23 November 2008

Stop! Look!

Listen! Did you hear anything? It's been almost a week since Norfolk Southern engineers stopped blowing their horns at the Beekman Lane and Auten Road railroad crossings - and I must say, I don't miss the blasts a bit.

Hillsborough is now one of the first communities in New Jersey to successfully implement railroad quiet zones - grade crossing improvements that allow trains to pass without sounding their horns. Once again, Hillsborough is a role model for other towns, with Branchburg now investigating establishing a quiet zone at the Woodfern Road crossing - a project that would also benefit the ears of Hillsborough residents.

In this instant-mashed-potato-world, where everything is magic, results are demanded immediately, and not seeing is not believing, it is comforting to know that at least one New Jersey town has the patience to poo-poo the naysayers and see a project through to completion.

Congratulations Hillsborough Township - where all residents live on the "right" side of the tracks!

22 November 2008

Thanks to All

Thanks to all who made the Hillsborough's Hope/Autism Speaks Basket Auction fundraiser on Friday night a huge success! The North Branch firehouse was filled to capacity as we raffled off over 200 gift baskets donated by very generous area businesses, and raised over $9000 for this very worthy cause.

A special thank you also to all of the volunteers who worked so hard to plan the event and make it run so smoothly - the Girl Scouts of the Rolling Hills Council, all of our families and friends, Patty's co-workers at Merck, and our Hillsborough's Hope Team - Kelly Neuberger, Mary Downie, Kristin O'Leary, Kathy Lang, Andrea Graham, and many, many others who contributed their ideas and time!

18 November 2008

The Myth of the Clean Northern Property

Hillsborough Township is one step closer to acquiring the 369 acre Belle Mead GSA Depot property from the federal government now that the Township Committee has introduced an ordinance to rezone the property and presented a plan for its redevelopment. This step was necessary in order to apply for a New Jersey Brownfields Grant - which will provide additional money to clean up the property. Most of the funds to be used for the cleanup will come from the federal government, which is keeping the $15.7 million purchase price in an escrow account specifically for that purpose.

This latest development comes at the same time that Bhrugesh Patel, owner of the "other half" of the GSA Depot, has filed a lawsuit against the township to have his 335 acres included in the redevelopment plans. This parcel - which some refer to as the northern section of the depot - was split from the township's section years ago, but both share their 50 year history as first a military and then a federal government warehouse and distribution facility.

The most interesting aspect of Mr. Patel's lawsuit is that he is making the claim that his property has the same environmental concerns as the township property, and would, presumably, need the same type of clean up operation.

Here is the quote from Roger Staib, spokesman for Patel's Hillsborough Properties, which appeared in a local newspaper:

”The significant environmental contamination (on Mr. Patel’s property) rose due to the unified use of the whole tract,” he said. “It crosses property lines, and because of that, both properties are included in an April 15, 2000, memorandum of understanding between the GSA and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which governs the terms by which the GSA must remediate the entire depot tract.”

This makes sense for two reasons. First, Mr. Staib is correct, the property has a history of one unified use, with railroad tracks, warehouses, and other facilities throughout the property. Second, Patel's "northern section" is not all in the north! The two properties fit together like a puzzle, with the eastern part of Patel's property actually further south than the western part of the township property.

For years we have been told that Hillsborough missed its chance to acquire the "clean" northern section before Mr. Patel bought it. That we blundered and are now stuck with the "dirty" southern half of the depot. Now, Mr. Patel, through his spokesman, is admitting that his property is in the same condition as the township property!

Clearly the notion that there is a clean GSA Depot out there somewhere is a myth.

17 November 2008

This Raider is a Star

Our local athletes have had their ups and downs this Fall season, but at least one "Raider" has been a shining star for nearly a year. I'm talking about Raider, the Hillsborough Township Police Department's K-9 officer.

Raider, a 16-month-old male from Hungary, has already assisted in narcotics busts and other patrol operations, and has lent his nose to missing persons searches.

Like most real stars, Raider's reputation is growing. I've heard that the mere sight of the "K-9" insignia on handler Chris Engelhardt's vehicle after a traffic stop is enough to make the bad guys roll over and play dead, or at least sit up and beg - for mercy!

16 November 2008

Bridgewater - Manville Budget Woes

One day after Bridgwater Township employees were warned of possible layoffs to close a projected budget gap, Manville announced its own hiring freeze, and intends to look very closely before filling vacant positions.

The plight of these two towns is similar, and is shared by many Central Jersey municipalities - rising costs and tough economic times are causing shortfalls in budgets. Where the stories differ is that, according to newspaper reports, Bridgewater is concerned that the state mandated cap on property tax increases - currently 4% - does not allow the township to increase taxes enough to cover costs. Manville, on the other hand, is asking all of its departments to slash their budgets by 5% - a move that will allow the boro to keep current employees in their jobs.

My personal opinion is that the 4% cap should not be seen by municipalities as a burden that they wish would go away, but rather as a tool to promote careful planning and efficiency.

15 November 2008

Happy Belated Veterans Day

On Monday morning, December 8, 1941, Tony Ballas, like thousands of other American men, walked into his supervisor's office and announced that he was going to enlist in the armed forces. Enraged by the unprovoked attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, Tony was eager to defend his country.

There were a few problems with that plan - the first being that Tony was nearly 34 years old. The second was that his supervisor was a naval officer! Tony was a civilian employee at the Brooklyn Navy Yard where he had worked as a skilled machinist for about six years.

His supervisor told him that he could enlist if he wanted to - but he would end up right back at the Navy Yard - in the same job. There was no way he would be going to the Pacific, or to any other theater of war - he was just too valuable at the yard, especially now that the war had begun.

This was the second time Tony (my maternal grandfather, by the way) was disappointed in an attempt to get to the "real" action. As a nine-year-old in 1917, he set out from Williamsburg, Brooklyn with a couple of his buddies on a mission to "Kill the Kaiser", as they put it.

They made it as far as Hoboken! where they ended up at the police station before being sent back to their worried mothers.

Tony ended up staying on at the Brooklyn Navy Yard until it closed in 1965 - building and repairing hundreds of ships, and giving invaluable service to his country.

13 November 2008

Right Project, Wrong Reason

The Federal Transit Administration has just approved the environmental impact statement for the Hudson River rail tunnel project. This comes amid recent statements by the Port Authority and Governor Jon Corzine touting the benefits of these two additional single track railroad tunnels that would link New Jersey and New York City, and would indicate the project is now on the fast track.

I feel the project is worthwhile. Going from two track to four will actually more than double rail capacity because it will make routing of trains more efficient and provide for detours around stalled trains and maintenance sites - something that is a real problen with only two tracks in service now. It will also make possible re-activation of passenger service on the West Trenton Line through Hillsborough, as well as other lines, and may include the possibility of "one-seat" service on the Raritan Valley Line, with no change at Newark.

But neither Port Authority Chairman Anthony Coscia nor Jon Corzine cited any of these benefits in their recent remarks. Each is now praising the project because of the economic stimulus the construction will provide to our region.

In my opinion, this is the wrong reason to go forward with the tunnels. I agree that an injection of federal and state money into regional projects can help the economy - but this is a TEN YEAR PROJECT, costing $8.7 BILLION that will mostly benefit unions and cronies. Many economists feel the recession will last another 18 months, not 10 years, and by the time we are out of the recession we will already have committed to this project - whose costs keep escalating each year.

If helping the regional economy is the new goal, perhaps spending $1 billion right now on short term projects that will employ people immediately would be a better use of our taxpayer money and highway tolls.

We can always take another look at the tunnels in a year or two - the Hudson River isn't going anywhere!

11 November 2008

McCain Wins!

Now that absentee ballots have been counted, John McCain holds a slim one vote lead over Barack Obama among Hillsborough voters - 8918 to 8917. In a year that saw America divided more drastically than in any recent election - black/white, male/female, rich/poor - no Somerset County town was more evenly divided in its choice for president than our own.

So how did the other Democratic candidates fare in Hillsborough? Not nearly as well as Obama. The Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, Congress, and County Freeholder each won by 1500 to 2000 votes - and the Republicans running for Hillsborough Township Committee beat their Democratic challengers by nearly 7000 combined votes!

This was despite a mailer sent out the week before the election which urged voters to not vote for a Republican candidate at the local level, noting that in the previous year's election, residents moved away from the GOP candidate for Township Committee after voting heavily for the GOP candidate for State Assembly. The flier, sent by an entity known as "Republicans for Honest Government", stated, in part

The voters are waking up - last year at the State level, the Republican candidate won by over 1,600 votes but nearly 800 of those Conservative voters SWITCHED PARTY and voted Democrat here in Hillsborough! Very interesting!

This year the "trend" went completely in the opposite direction, with thousands of Barack Obama's Liberal Hillsborough supporters SWITCHING THEIR ALLEGIANCE and voting for Republicans in all of the local races. Very interesting, indeed!


The township website has a complete breakdown of all the local and state-wide races.

10 November 2008

Disney Hike

Serious hikers, like those that have completed the 2175 mile Appalachian Trail, report that it is possible to "hike yourself into shape". That means beginning in Georgia in less than optimal physical condition, and, through the daily rigors of the hike - and a little willpower - finishing in Maine five months later in prime shape - ready to go another 2000 miles.

That is what I had in mind when we began our own seven day odyssey in Walt Disney World last week. Four theme parks, Downtown Disney, the Boardwalk - so what if I hadn't trained for this trip, by the end of the week I would have walked myself into better shape than I have been in years. All it would take was some determination and a good pair of sneakers.

Boy, was I wrong!

At the end of the first day I was wiped out! At the end of the second day I began to envy the people riding those motorized scooters around Epcot. By the third day I was ready to jump into the kids' stroller.

There's just no way to take a six-year-old and a nine-year-old to Disney World without coming out worse than you went in. Willpower has nothing to do with it. Not even a basket full of Fast Passes can save you. You are doomed from the moment you set foot in the Magic Kingdom!

By the way - we had a great time!

04 November 2008

Independent Vote

Recent letters to the editor published in the Courier News and other newspapers suggest that we should forego voting for the best person to serve on the Hillsborough Township Committee and instead cast a vote based solely on party affiliation. Nothing could be more contrary to the independent minded Hillsborough voter.

When we go to the polls today, we need to choose the two best candidates - the candidates who are the best qualified and have the best vision for Hillsborough's future.

I understand that voters sometimes like to create a balance - by electing a republican president and a democratic congress, for example. And with our national officials - who we don't know and never see - this may be worthwhile. But when we are able to have direct participation in our government - which we are able to do in Hillsborough - with elected officials who are our friends and neighbors, it is much more important to get the best person than it is to sacrifice our vote to achieve a phony balance.

For the past several years Hillsborough has excelled in the areas of financial responsibility and quality of life. If you like the path we have been on, and have noted the accomplishments and continuing work on issues like railroad quiet zones, preservation of the GSA Depot, extended service hours at the municipal building, and tax increases below the rate of inflation, you need to vote for the two candidates who are committed to keeping us on that path.

Don't give up your vote in a misguided attempt to create what the township committee form of government has already given us - a transparent, open government actively seeking participation by the public on every issue.

01 November 2008

In the Zones

Hillsborough Township announced this week that the town would be getting a little quieter after November 18. That's when Norfolk Southern will direct their engineers to begin honoring Hillsborough's railroad quiet zones at the Beekman Lane and Auten Road crossings.

The township installed raised medians and other road improvements at the grade crossings and has been waiting for the railroad to complete electronic safety improvements at the crossings. These additional improvements will signal engineers to sound their horns if a power outage or some other circumstance prevents the gates from coming down.

I know what you're thinking - we're only half finished. The road improvements have been completed at the Roycefield Road crossing, and the township is seeking an agreement with Norfolk Southern to install a quieter "wayside horn" at Valley Road - which doesn't lend itself to the raised median improvement.

Once the wayside horn is installed at Valley Road, the railroad will begin honoring the quiet zone at Roycefield. Then it will be as quiet as it was in 1864, before the first train steamed into town, and all of Hillsborough was one big quiet zone!