A public hearing will take place Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m. at the new North Bergen township commissioners' chambers to discuss a deal that would enable the township to trade its chemically ravaged swimming pool complex off Tonnelle Avenue for a nearby 14.5-parcel of land, owned by a bankrupt trucking firm.
The proposal, which has been bantered about for the last 10 months, is drawing closer to reaching a final settlement. Township Administrator Christopher Pianese said recently that he anticipates signing a sales contract within the next two weeks with APA Transport Corp., the defunct trucking giant, to exchange the parcels.
The township would give APA its chemically-tainted swimming pool complex, which was immediately shut down in 2002 when it was learned that the soil at the complex was found to have higher-than-accepted levels of contaminants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and benzene, both of which have been linked to causing cancer.
In return, the town would receive a 14.5-acre parcel of undeveloped land, owned by APA but currently being used as a depot for Schneider National, another trucking outfit. The 14-acre parcel of land is off 91st Street, directly next door to the new headquarters of Vitamin Shoppe.
The agreement between the township and APA's business handlers will be contingent on a final approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Terms of the deal
Under the terms of the deal, the township would pay APA $1.5 million and place $500,000 into a fund that would take care of the cleanup of the complex.
According to Pianese, the $500,000 in escrow would be used only if the remediation work, which calls for excavating the oil-laced soils, exceeds $1.5 million. If it costs more than $2 million, then APA is responsible for the additional cost.
Tuesday's public hearing is required by state law, because the existing municipal pool complex had been listed among the state's Green Acres inventory of those sites eligible for state funding.
Although no state funding was ever used or designated directly for the site, North Bergen still has to prove to the state that the replacement property acquired in the deal is "equivalent or better," according to Pianese.
Since the deal was initially revealed last January, there didn't seem to be any obstacles in the transfer of Green Acres funds from the old site to the new, considering that the new site is larger (14.5 acres as opposed to six acres) and it includes a rocky, tree-enclosed enclave that provides a natural green setting.
"The state Green Acres program has control of the property and won't allow us to sell it unless we're going to replace it," Pianese said. "But that's what we intend to do."
Pianese believes the deal is a no-brainer.
"We're basically swapping a contaminated six-acre piece of property for a 14-acre property that we could always preserve as park or open space," Pianese said. "When you think about the big picture of what's going on, why wouldn't we want to do it?"
Once the public meeting is held and the state DEP signs off on the deal, then the township will hire an architect to design detailed plans and specifications that would go out to bid shortly after Jan. 1, 2005.
"We would like to award it so that work can begin with the warm weather in 2005," Pianese said. "We would also like to see it completed by the summer of 2006."
According to Pianese, the township will put roughly $5 million into the new facility, which will include both an adult and children's pool, a sprinkler park, and volleyball courts. There were some initial talks of building an ice hockey/skating rink on the site as well, but those talks were preliminary and may be tabled.
Pianese said that the reason why APA would agree to the deal would be to combine its existing land from its primary truck depot right off Tonnelle Avenue to the existing swimming pool complex, which is directly adjacent to the APA headquarter facility.
"A prospective developer will now be able to use the front of the property, with frontage to Tonnelle Avenue," Pianese said. "The piece of property becomes like an L-shape, but it is all together and APA would need that to present to a developer. The reason why the trade works is that the land in the front to Tonnelle Avenue is much more valuable, somewhere around $700,000 an acre."
Added Pianese, "It all comes down to a deal that would be based on the per-acre price that APA will get for the rest of their property, less the estimated contamination costs. When you do all the math, it comes very close to an even swap."
Pianese summed up, "It's a plan that definitely works for North Bergen, and it works for the state. It's a win-win for everyone. The whole point of this was to insure that Mayor Sacco lived up to his promise that he was committed to build a new swimming pool facility within two years."