End eminent domain: Middletown (NJ) Courier, 5/25/06

Letter to the Editor

By Pat and Andy Walsh

I write to you today as a homeowner that is about to become the victim of eminent domain abuse at the hands of local Township Committee and County Republican Freeholders in the 13th Legislative District.

Using both state and federal tax dollars they have crafted a bridge replacement project (County Brige S-17) that although carefully cloaked in the guise of the public good, fails on the very mission statement used to gain funding: “The project goal is to provide a solution that will improve structural deficiencies, traffic operations and safety to the traveling public and to minimize impacts to the environment as well as the surrounding community.” After wasting our precious tax dollars to propose this plan for a curved, humpbacked bridge, they have failed at the very goal they presented to you and the federal government to gain tax dollars to propose their plan.

What is clear to all who have seen the plan is that this bridge and our property are the gateway to economic re-development of our entire area. They hatched this plan in secret meetings with both governing bodies where no minutes were taken. They held two separate public meetings in which they introduced their plan to the community on nights conflicting with other well-established meetings. They had to be pushed into having another meeting by us in order to somehow allow the communities' voice to be heard. Even after hearing the concerns they have forged forward using a public access channel to promote this ill-conceived proposal to the general public, to build a curved humped-back bridge over the Navesink River.

Let's take a close look at where they fail to fulfill the goals they set before you in order to get our tax-dollars behind this project.

Improving the traffic congestion in this area has long been a concern to many residents of Middletown, Red Bank and the surrounding communities. However to waste our tax-dollars to produce a plan that will leave use with the same congestion sitting outside our front door is a travesty. But for the 20,000 commuters who use the bridge each day it is an insult.

Other ideas have been proposed that might alleviate this problem but as the county engineer has stated, “They were not explored.” Then why not build a bridge in the same footprint, saving tax money and mirroring a similar project on Route 202? That is the question that is in dire need to be answered.

How safe will a curved humpbacked bridge be in the middle of winter? Bridges freeze before roadbeds and this is a major byway for ambulances heading to Riverview Medical Center. With congestion added to this design we are facing a recipe for disaster.

There is no dispute that the underpinnings of the [West Front Street Bridge] need to be replaced, although the study was done over six years ago. But in 1992, using county tax dollars the Freeholders replaced the approaches, shored up the pilings and we willingly sold property to add a turning lane and sidewalk for the community.

The tax-dollars used to do that work came from every homeowner in the county and they will be wasted when this work is destroyed to complete [the county's] ill-conceived plan. Committee members have told the public there is only a 12-inch differential in the height, when in reality it is going from 4 feet to 12 feet, a figure quoted by the designer of the project at a public meeting. There are alternatives that have been proposed that would provide a better traffic pattern, or at best produce a more cost effective design. They have all been ignored.

I have been threatened already with lengthy and costly litigation, condemnation, and I stand to lose one-quarter of our property. I feel like Middletown and the county have put a gun to our head and are performing a robbery, in broad daylight, using the public money to do it. Imagine someone telling you to give up a quarter of your property for “just compensation.” What compensation can be offered when half our waterfront is gone and the other half is a view of a traffic-congested bridge serving as the frontage to our Victorian home that I have been renovating for 20 years?

Think beyond that to the change in our community. The bridge project will change both the ambience of our neighborhood and affordability of homes on both sides of the river. We stand at the beginning of the next Long Branch, the same eminent domain abuse that has gained state and national headlines. What is at stake here is the same thing.

It's time to stop this and stop it now. Join me in our fight to stop this bridge project. Not just for our sake but for the sake of the community and our neighborhood. Eminent domain abuse must be stopped now!

Middletown Courier: http://www.bayshorenews.com