By Ron Leir
On the surface, the job seemed simple enough.
The City of Hope Church International, a non-denominational Christian house of worship that occupies the old Sacred Heart orphanage facility, wanted to convert its heating system from oil to gas so it needed a connection to a gas line.
Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) was ready and willing to supply the connection by digging up a section of Wilson Ave. and installing the pipe.
But here’s where the complications entered.
The Town of Kearny, which has to issue a permit for a street excavation, has a law on the books which prohibits opening a street “into the driving lanes” for five years after it’s been paved over, unless there’s an emergency situation or unless it’s authorized by the mayor and Town Council.
And if there is a reopening permitted, either the utility or the customer must pay for a “curb-to-curb” repaving of the street.
The proposed street cut, to accommodate City of Hope Church, involves a section of Wilson Ave. that was last repaved two years ago, according to Town Administrator/Construction Code Official Michael J. Martello.
Given the restrictions of the town ordinance, it appeared that the church was stuck.
If the town governing body were to bend and allow the digging to go forward, PSE&G spokesman Deann Muzikar said that the utility, “provided an estimate to the customer for the gas service installation … (at) 22 Wilson Ave. … for open trench excavation, which is the guaranteed method for this type of project.”
However, Muzikar added, “The associated road restoration does not include milling and paving, which is preferred by Kearny.” And that method “could result in a potential cost to the customer …,” Muzikar said.
The utility would pay for labor, materials, traffic-control and road restoration, Muzikar said. The church’s “non-fuel revenue credit” would cover those costs, Muzikar said.
City of Hope decided to go public at the last Kearny Town Council meeting with its hard luck story in hopes that municipal officials would come to its support since that expense would be something City of Hope would be “uncomfortable” with, said Marian D’Alessandro, a member of the church’s leadership group.
“As someone who’s lived here all my life, and as a property owner, I applaud the efforts of the town to keep our streets safe,” D’Alessandro said. “But we still need heat for our school and day care program which operate five days a week, as well as Sundays for worship services and Sunday School.”
D’Alessandro said the church has already invested $75,000 in the heating system changeover from oil to “a green and clean gas unit.” Now, all that’s needed to make it complete, she said, is the installation of a gas pipe from the street to the church property.
In the meantime, City of Hope has continued operating with the existing oil heating system.
As a conciliatory gesture to the church, Martello said the Town Council was conditioning approval of four road opening permits sought by PSE&G – for locations on Johnston Ave., Rutherford Pl. and Wilson Ave. (not the church site) to install gas service and on S. Hackensack Ave. to relocate a gas service – on the church “being appropriately serviced.”
The council did grant the utility permission to dig at Davis Ave. and Tappan St. to replace a 16-inch gas main to correct a leak there.
D’Alessandro said that the town’s action “has made the situation more palatable and we hope to get this resolved as soon as practically possible. … Between the church, the town and PSE&G, we hope to resolve this in a fair and just manner.”
And, in fact, that’s just what happened.
PSE&G and Kearny agreed on the use of a pneumatic piercing tool, “which requires only excavating one single hole in the roadway,” explained Muzikar. And, “the town is allowing PSE&G to restore the roadway using infrared paving technology, which keeps the cost … free of charge to the customer.”
The work was done this past weekend.
The Rev. David Manzo, the church’s senior pastor, thanked Martello and town officials for their cooperation.
Now grateful church workers are busying themselves with the preparation and distribution of more than 100 turkey baskets from their pantry to the needy for the Thanksgiving holiday.