LINCROFT – A federally funded study just getting underway looks to see how the longstanding Naval Weapons Station Earle can continue meeting its mission and work with surrounding communities on land use issues, despite the impacts of climate changes and sea level rise.
“They’re concerned with both sides,” of that equation, said Monmouth County Freeholder Director Lillian Burry about this study.
Burry joined representatives from Earle, the Maser Consulting engineering firm and others associated with the study on Tuesday evening at Thompson Park’s visitor center for the first in what is likely to be a series of public sessions about the study, its purpose and its eventual findings.
“It’s a unique opportunity to work alongside our neighbors,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Jay Steingold, NWS Earle’s commanding officer.
Officials offered some background and details about the study’s purpose and the role the public can play in providing additional information for the study.
According to Burry, the county is in receipt of a $206,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense for the joint land use study. The county’s Division of Planning will be the lead agency for the study, Burry said, with the county providing an additional $32,500 in professional services toward the study.
Earle faces additional challenges that weren’t in the offing when the military facility was established in 1943. Those challenges now include addressing environmental sustainability issues, officials noted. Super Storm Sandy in October 2012 caused approximately $31 million in damages to Earle’s pier complex, according to Dennis Blazak, Earle’s community plans and liaison officer.
The 2.2-mile long pier juts out from the facility’s Leonardo facility in Middletown into Sandy Hook Bay, allowing ordnance to be loaded onto U.S. Navy vessels.
According to Blazak, the entire facility, which totals approximately 11,850 acres, had about $50 million in Sandy-related damages.
“This is really about resiliency,” Blazak said, as the facility continues to conduct its mission of providing support to the Navy and looks to address such things as climate change, rising sea levels and more severe storm events that can impact the facility.
“We have to start thinking clearly on this issue,” he added. “We have to make sure we don’t end up being an island.”
“One standpoint is the environmental. The other standpoint is the land use,”said Gerald DeFelicis, the project manager with Maser Consulting’s Mount Laurel office.
The other goal of the study is to encourage Naval personnel and officials of communities hosting and surrounding Earle to work more closely together on future land development proposals and on area roadways. That is to “ensure area planning does not constrict military interests,” Burry said.
But, stressed DeFelicis, “The intent of the study is not to overrule municipalities.”
NWS Earle was established during World War II, primarily to assist in the military planning for the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. The facility, the largest Naval weapons station on the East Coast, encompasses property in Colts Neck, Howell, Tinton Falls, Wall and Middletown.
The study will also take into account the role Earle plays in the neighboring municipalities of Atlantic Highlands, Highlands, Eatontown, Farmingdale, Freehold Township, Keansburg, Neptune and Ocean.
Tinton Falls Mayor Gerald M. Turning Sr. said after the session he was reserving judgment until the report was drafted. “Let’s see what they put in the sausage; I want to see what they want to do,” Turning said.
Regarding the town’s association with Earle, Turning said, “We’ve had our differences.” He didn’t offer specifics, but in the past municipalities have had issues with Earle and the U.S. Department of Defense over the future use of military housing for civilian use at the facility and over reimbursement for providing public education for military personnel’s children. “But,” Turning said, “we always had a good relationship.”
Burry said additional public hearings on the study will be held when it reaches “milestones.”
The report is expected to be completed by January 2018.
This article was first published in the March 30-April 6, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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