It appears work can soon begin at Oval

The road to the starting line to get the state to sanction a makeover of the Gunnell Oval Recreational Complex has proved to be as convoluted as circling the oval a few hundred times.

Untold numbers of phone calls and letters exchanged by engineers and environmental officials, hundreds of pages of documents and exhibits compiling Kearny’s application to the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection over the past four years speak to the town’s massive effort.

Now, finally, a breakthrough may have gotten the town over a big hurdle.

An Aug. 6 letter from Gautam Patel, chief of the NJDEP’s Bureau of Environmental, Engineering & Permitting/Municipal Finance and Construction Element/Division of Water Quality, essentially dismisses “environmental concerns” raised by the N.J. Sports & Exposition Authority related to the ambitious project.

Kearny plans to raise the Oval site out of a flood zone by importing clean fill and to run treated stormwater discharge into the freshwater Kearny Marsh. It proposes to install a pump station and drainage system to facilitate the process. And it would replace the natural grass playing fields with artificial turf.

Thomas Marturano, NJSEA director of solid waste and natural resources, had raised questions about the “installation of a vertical barrier along the eastern edge of the Gunnell Oval site to prevent groundwater flow from entering the [freshwater] Kearny Marsh.”

In response, Patel says this concern wasn’t addressed by the NJDEP when it issued a Level 2 Environmental Decision Document on the Oval project on June 11, apparently because it wasn’t mentioned in Kearny’s funding application to the New Jersey Water Bank (formerly the N.J. Environmental Infrastructure Financing Program).

Patel doesn’t say whether Marturano’s concern is valid. He only says the NJDEP’s conferring the Level 2 EDD “allows [Kearny] to retain eligibility” for funding of the project through the NJWB but, at the same time, he adds, “this [designation] is not a commitment of federal or state funds.”

Still, Patel appears to side with Kearny, “that the proposed project will have no impact to ‘environmentally critical areas’ … based on the [NJDEP’s] issuance of several required permits which address the environmental considerations of the [NJDEP].”

As for Marturano’s objection to the placement of an outfall from a new stormwater pump station discharging to the Kearny Marsh because “there is no easement between the Town and the NJSEA,” Patel simply accepts Kearny’s assertion that “the proposed force main, outfall and associated energy dissipater are to be constructed on [property] owned by the Norfolk-Southern Railway Company approximately 75 feet west of the boundary line between the Norfolk-Southern property and the property owned by NJSEA.”

Marturano’s concern about a “dewatering” element of the project “is to be resolved through the requirements of an NJDEP Temporary Dewatering Permit,” says Patel.

Lastly, Marturano’s fear about “removal of trees on the NJSEA property” is groundless, Patel says, because “no trees are proposed to be removed from the NJSEA property as part of the project.”

Patel says that before the Oval project can begin, Kearny must secure a NJDEP Stormwater Construction General Permit that would allow “discharge from … the Oval site.” Patel says the town has already secured project approvals from the Hudson-Essex Soil Conservation District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

But, at this point, Kearny’s consulting engineer Michael Neglia says the town has accumulated sufficient credibility to set up the preliminaries for the start of the project.

Neglia said he’s providing NJDEP this projected schedule for bids and construction:

  • Anticipated bid advertisement – Sept. 5, 2018.
  • Anticipated bid opening – Sept. 7, 2018.
  • Anticipated bid closing – Oct. 18, 2018.
  • Anticipated contract award – Oct. 23, 2018.
  • Anticipated construction commencement – Fall 2018 (November-December).
  • Anticipated construction completion – Spring 2020 (April-May).

The overall project cost has been estimated at about $25 million, of which more than $900,000 will go to Neglia’s Lyndhurst firm as a construction-management fee.

Kearny applied for a loan of “up to $21 million” from the NJEIFP (now NJWB), Mayor Alberto Santos said. “The amount to be borrowed,” he added, “will be less the grants received from HDSRF (N.J. Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund) , N.J. Green Acres and Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund.”

 In October 2017, the town authorized bonding for up to $21.6 million toward the project. 

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