Eight displaced after two-alarm fire in Bergen Point
Eight residents were displaced, and no one was injured, after a two-alarm fire tore through a two-family home on Oak Street in the Bergen Point neighborhood on the night of Friday, Feb. 16, according to Bayonne Fire Chief Keith Weaver. Responding firefighters found heavy fire conditions on the second floor and spent 45 minutes with two hose lines controlling the fire until it was extinguished after midnight.
The American Red Cross is assisting six residents. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined; the incident remains under investigation. Weaver said the fire is not deemed suspicious.
Woman allegedly attacked with pipe
A woman was allegedly physically assaulted with a pipe on Feb. 7 after a verbal argument with a 53-year-old man, who was charged with aggravated assault, simple assault and weapons offense, according to the Bayonne Police Department. The criminal complaint alleges the man punched the woman after the verbal dispute and allegedly struck her in the back of the head with a metal pipe when she said she was going to call the police. The woman did not seek medical treatment, and responding officers recovered the metal pipe, according to police.
Yacht owners charged for alleged insurance fraud
Following a four-month investigation by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, Kerwin Rigaud, 46, of Jersey City, was charged on Feb. 8 with alleged insurance fraud. Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez said the Insurance Fraud Unit had looked into allegations against Rigaud. The allegations include fabricating claims and exaggerating damages from 2014 to the present in schemes to defraud multiple insurance companies of more than $200,000.
Rigaud, an accountant, has been charged with multiple alleged insurance fraud violations related to his yacht, Miss Behaving, which he berths at Liberty Harbor Marina in Jersey City.
NJ Transit approves proposed route for light rail expansion into Bergen County
The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail’s (HBLR) expansion into Bergen County received a major boost this week after NJ Transit approved the plan’s proposed route, according to a press release from NJ Transit.
The approval for the project’s Locally Preferred Alternative, detailed in its 2017 Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact statement, is mandatory in the federal environmental review process.
The route is a 10-mile, seven-station extension from HBLR’s current Tonnelle Avenue terminus in North Bergen. It would include an additional North Bergen stop at 91st Street, and others in Ridgefield, Palisades Park, Leonia, all the way to the Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.
NJ Transit’s Board of Directors also authorized the route’s submission to the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority Board of Trustees for designation and inclusion in its Long-Range Regional Transportation Plan.
By choosing this route, NJ Transit will be able to begin design and engineering activities once it completes the Final Environmental Impact Statement, and the Federal Transit Administration grants a Record of Decision for the project.
Chiaravalloti calls for investigation into Christie opioid program
Bayonne Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti has called on the NJ State Comptroller to investigate former Gov. Christie’ Reach NJ opioid program, arguing that the multimillion dollar advertising campaign failed to provide new funds for drug treatment and diverted tens of millions of dollars away from education, according to a press release.
“These advertisements were designed to promote Christie and were not solely created for the victims and families of the opioid epidemic. This is clearly evident by Christie’s prominence in all the ads,” Chiaravalloti stated in a media release.
“These ads were costly, took away from necessary funds and had a limited shelf life. These ads are unusable by any administration. This money could have been spent on treatment
programs to directly assist victims of the epidemic – not wasted on production edits featuring Christie.”
NJ and two other states might sue over tax law, but they might lose
Governors from Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York states have announced plans to sue the federal government for discriminating against tax structures, according to NJ Spotlight.
No legal strategy has been publicly announced, and statements made by NJ Gov. Phil Murphy and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggest the lawsuit could use the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the 10th Amendment protecting states’ rights. The joint lawsuit claims that the federal government's new cap on deductions for state and local taxes, put in place by the Republican tax plan signed into law last month, is unjust because it targets wealthier states.
Time will tell if the lawsuit is consequential. Tax Foundation expert Jared Walczak told Governing Magazine recently that the argument that the law is unconstitutional because it affects different states in unequal ways may be dubious,
PA approves $364M Holland Tunnel upgrade
The Port Authority Board of New York and New Jersey approved a major rehabilitation and resiliency project for the Holland Tunnel to repair and restore critical mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems caused by Superstorm Sandy, and to install protective measures to mitigate future flooding in the facility, according to a press release from the PANYNJ.
The $364.2 million project includes repairs and replacement of systems damaged by latent salt resulting from the October 29, 2012 storm, which filled the tunnel with 30 million gallons of water and resulted in flooding up to nine feet above the North Tube roadway.
As part of the project, repair and replacement will be done to the tunnel’s power cables, fire detection system, voice communication system, lighting, pump room equipment, and repairs to concrete, drum rings, curbs, ceilings and wall tiles. The project includes improved lighting to enhance driver visibility in the tunnel. Approximately 84 percent of the project cost is projected to be reimbursed by federal funds.
In addition to repairs to tunnel systems, the project also includes resiliency measures to increase the stop log height at the doorways of the ventilation buildings in New York and New Jersey to meet current FEMA design flood elevation standards.
Work on the project is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2019 and take approximately five years to complete. The work must be staged during limited overnight hours to minimize disruption to travelers. Full single-tube closings are expected for 48 months. It is anticipated that one tube will be closed at a time, with traffic diverted to the Lincoln Tunnel during the closure.
The Port Authority will work with communities that may be impacted by the project to insure that all planning for traffic mitigation and diversions are sensible and do not create any unintended impacts. In the coming months, Port Authority staff will meet with elected officials from the surrounding communities.
Prieto to become NJSEA president
Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, who was replaced as Assembly Speaker earlier this year, will resign his Assembly seat to become president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, the state agency that oversees the Meadowlands, according to a press release from Prieto’s office.
Recommended for the post by Gov. Phil Murphy, Prieto will assume his new duties at the NJSEA on Feb. 25 and will receive an annual salary of $225,000.
Prieto under law must step down from his assembly seat in the 32nd district that includes all of Secaucus, North Bergen and other towns outside Hudson County. It has not yet been determined who will be named to replace him until a special election can be held later this year.
Republicans want to implement work requirements to receive housing aid
The White House this week released its proposed budget that would impose work requirements for those receiving federal housing assistance, reports the New York Times. The budget would give property owners the power to increase rents for people who receive federal housing assistance, such as Section 8 vouchers. The Trump administration is seeking to shrink federal housing assistance, in part by convincing Congress to introduce policies that "promote work” for various safety-net policies, according to the report.
Most people on public benefits programs, however, already work, or are looking for work, according to multiple reports from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank. The problem is that sometimes people cannot find work or are unable to work, and work requirements would restrict those people from resources when they need them the most, without doing much to help them receive the education and training required to join the workforce, according to the reports from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The proposal comes at a time when the White House has reportedly signaled an interest in adding or enhancing work requirements to many safety net programs. In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services invited states to apply for waivers to test work requirements for Medicaid, and already approved applications from Kentucky and Indiana.
Trump administration deals ‘serious jeopardy’ to Gateway Tunnel project
Federal transportation officials have assigned the Gateway rail tunnel and other components of the massive infrastructure project a new rating that further jeopardizes the chances of winning grant money from Washington.
A story on Politico.com reports that the Federal Transit Administration sent an annual funding report to Congress recently for its Capital Investment Grants Program that assigned a “Medium-Low“ rating to the proposed $13 billion Hudson River tunnel, the second-lowest on a five-point scale. It was the first time the grant application had received a formal rating. The FTA also reduced the rating of the Portal Bridge North project from “Medium-High” to “Medium-Low.” That bridge replacement would fix one of the single-greatest bottlenecks on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line, according to the report.
Those involved in the Gateway Program said the change was likely to put chances of receiving federal funding under the New Starts program in serious jeopardy.
The Trump administration rejected an Obama-era agreement to cover half the cost of the broader $30 billion Gateway Program, which calls for constructing two new tubes connecting New Jersey to midtown Manhattan and repairing the existing tunnel that is now falling apart. The White House has also proposed ending the New Starts program, but Congress has so far protected the funding source.
“In case it wasn’t clear before, President Trump today tried to land another death blow to Gateway by having his Federal Transit Administration (FTA) vindictively and inexplicably downgrade the project in order to cut off critical federal funding,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a recent statement.
In the case of the Portal Bridge project, which previously received a rating in February 2017 and was estimated to cost $1.6 billion, the FTA is taking the position that the amount of committed or budgeted funding from other sources had fallen from 57 percent to 21 percent of the total cost. The FTA said that is a primary reason the rating was reduced. The new ratings were issued in November and, according to a person familiar with the Gateway application, did not factor in any information received in October, when new details had become available.
John D. Porcari, the interim executive director of Gateway Program Development Corp., said the ratings fail to take into account the commitments from New York and New Jersey. The states have agreed to split half the cost of the tunnel project, putting up $5.5 billion, though they’ll need federal loans in order to do so. The grant application asks the federal government to cover the remaining costs.
Porcari said the Portal Bridge application, in which local agencies would also cover about half the total cost, “has only been improved with each updated submittal” since the first rating was issued. He noted early construction work has been underway for several months.
Sen. Menendez and Rep. Sires respond to Republican infrastructure proposal
The county’s representation in the U.S. Congress spoke out against the Republican infrastructure proposal this week, according to press releases from both congressional offices. NJ Democratic Senator Bob Menendez called the plan a “hit job on NJ families and commuters,” while Democratic Rep. Albio Sires called it “unsurprisingly selfish in scope and particularly harmful to our communities.”
“Instead of making a real investment in our aging infrastructure, the Trump plan actually cuts net federal infrastructure spending by $40 billion and shifts the burden on states and commuters by hiking taxes, tolls and fares,” said Sen. Menendez in a press release. “That means commuters paying more for less. That means ignoring critical repairs and upgrades to our roads, rails and bridges. That means making travel less safe and less reliable. That means threatening to derail the Gateway Project and ignoring calls to strengthen rail safety by fast-tracking lifesaving technology, like Positive Train Control, to prevent future tragedies like the one in Hoboken. This plan is bad for New Jersey, bad for our country, and I will do everything I can to fight it.”
“What was advertised to the American people as a $1.5 trillion federal investment plan for our infrastructure actually only provides $200 billion over ten years. That, taken with his plan to cut more than $168 billion in federal infrastructure funding over the same ten-year period, does not add up to much at all,” said Rep. Sires in a press release. “Taken at face value, however, $200 billion over ten years seems like a lot of money to invest in anything. Yet, a 2017 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers concludes that the only way we can address our infrastructure repair and upgrade backlog is by investing at least $2 trillion by 2025. This administration’s investment does not even get us a quarter of the way there. Instead, the plan provides relatively little funding while also rolling back the protections that keep public services from being privatized, all in the hope that states and cities can raise the $1.3 trillion that the President keeps promoting. This formula is designed to put the majority of the funding burden on New Jersey taxpayers.”
Elizabeth student dies of flu a week after 5-year-old North Bergen girl dies
In a letter to parents over the weekend, the Elizabeth superintendent of schools said an unidentified student who was being treated for the flu had died, Patch.com reports. The death comes a week after a North Bergen girl who attended Lincoln School died after exhibiting flu-like symptoms. An Ocean County child also succumbed to the flu in December.
Elizabeth officials said grief counselors would be available for students and teachers on Tuesday, when the schools reopen after the Presidents Day holiday.
Weehawken joins Leonia in closing streets to nonresidents
The Weehawken Police will begin ticketing nonresident drivers if they use certain streets near the Lincoln Tunnel as shortcuts. The use of traffic apps, like Waze, have clogged local streets, making it extremely difficult for residents and emergency vehicles to get through, according to Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner.
The Weehawken Town Council adopted an ordinance in January restricting all but Weehawken, Union City, and Hoboken residents from making right turns from Hackensack Plank Road onto Pleasant Avenue, from 3-7 p.m. weekdays. The turn is often a shortcut for drivers wanting faster access to 495 westbound to the Jersey suburbs, leaving the New York area.
The route ultimately takes them toward highways such as the NJ Turnpike and Route 3.
The ordinance went into effect Feb. 13. Officials posted electric signs notifying residents of the change on Hackensack Plank a few weeks ago.
Towns cracking down on animal abuse under new law
Animal welfare officers in communities across the state are enforcing new, stricter laws on animal abuse, reports The Record. The recent dissolution of the state’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has made local law enforcement responsible for pursuing violators of the new abuse laws, which prohibit leaving pets outside from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and require owners to bring animals indoors if the temperature is below 32 degrees or above 90 degrees. Sen. Jeff Van Drew, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said one of the biggest challenges since the law took effect is educating pet owners about the new requirements.
Zoning Board meeting set for Feb. 26
The Bayonne Zoning Board of Adjustments will hold a special meeting on Monday, Feb. 26 at City Hall for a public hearing and vote on an application for a local Muslim group to convert a warehouse on East 24th Street into a Muslim community center.
The zoning board’s decision in March of 2017 to deny the group’s application, for reasons of parking and “fit,” led to the City of Bayonne being sued by the local Muslim group and investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. The lawsuit, which challenged the zoning board’s decision based on First and Fourteenth Amendments as well as Municipal Land Use Law, was settled in January under the condition that the application be approved at this meeting.