Chairman John C. Parker. "We own that property...we've paid millions of dollars for it. There's a big pump station there with 4,400 electricity and I do not want to create any safety situation for anybody...including our own workers."
No matter where a proposed park is being sought for on this land Parker confirms that he is against this idea due to dangerous safety concerns.
However the OBVTA argues there are things currently set up on this land and if anything were to ever be reconsidered by Parker, Jeffrey says they will take full responsibility for any set up and clean up in their section and they are prepared to treat any leftover sewage.
"Absolutely, so a quarter to a third of the property is the utility authority pumping station," said Jeffrey. "We have no intention of going anywhere near that portion of the property. There's a middle section which they use for various construction projects, the eastern portion has been sitting empty for years."
But going to their aforementioned backing of this park Jeffrey already has a plan mapped out on just how they would clean up the area.
"The first thing we would do in collaboration with Toms River, (is) come in and do an environmental assessment and make sure it can be made safe to be a park land," said Jeffrey. "It's all in the plan, but we can't even start those plans until we get permission from this authority (OCUA) to be able to use that for that purpose should it be okay."
He adds they don't expect the authority to pay for the improvements so if they do end up getting permission to build on the land, they would find sources of funding to do what is needed to make it safe which will end up taking some time.
At the meeting Thursday Parker said as far as he is concerned the answer is no, but welcomed the OBVTA to their public meeting next month so the commissioners on the board have time to do their homework and perhaps come to a decision at that time.
"We're going to review it, maybe the rest of us...there's 12 commissioners here," said Parker. "Then we'll meet with them again (OBVTA) like we told them."
Parker says the biggest hazard with what the OBVTA is proposing is "danger!" due to the 4,400 three phase electricity, adding that "it will fry ya".
"Now do you want kids playing in that? I don't think so," said Parker who adds there is a big pump station on site now. "We pump all the sewage from the barrier island over to the mainland."
Jeffrey and the OBVTA plan to come back and continue in their efforts in putting forth a public park for recreation but says if there is a legitimate reason why they shouldn't build a park there, whether it's something underground or on top they may reconsider their motives.