While neighboring towns that border the Hackensack River such as Moonachie and Little Ferry were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, the town of Secaucus faired less damage, which some local officials attributed to advance preparation and the leadership of Mayor Michael Gonnelli.
“His leadership, his organization, his knowledge of the town departments…helped us prepare for the storm as best we can,” noted Councilwoman Susan Pirro during the Nov. 13 Town Council meeting. “No one can stop a 14-foot storm surge…but we had resources set up in five areas of town.”
“I’m in awe. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with how cool he was under pressure,” said Councilman Robert Costantino.
Pre-planning and communication
“We are very fortunate to come out of this the way we did,” said Gonnelli, who for many years served as the town’s supervisor of public works. “We did the best we could in a bad situation… We were in much, much better shape than the communities around us.”
Anyone that spent time in Secaucus before the storm noticed that the town had come to life with activity from light towers going up in trouble areas, to cars being moved from flood zones, to Department of Public Works trucks going up and down streets. Several shelters and a triage center were set up. The town distributed flyers, posted information on its web site, and Channel 36, and during the storm sent out multiple alerts through Reverse 911.
Gonnelli noted that power was restored relatively quickly, the town had a number of generators and back-up power, and the town made efforts to feed all of the families without power.
“A lot of that goes to pre-planning,” said Gonnelli. He commended the workers at the Municipal Utilities Authority who held out operations on back-up power. He also thanked the council members for being on hand around the clock.
“We did the best we could in a bad situation.” – Michael Gonnelli
He also highlighted the work of Town Administrator David Drumeler.
“David was the voice of reason…a critical decision maker,” said Gonnelli. “David became the voice of the town for that week.” Drumeler issued all of the Reverse 911 calls.
Community comes together
“It was something that really brought a lot of people together,” said Gonnelli.
“It was a tremendous outpouring of help from everyone,” said Councilman William McKeever.
Deputy Mayor John Bueckner credited the residents and said that “everybody really pitched in.”
“I never saw people pull together like they did in Secaucus,” said Bueckner. “The camaraderie was just unbelievable.”
Council members also took a moment to thank the municipal agencies and departments.
“For over a week this office was staffed 24/7,” noted Pirro of the Office of Emergency Management.
“When most people were sleeping, [the DPW] was out cutting trees and getting things off the roads to make the streets safe,” said Costantino.
“They worked countless hours,” noted Councilman James Clancy of the Fire Department. Firefighters conducted approximately 100 rescues during the storm and also went out to towns like Moonachie to offer assistance.
Goya, movie theater helped
Businesses such Goya that donated 1,000 meals each during the week of the storm, and Good Fellas Deli that cooked under limited light for the first responders during the power outage were mentioned as well as Kerasotes Theater, which gave out free movie tickets for families to provide a distraction.
Members of the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Daughters each presented the municipality with a check for $500 for the Secaucus Emergency Fund to go to those in need of assistance.
Officials noted that the Xchange developers gave $20,000 to the Emergency Fund and $10,000 to the K & S Social Club, which organized the barbeques at the Xchange development to help feed residents during the power outage in that area. The Xchange developers also offered seven new units for people displaced by the storm at half the rent for four months.
Election date for fire chiefs extended
The election of the volunteer fire chiefs may be extended from the second Friday in December to some time prior to Dec. 22. An ordinance was introduced at the council meeting and will have a public hearing and final vote on Nov. 27.
The outgoing chief usually has a party on the same night of the election, but the ordinance grants flexibility so that the two do not have to coincide, according to Gonnelli.
The council unanimously approved Dave Hayashida as a member of Engine Co. 1 and the transfer of Sean Parisi from Engine Co. 1 to Tower Co. 2.
Town reapplies for cleanup grant for Keystone
After an unsuccessful attempt last year to get federal funding to conduct further testing of residential homes located near the old property of the former Keystone Metal Finishing Plant, the municipality will once again seek funding. The mayor and council passed a resolution to apply for a federal Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Assessment Grant to conduct additional site-specific assessment activities, which would include a vapor intrusion investigation of the residences surrounding the site, additional groundwater investigation, and a geophysical survey.
It has been more than 20 years since the discovery of environmental contamination at the Keystone property, which is located at 22 Raydol Ave. The town has conducted several past cleanups and assessments, but residents still have had concerns.
According to the Department of Environmental Protection, the main contaminant at the Keystone site is Tetrachloroethylene, or PERC. The chemical is widely used for dry-cleaning fabrics and metal degreasing operations. According to the EPA, tetrachloroethylene could result in neurological, liver, and kidney effects following acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) inhalation exposure.
The total cost of this new aspect of the project is $220,000. A federal grant would cover $200,000 of that total. According to Town Administrator David Drumeler the town will proceed with vaporization tests in five of the homes near the site irrespective of the funding.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at email@example.com.