The federal government isn’t the only body giving special attention to Hoboken’s flood vulnerability. Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G), the public utility for Hudson County, will upgrade 60 percent of Hoboken’s gas lines starting around July 21, the office of Mayor Dawn Zimmer announced on Monday.
However, the project could take longer than PSE&G had hoped because the City Council on Wednesday voted down a construction noise waiver that would have allowed contractors to work from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays.
PSE&G said the extended hours would have allowed them to finish the first stage of work several months earlier.
Over the next two years, the utility will replace almost six miles of low-pressure cast iron gas lines with high-pressure plastic lines that better resist leaks during flooding. During Superstorm Sandy, said PSE&G District Manager Michael Gallagher, some of the older lines in the city cracked and flooded, resulting in blockages.
In addition, Hoboken’s three electric substations will be consolidated into two structures that will be elevated to protect them from floods.
“You’re asking us to put all of our residents out…I think it’s insulting.” – Michael Russo
According to Caren Freyer DeSouza, the regional public affairs manager for PSE&G, Hoboken is the first New Jersey city to receive major gas main upgrades under Energy Strong. In coordination with the gas line project, the city of Hoboken will upgrade its thoroughfares in various ways this coming year.
For example, it will upgrade more than 350 handicap-accessible curb ramps and bring pedestrian safety improvements to 11 intersections. All told, 50 blocks of roadway will be repaved by the city. In addition, PSE&G has provisional plans to repave curb to curb sections of First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Newark, Adams, and Monroe streets.
The upgrades will take place in two stages. Services in southern Hoboken up to and including Sixth Street, including the busy southern section of Washington Street, will be replaced in 2014, followed by services north of Sixth Street in 2015.
In order to replace mains, PSE&G must dig 18-inch wide trenches in the roadbed, which are backfilled and covered at the end of each workday. Each business and residence on the planned construction routes will lose service for a short period as their pipes are connected to the new main.
Extended hours rejected
While unanimous in their support for upgrading outdated infrastructure, elected officials expressed concerns about the disruption extending construction hours for PSE&G would cause.
At the meeting, Freyer DeSouza said the waiver was necessary to ensure that the project could be completed by its 18-month deadline. Although the utility’s funding comes from rate-payers, how it can be spent is closely regulated by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. If PSE&G cannot complete its work in 18 months, said Freyer DeSouza, they will not be able to get more money to finish it.
The PSE&G representatives also made clear that only preparatory work with hand tools would be done before 8 a.m.
A majority of council members were unsatisfied by this rationale, saying it did not outweigh the loss of quality of life for residents.
“You’re speaking to someone who lived through the Hoboken renovation, and we looked so forward to at least two days of break,” said Councilwoman Theresa Castellano.
Several questioned the size of a $206,000 escrow account PSE&G said it would give Hoboken to cover the repaving of a 15-foot wide strip of Washington Street after work is complete.
“You’re coming to the city and you’re asking us to put all of our residents out,” said Councilman Michael Russo, “asking them to deal with noise in the early mornings, in the evenings, on Saturdays, and you come in here saying ‘Here’s $206,000 to repave Washington Street?’ I think that’s insulting.”
Councilman Tim Occhipinti pointed to the negative effects of longer hours of traffic congestion. “Washington Street is the main artery for the 126 [bus] route, and you have every day…workers going into the city, and you’re going to cause traffic congestion,” said Occhipinti.
The construction noise waiver was voted down by a tally of 6-3. Council members James Doyle, Beth Mason, and Jennifer Giattino voted in favor.
Former councilwoman is new Zoning Board member
Also on Wednesday, the City Council unanimously appointed Carol Marsh to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Marsh fills the vacant seat left by the resignation of Brian Urbano and will serve the remainder of his term, which expires at the end of 2014.
Marsh ran for mayor in 2005 and state Assembly in 2007, losing both races. Marsh has also served two non-consecutive terms on the City Council, stepping down from her last one in October 2012 due to personal circumstances. She was allied with Mayor Dawn Zimmer. James Doyle, a current councilman–at-large, was appointed to replace her after overcoming a legal challenge to the City Council vote.
Zoning has been an ongoing source of debate within the council, with some arguing that the board is overzealous in rejecting projects, while others say developers are being given more than they deserve.
Marsh is currently considered an ally of Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s coalition, though she predates Zimmer in city politics. She was nominated for the Zoning Board by Council President Jennifer Giattino.
Almost every council member complimented Marsh’s knowledge of the city and its zoning laws, but some continued to question the current process for appointing zoning board members.
Councilman David Mello motioned to table the appointment and seek additional applicants, but did not receive a second. He said Marsh comes from the same school of thought as most current Zoning Board members, a view of shaping rather than blocking development that he said risked being overrepresented.
Castellano applauded the amount of discussion given to Marsh’s appointment, saying all appointees deserved the same amount of scrutiny.
Still no valid sergeant list for HPD
New Jersey still lacks a valid law enforcement examination for use in the promotion of police sergeants. As a result, noted Director of Public Safety Jon Tooke at Wednesday’s meeting, the list that the Hoboken Police Department uses to promote sergeants has expired, and every new officer promoted under it serves provisionally.
Police officers in New Jersey must pass civil service exams to be eligible for promotion to higher positions. The expired list of officers eligible for sergeant positions in Hoboken is based on a test that was challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010 for having a discriminatory impact on African-Americans and Hispanics.
A new test was developed and administered in 2013, but the New Jersey Civil Service Commission is still consulting with the federal government to determine if it adequately addressed the discrimination issue, so its results have not been released.
Tooke said some of the sergeants currently serving in Hoboken may have to be demoted once the new test results come out.