The mayor and Town Council’s move to collect an environmental fee from visitors that drive and park at the “Field Station: Dinosaurs” parking lot has made Freeholder Bill O’Dea unhappy. He said last week charging the fee is unacceptable because the theme park is leased from the county.
The park, which opened Memorial Day weekend, has a three-year $1 million dollar lease with the county. The attraction has parking for 500 vehicles and offers shuttles from the Frank R. Lautenberg Secaucus Junction Station, which is located nearby. The park had originally advertised on its web site that free limited parking was available, but the free parking was viewed as a loss to the town which didn’t reap any financial gain from “Field Station: Dinosaurs” due to the county lease.
“I think the county is collecting a large amount of money for the project and we are going to get a small amount of money to help defray costs from the park.” – David Drumeler
“The only way we were going to generate any type of income from this was through parking,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli during the council meeting. “That would have brought in between $95,000 and $100,000 a year.”
Town officials took up the issue with the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC), which has a zoning restriction for parks and recreation areas that does not permit commercial off-street parking.
‘Environmental’ vs. ‘parking’ fee
NJMC officials would not comment because the issue remains open. “Field Station: Dinosaurs” has appealed their prohibition against parking fees. The NJMC said that charging an environmental fee was out of their jurisdiction since it was not considered a charge to park.
“This is not acceptable,” O’Dea said. “The county owns the land – not NJMC – not the town of Secaucus – not the tenant Field Station: Dinosaurs. Originally, this was not supposed to even be a parking area for this exhibit.” O’Dea has asked to review the lease and all documents pertaining to the decision.
“I think the county is collecting a large amount of money for the project and we are going to get a small amount of money to help defray costs from the park,” said Drumeler. “It was a way for us to get back for wear and tear on our streets and our roads and having other vehicles in our town and it is the only way we have to recover.”
“Field Station: Dinosaurs” representatives did not know about the parking charge at the time and did not return calls regarding the issue.
According to the resolution, “Dinosaurs” had agreed to donate all of the profits from parking fees to the town of Secaucus. However, Drumeler said last week that the exact percentage the town will collect is still being worked out. Town officials and “Dinosaurs” had agreed to charge $10 per car.
O’Dea said the town should not receive more than a 15 percent parking tax.
Little League field vs. Laurel Hill Park improvements
“Under any normal lease we the county should be getting the revenue,” said O’Dea. He said if the funds are to be used for park improvements, then they should be used to upgrade Laurel Hill County Park which is adjacent to the Dinosaurs exhibit.
The mayor and Town Council anticipated it would collect up to $100,000 from the environmental fee, which they said would go toward placing Astroturf and a new sprinkler system at the Little League Field.
“It used to be the crown jewel of all the Little League fields in Hudson County,” said Councilman Robert Costantino during their meeting. He coaches locally for the Little League. He said putting Astroturf on the field will prevent future rain outs and provide cost-savings for ongoing future maintenance.
During other business matters at the May 22 meeting, the mayor and Town Council adopted a resolution to authorize participation in the state health benefits program, which adds up to $300,000 in savings and incremental savings over the years. The move results from successful union negotiations with the police force and DPW. Employees for the first time will pay into a health benefits plan. The state plan will be phased in over four years and the amount an employee pays into it is based on salary. For example, an employee that makes $45,000 will pay 2.25 percent of their salary into the plan and that will go up each year until they pay 9 percent.
Environmental chairperson Amanda Neishewat announced during the public remarks section of the May 22 meeting that Amazon Café has decided to deplete their supply of Styrofoam cups and switch to paper.
“They are in full support of the Styrofoam ban in Secaucus,” said Nesheiwat.
Amazon Café joins others like Outback Steakhouse and Bonefish Grill, which have complied with the ban. However, establishments such as the Dunkin’ Donuts in town center switched back to Styrofoam after a trial run using paper because customers complained the paper cups were too hot to hold. The mayor and Town Council passed a resolution in October 2011 to ban the use of polystyrene foam from schools, restaurants, and small businesses because it is not biodegradable and can contaminate the soil and waterways.
The term Styrofoam is commonly used to describe polystyrene foam, which comes in the form of disposable cups, plates, and take-out containers.
The mayor and Town Council awarded a contract for the Riverview Gardens Stormwater Management Project to Reivax Contracting Corporation in the amount of $243,915.
“This is a long awaited storm water project that will take place at Farm Road,” said Gonnelli. He said the improvements will include adding a brand new storm line with a pump station as well as tide gates to prevent tidal surges.
“We are paying for this through old capital money going back through 2007.”
“We are fixing a problem that people have suffered with for many years. I am very happy to see it,” said Deputy Mayor John Bueckner.
The town recently joined the Hudson County Cooperative Purchasing System, which went to bid for municipalities from both Hudson and Essex counties for a new energy provider. The current provider is PSE&G and costs $403,575. This new provider is South Jersey Energy, which brings a savings of 32 percent or $129,700. The town switches over in July.
In addition to the savings, 15.5 percent of energy will be generated from renewable energy sources, which is 50 percent higher than the state-required Renewable Portfolio Standard that utility companies are required to produce and it represents the highest percentage of required renewable power in a government power purchase in New Jersey.
Cory Robinson and Robert Santozzi were re-appointed to the Alcohol Beverage Control board for terms beginning April 12, 2012, and ending April 9, 2015.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.