Stop work!
Freeholders stall repaving project; fear possible road collapse
by Al Sullivan
Reporter staff writer
Sep 19, 2012 | 3723 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
UP IN ARMS – The Hudson County Freeholders raised concerns about a possible road collapse in Hoboken’s Sinatra Drive, authorizing a study to determine if there is any danger.
UP IN ARMS – The Hudson County Freeholders raised concerns about a possible road collapse in Hoboken’s Sinatra Drive, authorizing a study to determine if there is any danger.

With the surfacing of a report that showed possible threat of collapse to a whole block along Sinatra Drive in Hoboken, the Hudson County Freeholders withdrew the awarding of a repaving bid and passed one that would hire divers to examine the street foundations.

On Oct. 8, 2010, a section of Sinatra Drive between 13th and 14th Streets collapsed, prompting a costly emergency repair. The wooden piling on which the road had been built had been infected with a parasite called a ship worm, which slowly caused the wood to deteriorate. Langan Engineering of Elmwood Park, who evaluated the area for the county, issued a report that included likely problems on the next block north since Sinatra Drive between 14th and 15th Streets was constructed on the same wooden piling as the area that had collapsed.

While County Engineer Demetrio Arencibia told the Freeholders at their Sept. 12 caucus that his office was aware of the report, a new study was not conducted to determine if that block and the ferry terminal on the affected pier at 14th Street might be also be in danger of collapse.

But at the freeholders’ regular meeting on Sept. 14, Arencibia said that a study done of Sinatra Drive by Hoboken-hired Boswell Engineers after the 2010 collapse between 13th and 14th Streets showed no risk to another section between 14th and 15th Streets, despite a warning issued by a firm hired by the county.

He said recent events and deterioration to other portions of the Hoboken waterfront have raised concerns that problems could be emerging and said a proposed study of the bulkheads is needed. The freeholders thus authorized the hiring of divers to review bulkheads in the area.

Hoboken Freeholder Anthony Romano said that while he was confident that the report by Boswell Engineering done for the City of Hoboken painted a clearer picture that the public was not at risk after the first collapse, rapid deterioration of other parts of the waterfront was a concern that required the county to review the matter.

Freeholder Bill O’Dea grilled engineers, who admitted to not following up on the warnings issued by the county-hired firm. In clarifying this position, county engineers told the freeholders that there were structural differences between the two sections of the road, saying that the section that had collapsed had been entirely built on wooden pilings, while the street section between 14th and 15th Streets had some wooden elements, but also had pilings made of concrete, which are more resistant to the parasite that caused the deterioration in the first place.

The county had sought to defray the $39,000 to the state or federal governments in potential costs and as a result no study of its own was done of the area north of the collapse. This was discovered only after the county bid out a repaving contract that included 100 feet of the possibly affected area.

The freeholders voted to rescind the Hoboken repaving project and moved to hire divers to study the situation and determine if there is a risk of collapse and to determine what steps might be needed to solve the problem. The study is expected to be completed within three months.

“This put the public at risk,” said Freeholder Bill O’Dea, relying on information from the county’s original report in 2010. “Had this section collapsed, it could also have cost the county as much as $10 million to repair.”

Meanwhile the freeholders voted to move ahead with other repaving projects around the county, including awarding of a contract to English Paving Company for resurfacing county roads in Secaucus and Kearny for $1.5 million.

Revamping the Health & Human Services Committee

A lack of oversight over reappointments for a board critical in maintaining federal and state funding for Hudson County’s neediest forced the county to revamp and start over. The freeholders made a series of appointments that staggered the terms of offices for members in order to meet the requirements set forth by state and federal regulation.

“People on this board have been held over for so long that they stopped having staggered appointments as required,” said O’Dea.

The problem was finding the right individuals to fill specific slots, since the laws governing the body also required that the board be made up of people with specific expertise or professions. Often the county could not find people that fit the criteria so held over in those seats people who were already there.

“Had this section collapsed it could also have cost the county as much as $10 million to repair.” – Freeholder Bill O’Dea
Good & bad news for college funding

While changes made by the federal government will strengthen the student aid program, many students may fall by the wayside because of strict new guidelines, said Hudson County Community College’s Dr. Glen Gabert at the freeholder caucus.

The most odious of the changes that went into effect was the lowering of family income requirements from $32,000 to $23,000 nationwide for Pell Grant, as well as shortening the timeframe during which students are qualified for Pell Grants from 18 semesters to 12. These are changes Freeholder Bill O’Dea said are particularly unfair to urban students who have a higher cost of living than students in other parts of the state.

Although the freeholder board voted on a resolution condemning changes to the federal aid to students, federal officials said the school got a significant amount of warning about the changes and that the information in the resolution is largely wrong. While the compromise legislation does set new and sometimes onerous rules that will negatively impact urban students, many are not at onerous as implied.

While protest to the federal government managed to reverse the higher percentage proposed on repayment of student loans, many other changes would also hurt students such as the change that a degree must be earned within six years rather than the previous nine years. Many students in urban districts must take remedial classes prior to starting on classes that actually earn credit towards graduation, the clock starts when they start school. Many students must drop out for social reasons, but face the same time frame even if they come back. Some students attend part-time and can’t possible earn the degree in six years. The national average for earning a degree is no longer four years, but five. The six-year limit, college officials argue, puts an additional burden on students who must work and go to school. Other changes include maintenance of a specific grade point average or loss of student aid. Once lost, a student cannot reapply for aid, but must foot the cost of college out of pocket, Gabert said.

Federal officials, however, said the families earning more than $23,000 are not automatically cut off from grants, but must fill out additional paperwork and may still be eligible for full or partial grants after their cases are reviewed.

While the legislation eliminates an alternate route test that would have qualified a student without a high school degree or GED to enter college, federal officials claim that those who could pass the alternative test are very likely to pass the GED anyway.

The college has two campuses in Jersey City and in West New York, and the populations of both would be affected by the changes.

Federal officials also noted that the law passed was the result of compromise in order to get a Republican-dominated House of Representatives to pass a new grant bill. Without a new bill, the grant system would likely have collapsed. If Democrats regain control of the House later this year, federal officials say, these changes can be revisited and possibly reversed.

While a student can appeal the loss of aid, the student must jump over a significant number of red tape hurdles and provide evidence supporting their appeal. Gabert said about 1,000 students from HCCC have won their appeals so far. Because some of the changes for admission were retroactive, the school had to contact many students who were registered as early as in March and redo their admission paperwork, a grueling and frustrating exercise for a staff that has other responsibilities coming into the new school year.

The changes were implemented by the federal government on July 1 and though Gabert said many of them are improvements that will allow grants and other aid to continue when they were previously at risk, Hudson County is negatively impacted by some of them because 80 percent of the students at HCCC rely on scholarships and grants. While some county colleges have seen a dip in admissions as much as 10 percent, Gabert said HCCC is down only slightly and could end up with a flat admissions impact.

O’Dea, who encouraged the freeholders to pass a resolution to urge federal officials to reverse some of these changes, said the college is one of the few alternatives many kids in Hudson County have.

“We have an incredibly successful summer SAT program,” he said. “Now many of these students might not be able to get the aid they need to get into college. If they can’t get education, what alternatives do they have? Do we want them turning to crime? There are no good alternatives, only bad.”

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