[An earlier version of this article suggested the proposal to permanently close 629 is “dead in the water.” The title has been edited to reflect that it’s merely “on hold.” -Ed.]
On August 4, 2022 U.S. Congressman Tom Malinowski (D) met with officials of the New Jersey Water Supply Authority on behalf of constituents to raise questions about the proposed permanent closure of Hunterdon County Route 629.
Malinowski was recently asked for help by area residents that oppose the proposed permanent closure of the road that goes over a Round Valley Reservoir dam.
This morning a Malinowski spokesperson acknowledged the congressman’s meeting last Thursday with the NWSA.
MyCentralJersey reported the road closure will be on pause “until an updated study is completed on possible security concerns.”
There is no indication whether or when 629 will be re-opened, although work related to the road appears near complete. (See photo, courtesy of Robert Quinlan.) But the “informal proposal” — on which the NJWSA based its requests for formal resolutions of support by Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough — seems to be on hold, at least for now, apparently due to the Malinowski meeting.
Proposal to close 629 appears dead in the water, for now
The MyCentralJersey.com article goes on to say the proposed road closure was “prompted by a confidential study by the Department of Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers.”
However, “the authority’s Capital Projects Committee has recommended an update to that study. The authority has begun discussions with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the New Jersey State Police and Homeland Security about updating the study. Until that study is completed, the authority will hold off asking the Hunterdon County commissioners to close the road.”
Coming just days after the U.S. Congressman met with WSA officials about the matter, it seems concerned residents have an advocate in Tom Malinowski.
Flurry of activity
Internal NJWSA e-mails obtained by ExMayor.com, dated June and July, reveal a flurry of attempts by Water Authority officials to come up with last-minute justifications to close 629 — after unyielding protests from area residents.
Water Authority e-mails to and from U.S. Homeland Security and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers appear, from these documents, to have been fruitless and embarrassing.
ExMayor.com has obtained official records from the New Jersey Water Supply Authority under the NJ Sunshine Law that reveal the Authority scrambling to find after-the-fact justification to support its proposal to close county route 629.
Records were requested from the beginning of 2022 — but it took the Authority until July to seek support, well after it floated the road closure.
One e-mail, for example, asks Department of Homeland Security whether it knows “of any document that says roads should not be placed on high hazard dams in particular ones that are on the critical dam list?”
This request came weeks after the NJWSA asked Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough for formal resolutions of support to close the roadway.
E-mails to and from U.S. Homeland Security and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers appear, from these documents, to have been fruitless and embarrassing.
Water Authority documents and e-mails
Click “View doc” link after each summary to view the source document.
Shaffer (WSA) and Kale (DEP) debate whether internal docs “call out this road as a target” and speculate about whether “Justification for closing road could be tied to the “active and passive vehicle barrier guide””. These efforts to create justification for closing 629 are made weeks after WSA asks Clinton Township to support the proposal.
In the meantime, Mayor Brian Mullay keeps repeating that NJWSA instructed him to keep the justification for the closing “secret,” but that he finds “the reasons compelling.” This leads his council to vote unanimously on June 22 to go along. View doc
July 6-7 DEP’s John Kale asks Department of Homeland Security whether it knows “of any document that says roads should not be placed on high hazard dams in particular ones that are on the critical dam list?”
DHS responds “No, it is up to the owner/operator to determine what are acceptable risk to them and what protective measures if any they want to implement to protect their facilities. All of our documents are voluntary guidelines and best practices for suggested risk mitigation, protective measures, etc.”
In other words, despite the 2012 report, DHS will not comment on a specific site or road. Nonetheless, WSA claims on its website that the old DHS “report” is the basis for closing the road. View doc
July 8 WSA asks NJ DEP to support permanent closing of 629, “based on recommendations identified in a report prepared by US Department of Homeland Security and US Army Corp of Engineers in coordination with NJDEP Bureau of Dam Safety. The report analyzed various potential threats at all three Round Valley dams and offered recommendations to mitigate those threats.”
The referenced report was produced in 2012, 10 years before WSA asked towns for resolutions of support. Today’s announcement suggests report is out of date and insufficient. View doc
July 22 WSA e-mail response to earlier DHS e-mail: “the Water Supply Authority finds ourselves in a bit of a local uproar.”
WSA has “requested input from NJSP [NJ State Police] about whether “the report provides a legitimate basis for our request.”
These requests to justify closure of 629 come over a month after WSA told Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough that the action was necessary. View doc
These documents were obtained under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act from Clinton Township. They include communications/e-mails between the township, Lebanon Boro, the NJ Water Supply Authority and Hunterdon County. Chronology is oldest at the bottom of each file, newest at the top.
E-mails between Mayor Mullay, township administrator Vita Mekovetz and NJWSA Executive Director Marc Brooks, establishing that Mullay knew about the proposed permanent closing of Route 629 as early as April 7, 2022. He had over 2 months to properly notify the public about the proposal before the council voted on it June 22 with no one present to comment.
Also establishes that on April 7 Mullay knew “many” residents would be interested in commenting on the matter because — in his own words — “Many will be disappointed if it is closed as people frequently ask when it will reopen.”
The empty council chamber on June 22 suggests Mullay had no intention of widely notifying the public.
In which Brooks, on June 10, outlines the informal proposal he made to the County Engineer, and the Engineer’s request for a formal proposal and supporting resolutions/letters from Clinton Township and Lebanon Boro before the Engineer would consider a formal proposal. The Engineer also requires that the public be given an opportunity to comment “to minimize potential for complaints in the future if the closure becomes permanent.”
Without any public comment, and without once wondering aloud what the public might want, this is how the council rationalized taking no position on permanently closing route 629 when it had the chance to communicate the wishes of residents of the township to the county.
“It is a county decision, not ours… it may actually be the county in conjunction with the Water Supply Authority… My suggestion would be that the council authorize me to send a letter to the county saying, not necesarily that we support it [permanently closing the road] but that we understand it, and while it would be an inconvenience it’s ultimately the county’s decision.” – Mayor Brian Mullay
“So just to reiterate, we have no choice in the long run… I’ll support it because we don’t have a choice…” – Councilwoman Amy Switlyk
Who needs elected representatives to communicate the will of the people?
I’m a former mayor of Clinton Township, where a controversy is brewing over our council’s letter to the NJWSA (and to you, for all I know – I cannot confirm it) about the Water Authority’s “informal” proposal to permanently close county route 629 after Round Valley dam and dike reconstruction is completed.
In a June 10, 2022 e-mail from Marc Brooks to Mayor Brian Mullay, obtained under OPRA, I learned of some important requests and suggestions you apparently made to the NJWSA “to minimize potential for complaints in the future if the closure becomes permanent.”
Mr. Brooks wrote:
“Hunterdon County’s Engineering Division is prepared to make the recommendation to the County Commissioners but has asked that the Authority provide a formal request. With that request, they have asked that we include resolutions, or letters of support from the mayors of both Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough. The County has suggested that the municipalities publicly discuss this matter on the record to minimize potential for complaints in the future if the closure becomes permanent.”
I appreciate that you asked the NJWSA, prior to submitting a formal proposal to you, to ensure that this matter be aired in a public forum where residents of both towns have a full opportunity to give their views, and I expect you meant before their respective governing bodies take action.
But Clinton Township did nothing more than the minimum-required “public notice” on a matter of enormous interest to the residents of the township. Two people were in the audience at the June 22 council meeting. No one commented. Certainly, we expect more of our elected officials, especially after COVID emptied our council chambers of public participation for two years.
Now, Clinton Township’s failure to provide a well-advertised public forum has resulted in an enormous number of strident complaints – protests against the proposed road closure, questions about the lack of accountability regarding security issues, ire at the clearly needless rush to act and, perhaps more important, outrage over the complete lack of transparency with which this has been handled by Clinton Township and the NJWSA. If you have access, you need only check the Facebook Groups and Nextdoor forums associated with Clinton Township and Lebanon. I’ve been witness to public controversies in Hunterdon, but I cannot recall one as wild as this in 15 years.
Certainly the public bodies involved in this can do a better job of respecting the public’s right to know what’s going on and to ensure the public’s right to participate in their government. Based on the information I have, it seems your office did the right thing. For that, thank you.
My response to all this is in an open letter I wrote to Mr. Brooks. Since the county has been cited again and again as the decision maker on this matter (“We have no choice – it’s a county decision” was the refrain by Clinton Township council before they voted to not oppose the closure), and since your office has been cited as the advisor to the county commissioners, I wanted to share my response with you.
My hope is that Clinton Township and Lebanon will hold widely advertised public comment opportunities on the proposed permanent closure of Route 629 before your office needs to make a recommendation to the commissioners, so that you may be afforded a complete picture of public sentiment – not just the wishes of our politicians.
In addition, I expect that the NJWSA will appear at these forums to answer questions and provide substantive justification for closing 629. My hope is that everyone, including your office and the commissioners, will have the information they need so all will support one choice based on sound information and judgment.
In the interest of transparency, I will post this communication online as I have my letter to Mr. Brooks.
Open Letter to Marc Brooks, Executive Director, NJ Water Supply Authority
Dear Mr. Brooks:
On June 22 the mayor and council of Clinton Township voted unanimously not to oppose the permanent closing of county route 629 over Round Valley Reservoir — without one public comment at the meeting. This is telling, because almost 2 weeks after that furtive action, an article about the matter on exmayor.com was viewed over 3,600 times in less than 6 days. Many Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough residents who knew nothing about the proposed road closing have expressed outrage and opposition.
Based on what I now know about the 629 proposal, I am presently 100% against it. Everything surrounding this pitch can only be called lame and embarrassing.
I am a former mayor of Clinton Township and live on Old Mountain Road, along with over 100 other households. We’ve been patiently waiting for the road to reopen after over 4 years of dam reconstruction. Open for over 60 years, the road was closed briefly after 9/11 then reopened. The road is our best, fastest and most economical route to points south and to the Hunterdon Medical Center Emergency Room.
The closure has been proposed “informally” by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority to the County Engineer. The Engineer must decide whether to recommend to the County Commissioners whether to close this important county road.
According to official documents obtained from Clinton Township under OPRA, the County Engineer requires from the NJWSA:
a formal proposal for the closing
formal resolutions of support from Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough
that the public have an opportunity to comment on the matter prior to any formal proposal made to the county “to minimize potential for complaints in the future if the closure becomes permanent.”
Nowhere is there any indication of any rush or even a deadline for the towns to take formal action, or to receive public comment.
Lebanon has not yet decided how to proceed, citing the need for more information, to consider all the ramifications to the public and to its businesses, and to get input from its residents. Lebanon will discuss the matter in public later in July and seems in no rush.
Clinton Township, however, acted immediately and precipitously on June 22 to not oppose the road closing and to pass the buck to the county without any public comment, and with only the minimum required “legal notice” to the public and to affected residents. Certainly, the people we have elected can do better than that.
There are many notices posted at the huge fence that blocks entrance to 629 at the intersection of Old Mountain Road and Cherry Street. But Clinton Township couldn’t be bothered to post a notice there to affected residents, or to use its “Email Alert” system, inviting their input and concerns. Nor did the township publish any notice in its monthly newsletter, even though Mayor Brian Mullay knew about the proposal as early as April 7 and acknowledged then that it would be controversial.
The County Engineer should be aware that there are already loads of public objections to the proposal as well as complaints about the failure to ensure adequate opportunity for public comments. One need only check the Clinton Township and Lebanon Facebook groups and Nextdoor.
The NJWSA has provided the skimpiest justification for the closure: vague references to “security reasons” that local officials were told “not to discuss publicly.”
On June 22 Mayor Mullay told the council that:
“There are security concerns which in my opinion are major, but which we can’t get into the details of… but I very much understand the rationale behind their desire to close it.”
What security expertise and qualifications does Mayor Mullay possess to warrant offering his opinion to justify closing a road? What rationale is he referring to?
Asked by a council member, “Why?” Mullay answered:
“We can’t have that discussion in public, but it satisfied me, that’s all I’m going to say.”
By what legal authority does Mayor Mullay limit public council deliberation about a public road funded by taxpayers? Does the rest of the council have this information? Was this discussed in closed session?
Responding to a concerned resident via e-mail, Mullay said this:
“I understand your concern of a lack of transparency. I believe I mentioned that I wish I could go into more detail during the Council meeting. All that I am able to say is that the security concern that the Authority has is related to dam safety. I toured all the project sites with the Authority, during which time we discussed in detail the dam security issue that is leading them to make the request for closure to the County. It is unfortunate, but the sensitive nature of that information cannot be discussed publicly (in fact, I was asked not to discuss it publicly). Suffice it to say, I found the information compelling.”
What secret clearance does the mayor possess? What warranted the NJWSA’s disclosure of sensitive security information to him, and under what legal authority did it then instruct him to withhold the information from the public? This cloak-and-dagger stuff must be, suggested one resident, from watching too much “24” on tv.
The NJWSA reportedly told Lebanon only verbally that heavy trucks could undermine the road’s stability. Yet it has provided the towns with nothing substantive from any relevant authority to support its proposal.
The County Engineer was wise to wave away the NJWSA’s “informal” proposal. Mayor Mullay and his council were foolish and irresponsible to take formal action without due diligence and without formal documentation to defend their rushed vote. Mullay could not even offer anything substantive to the council. Not even the township engineer was present.
After contacting relevant officials and reviewing available documents, based on what I now know about the 629 permanent closure proposal, I am presently 100% against it. I see no justification or evidence that it would be prudent to permanently close a major Hunterdon County through road that so many residents from Clinton Township and Lebanon rely on. Moreover, while the county is spending tax dollars on an “Eco-Tourism” initiative, does it make any sense to close the most stunning, gorgeous drive through nature in Hunterdon County?
To change my position, first the NJWSA would have to provide a formal assessment and position statement from US Homeland Security, or other relevant authority, about new security risks at this specific dam and road. The document might be redacted for security reasons, but I need to see that a proper authority did the proper analysis and recommends the closure. Mayor Mullay’s opinion and whatever the NJWSA did or did not tell him is not sufficient. Violation of the NJ OPRA is not acceptable.
Second, you’d have to provide an assessment and recommendations from the US Army Corps of Engineers about the risk of damage to the dam from truck traffic on this specific dam and road. Did the State of NJ really put out a bid for dam work that would not withstand the kind of traffic that has been going over that road for over 60 years? The NJWSA noted to me that the NJ DEP has expressed only “verbal support of this proposal.”
It seems everyone is “passing the buck” on approval to permanently close the road, and the only backstop is public outrage — and the only solution is public comment.
I am stunned that Clinton Township Council voted unanimously to not oppose the closure by stating that “it’s the county’s decision, not ours” and “we have no choice,” without a shred of documentary evidence that the road closure is necessary, for any reason, whether engineering/structural or related to homeland security.
Where have we heard “we have no choice” before? For over 10 years residents of Old Mountain Road led the successful war to stop Pulte Homes from putting over 1,000 housing units on Windy Acres, even to the point of having to sue the township. If we had listened to “We have no choice” from then-mayor Tom Borkowski, the planning board and he council, there would be no Windy Acres Park today.
Do we have to sue someone again, this time to protect a road we rely on?
I’m even more stunned that the NJWSA would ask Hunterdon County to close the road and transfer it to the NJWSA without supporting documentary evidence. I’m shocked that NJWSA and the county would put the cart before the horse and, in a seemingly deft political ploy to pass the buck, first ask the towns for formal support when the NJWSA itself has offered the towns nothing formal upon which to base a decision the towns can defend to the public.
If there are legitimate “security reasons” that are documented and verified (even if some of this is “secret”), then our local and county governing bodies should have all the evidence they require to make an informed decision about closing the road. But they must be able to document and defend their decision.
This entire enterprise seems less than half-baked and steeped in bureaucratic and political manipulation of our naïve elected officials. I do not support the present shenanigans because this dog don’t hunt.
I’m still waiting to see the information Mayor Mullay and the council used to support their premature action, which in any event is unforgivable for lack of any effort to first obtain public comment, especially from residents affected most.
I ask the NJWSA to kindly:
Provide the public with evidence of independent assessments of this road and this dam/dike, as well as formal recommendations regarding road closure, from US Homeland Security and the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Recommend to Clinton Township that the council repeal its premature, unsupported June 22 resolution — which was devoid of any documented basis or public input — because it’s the right thing to do.
Provide to Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough a complete, formal proposal that has the full, formal support of the NJ DEP and the county, prior to expecting the towns to provide formal resolutions of support. I’m sure you recognize the importance of due diligence when elected officials must make important decisions that affect taxpayers.
Ensure that NJWSA and the towns have taken necessary and meaningful measures to inform residents about this proposal and to provide ample opportunity for public comment “to minimize potential for complaints in the future if the closure becomes permanent.”
While I respect the NJWSA’s desire to ensure the safety and security of our towns, that is meaningless without protecting and ensuring the sacred right of the public to know what’s going on and to participate fully in our own government.
Without any meaningful effort to obtain public comment from affected residents, on June 22 Mayor Brian Mullay and the Clinton Township Council voted to endorse the permanent closure of a major township thoroughfare — the section of County Road 629 that goes over Round Valley Reservoir. The proposal for the closure was made by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority to the Hunterdon County Engineer.
None of the council members live in the vicinity of the road they voted to close.
Road closure without notice
The road is an important connector between Cherry Street, Old Mountain Road and County Route 629 to points south including the nearest hospital emergency room.
Its closure will impact thousands of county residents , and in particular over 100 households on Old Mountain Road and hundreds of residents of The Lebanon Commons and Lebanon Heights.
Clinton Township has three paid announcements in the current edition of the Clinton Township Newsletter, promoting a “Green Fair,” a “Food Truck Festival” reminding residents to “Sign up for Email Alerts!”
But there was no notice or explanation in the newsletter to affected residents about the impending decision to close the road — no letter in the mail or any “Email Alert.” However, township e-mail records show Mayor Mullay was aware of the impact of a permanent closure months ago.
On April 7, 2022 he e-mailed township administrator Vita Mekovetz:
“Many will be disappointed if it is closed as people frequently ask when it will reopen.”
Mullay had two months to adequately notify affected residents.
The closure has posed a significant hardship for affected residents that rely on the route to Flemington. They say they have been waiting patiently for it to re-open upon completion of massive work on the north dam.
Councilman Bill Glaser, running for reelection in November, thinks the reservoir “was opened in the Fifties.” In fact, it was opened in the next decade.
The NJWSA made a point of telling Clinton Township to get public input on the proposed closure above and beyond normal “public notices” in the newspaper.
The mayor said that “while it would be an inconvenience, it’s ultimately the county’s decision.”
A public comment: “Security by Obscurity”
Mayor Mullay wrote this to Lebanon Borough Mayor Jim Pittinger in a June 17 e-mail:
“It would be nice if we could talk a bit more about the actual security concerns to help folks understand, but I understand why we can’t…”
A concerned Old Mountain Road resident who had heard nothing about the proposal to close the road had this response:
“I don’t understand ‘why we can’t talk about it,’ and I mistrust anyone who uses that kind of statement to hide their work. This doesn’t seem to be an area where Security by Obscurity would be effective. What’s obscure about driving a shit-ton of explosives on top of a dam?”
The NJWSA has said the road would be kept open to pedestrians and bicycles, suggesting such recreational use would not pose risks to the dam. However, none of the other dams on Round Valley have ever been open to such uses.
The NJWSA implies there are Homeland Security issues, but has provided no risk assessment or statement from that federal agency. In fact, the Authority admits it doesn’t even have the formal support of its own parent agency, the NJDEP.
In a July 1 e-mail, an official of the NJWSA stated (emphasis added):
“Please note that the Authority has received verbal support of this proposal from New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Dam Safety.”
The council has no supporting evidence
After a brief discussion, the council voted unanimously on the closure without presenting any documentation or supporting evidence to the public. No one from the NJWSA or the County Engineer’s office appeared to speak or take questions, nor was any township engineer present.
An OPRA request (NJ Open Public Records Act, or sunshine law) to the township confirmed the council has no reports or documentation to support the need for the road closure from the NJWSA, the county or any other relevant body — such as Homeland Security.
Everything is “informal” except for the council’s vote.
Two questions keep arising:
Does anyone have anything in writing from pertinent agencies like the DEP, Homeland Security or the US Army Corps of Engineers about this specific road and this specific dam?
Why did the Clinton Township council vote without supporting documentation?
“Give us back our road!”
One affected resident said she had heard nothing about the closure even after the council voted. She said she was part of the group of Old Mountain Road residents that for 10 years fought to save Windy Acres from development with over 1,100 housing units.
“We gave them Windy Acres for hiking and recreation for all township residents, after they called us NIMBYs and worse. Now they advertise the recreation that we made possible, but they make a decision to close our major access road to the rest of the township without taking a little extra trouble to let us have input on it? I guess we’re still NIMBYs if we don’t want the road in our backyard closed!”
Prior to voting, Councilwoman Amy Switlyk said, “So, just to reiterate, we have no choice in the long run… I’ll support it [closing the road permanently] because we don’t have a choice.”
Switlyk seemed nervous that she had no choice but to vote to close the road. The same resident said:
“Ms. Switlyk should consider that if the residents of Old Mountain Road had accepted ‘We have no choice’ when Pulte Homes planned to build 1,100 housing units on Windy Acres, she’d have no place to build hiking trails and gazebos. Give us back our road!”
What we know
An official at the NJWSA said the Authority has asked Hunterdon County to consider closing the road since it is a county road. At the county’s suggestion, the Authority sent e-mails to Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough requesting input from the governing bodies and from the public before the Authority makes a formal proposal to the county.
The official said the rationale for the road closing is “dam safety and security concerns” but also expressed the Authority’s desire to learn whether closing the road might cause “significant hardship” to affected residents.
However, said the official, while the Authority heard back from Lebanon, Clinton Township has not responded about getting public input.
It seems a little late for that.
No effort made to obtain public input
Township records as of June 27 show that the NJWSA is under the impression that only three residents have spoken up — all asking for the facts, and one of them asking whether there would be a public forum to discuss the matter.
Certainly the NJWSA and the county know that the NJ Open Public Meetings Act requires all public meeting agendas to be published in advance so the public is afforded a chance to comment. So for these agencies to specifically request public input, the intended message was that the township should do more than the legally require minimum.
From an e-mail from the NJWSA to the towns, expressing the county’s concern about potential public outcry (emphasis added):
“The County has suggested that the municipalities publicly discuss this matter on the record to minimize potential for complaints in the future if the closure becomes permanent.”
Township e-mail records show that the township for all intents and purposes ignored requests from the county and the water authority to make any special effort to obtain public input.
What we know
ExMayor.com has confirmed that, other than informal communications, neither Lebanon nor Clinton Township have any documentation of any justification for closure of the road, nor did Mayor Mullay present any verifiable facts or documentation.
In other words, the council voted blindly.
Mayor Mullay said at the June 22 meeting that there are reasons for the closure that he knew about but that could not be discussed in public, implying they were about security.
An OPRA request to Clinton Township for all communications about the matter between Clinton Township, Lebanon Borough, Hunterdon County and the NJWSA produced pages of documents but none related to security reasons for the proposed closing. There was one small redaction unrelated to the matter itself. Nothing was redacted that might suggest confidential information or any Homeland Security information was delivered to the township to aid the council’s decision making.
At the June 22 meeting, Mayor Mullay was asked about Lebanon’s position on the matter.
“I suspect that they will probably adopt a similar act as I suggested,” he responded.
Lebanon officials, however, say they have serious reservations and concerns about the closure, and that the borough’s position has not yet been formulated or communicated to the NJWSA. The borough is seeking input from the public. Lebanon’s Facebook page has a lively public discussion going about the matter.
Neither the Clinton Township website or Facebook page have any information or notices about the road closure, no requests for public input as requested by the county and the NJWSA. There is no public discussion on social media.
Over a week after council voted, it appears residents know nothing about it.
“We want the road open again!”
Politicians routinely point out that they post required legal notices about council agenda items and that it is the public’s obligation to check the agendas.
Old Mountain Road residents asked by ExMayor.com for their comments say they are upset that their tax dollars support the township’s advertising about social events and the township’s “Email Alerts” — but that no one thought that plans to close a major thoroughfare was worth “advertising.”
Another resident stated:
“We’ve been waiting patiently for 5 years for the dam reconstruction to end so we can use the road. We’ve been driving extra miles through the borough, burning expensive gas, through four stop lights and at least one jug handle to get to Route 31. We’re not worth an e-mail? They want our votes? We want the road open again.”
There is a related fly in the ointment.
While the county is funding an aggressive “Eco-Tourism” initiative to bring visitors to Hunterdon, does it make any sense to close the most stunning, gorgeous drive through nature in Hunterdon County?
The council “discussion”
Watch and listen to the entire “discussion” of the council about the road closing. Note that no factual details to justify the action are presented and no documents from the county or NJWSA are referenced.
Mayor Brian Mullay, council members Marc Strauss, Tom Kochanowski, Amy Switlyk and Bill Glaser never make mention of the hundreds of households that their decision will affect. Nor do they wonder out loud what those residents might have to say about the matter. They come up with no questions or concerns to be directed at the NJWSA or the county before making a decision.
Switlyk and Glaser are running for reelection. Neither of them suggested making the extra effort to make sure their constituents actually know what council was about to vote on.
They repeatedly emphasized that It’s not our decision. It’s not our fault. We have no control.
Mayor Mullay asks if anyone in the council chamber has a comment. There are only two people and a reporter present. He gives no indication of surprise when no one has any concerns about this.
“Many will be disappointed if it is closed as people frequently ask when it will reopen.” — Mayor Mullay, over two months earlier
This does not seem to satisfy requests from the county and NJWSA that affected residents be given a chance to participate in a public forum.
“Don’t blame us! It’s somebody else’s decision!”
When Clinton Township bungled the “new turning lanes” at Blossom Hill Road and Route 22, Mayor Brian Mullay explained that it was a State project. He said the township was not involved.
When questioned at a public meeting, he admitted the township had not reviewed the plans for the project, had not sought to provide any input to the NJ Department of Transportation, and had no idea how the DOT was designing the project.
That new intersection is now a line of orange cones defying the entire intent of the project — to make it safer to make left turns at a deadly intersection. Now drivers cannot make left turns at all.,
Mullay and the council blamed it all on the State, while failing to exercise their own prerogative to protect the interests of their constituents in Blossom Hill.
Don’t blame us! It was the state’s decision, or the county’s!
Is it a done deal?
Is it a done deal?
Nothing is a done deal. Council can rescind its decision and take time for public input, then vote again.
You can insist on your right to state your opinions, wishes and questions. Attend the next council meeting and/or contact the mayor and council. Ask them to hold a well-publicized public forum on the road closure.
Remember that Switlyk and Glaser are up for reelection in November.
Now Mullay is once again taking no action to protect the township from another State decision. This time Mullay is blaming the county and the NJ Water Supply Authority for closing a major through road in Clinton Township and adversely affecting hundreds of households — without securing their input.
As if Clinton Township has no influence at all on what goes on within its borders.
What’s interesting is that the NJWSA keeps referring to its “informal proposal” to Hunterdon County to permanently close the road, yet insists the township and Lebanon deliver formal resolutions of municipal and public support — in the absence of any evidence to support the need to close the road permanently.
Without anything concrete on which to base its vote, and without anything to defend its action, the Clinton Township Council voted 5-0 to let Route 629 be closed without any public comment.
Happy 4th of July. Let the fireworks begin.
Video credit: Hunterdon Review, Michelle Lacamera (video incorrectly lists Maria Lacamera)
Approved massive housing developments with no voter input
Approved a pedestrian walkway across 4 lanes of Rt. 31 at taxpayer cost for the benefit of a private developer
Billed taxpayers for a new frisbee golf course non-residents can use for free
And much, much more…
If you’re a Republican, you will see only 2 choices for 2 Clinton Township Council seats — the incumbents. In other words, you have no choices.
If you’re a Democrat in Clinton Township, you will see no candidates on your Primary ballot for council. You have no choices.
In fact, in the November election incumbent Councilwoman Amy Switlyk is guaranteed 12 years on the council and incumbent Councilman Bill Glaser is guaranteed 3 more years — without having to campaign, with no opponents, with no problem. These 2 don’t have to answer for their record, knock on your door, or answer your questions about how they’re spending your money. As shoe-ins, they’re not accountable to anyone.
Who needs elections?
Democrats? What Democrats?
This is where corrupt local government starts. Representative government is an illusion. Your vote does not count in the council election.
Whose fault is it that there are no Democratic candidates on the Clinton Township ballot?
The Clinton Township Democratic Committee, which is elected every two years by registered Democrats, is responsible for putting Dem candidates on the Primary ballot. They choose the candidates. (Most people have no idea what their party Committee is or what it does.)
But the local Democratic Committee didn’t nominate anyone for the ballot — so, there will be no Democratic choice on the November ballot for township council seats.
This is the Democratic Committee’s #1 job. What are they doing? They’re guaranteeing that Republicans will keep running Clinton Township.
Why are there no Democrats on the ballot?
Each township voting district has 2 Democratic Committee members. Voters in each district elect them every 2 years. Look up your Committee member here (scroll to page 6 to find your voting district. Their names and addresses are public information.) Or, contact Vicki Fresolone and Kira Lawrence — they chair the Committee responsible for giving you candidates to vote for. Ask them why they’re not doing the job they were elected to do — put Democratic candidates on the ballot!
This is where corrupt politics start, because council incumbents are “elected for life.” They can do whatever they want without fear of ever losing their seats.
Local party Committees are the lowest elected positions in every town. When they don’t do their job, voters suffer. Worse, without candidates on the Democratic ballot in June, the Dems fail to build a “bench” for higher level office.
In case you’re wondering why there have been no Dem freeholders in Hunterdon, it’s because the local Dem Committees in Hunterdon have no “bench.”
In case you’re wondering why you don’t have anyone to vote for in the Democratic Primary in June, it’s because your voting district’s Democratic Committee member (you elected them!) didn’t do their job — and don’t seem to care.
Businessman Mihir Patel apparently takes the Hunterdon County Commissioners seriously when they claim to promote Economic Development. He recently made a presentation to the Town of Clinton council about opening a prospective retail cannabis business in the old TD Bank building at 92 West Main. Patel’s plans are based on overwhelming approval of voters for cannabis businesses. But the elected councils of both Town of Clinton and neighboring Clinton Township both decided to ban any and all cannabis operations in direct contradiction of a public referendum.
The clear majority wants cannabis. This is in accord with Hunterdon County’s costly initiatives to promote economic development. The County Commissioners even hired a full-time Economic Development Czar, Mark Saluk. You’d think he would have been at the Clinton meeting, cheering Mr. Patel on. Why isn’t Saluk encouraging towns to get a move on? For that matter, why are the Commissioners themselves not shouting Cannabis Tourism! from the barn tops?
Over a year ago politicians told us they had to work out the details to make sure the new state law was implemented properly. It’s become clear these politicians have no intention of abiding by the will of their own constituents.
Everyone’s entitled to their opinions. But when local elected officials rationalize their rejection of cannabis because a minority of residents shout the loudest against it, all should fear for representative democracy.
What dismays and alarms is the disingenuous (or possibly ignorant) commentary from councilwoman Megan Johnson. The Hunterdon Review reports that “Johnson said…because children use the parking lot for playing, she asked how Patel would accommodate for their safety.”
Seriously? How did TD Bank account for “children using the parking lot for playing?” How do the nearby gas station and nail spa account for it? Since when is a business liable for the activities of local children playing on its property when they shouldn’t be? (Hello, parents?) Do the planning board approvals for the gas station, nail salon and bank site include accommodations for playgrounds?
Ms. Johnson should know better as an elected official. Has she asked her planning board whether it can legally require Mr. Patel (or a gas station) to ensure the safety of children playing on their site?
It’s worth noting that 912 Clinton voters approved Ms. Johnson in 2020. 1,125 approved cannabis.
Commentary from the public is also troubling.
“Sean Lyon, a Clinton Township resident [at the Town of Clinton meeting], suggested that a nurse who has been educated in medical cannabis use should also be on property at all times because bud tenders do not know how medicines would interact with the cannabis, and it would be safer for the community to have a trained medical professional on staff.”
A truly bizarre suggestion. Under Lyon’s logic, every pharmacy should now have a cannabis-trained nurse on site “at all times” because pharmacies “do not know how medicines would interact with the [now legal] cannabis.” For that matter, should our towns now have a trained nurse on site in every bar and liquor store because these establishments don’t know how alcohol interacts with prescription medications customers may be on? Council members might ask the bartender — when they adjourn for a glass of wine after their meetings.
Councilwoman Sherry Dineen seems forgetful and confused: “We have opted out of cannabis licensing. All of this is just exploratory.” No, Ms. Dineen opted out of cannabis licensing. The majority of voters opted in.
In Clinton, Ms. Dineen got the approval of only 741 Clinton voters. 1,125 voters approved cannabis in Clinton.
The Review article doesn’t say whether any Clinton residents spoke to support a cannabis business like Mr. Patel’s. Do they need to? Over 65% of them already voted to support it. Yet municipal officials like Johnson and Dineen in Clinton and Mayor Brian Mullay and Council President Marc Strauss in Clinton Township keep voting against voter-approved Economic Development.
When elected officials fail to do the majority’s will and actively subvert county-mandated economic development, the majority should remember that in the next elections. It seems a lot of self-righteous local officials suffer from a kind of uneducated anti-cannabis fever — “Reefer Madness.” But before you drink to that, consult “a trained nurse.”
At its June 23 meeting the Clinton Township Council spent considerable time demonstrating they can talk at length about a subject they know absolutely nothing about — just because someone made a request.
The mayor and council discussed an “initiative” to install public electric vehicle (EV) chargers — and debated which public open space site is the best place for them. They hope to get some grant money to pay for the project. No factual or research information was presented or discussed.
Do ya think anybody on the Clinton Township council owns an EV? Or bothers to do any research before bringing up kooky ideas at council meetings?
Who requested an EV charger at Windy Acres?
Councilman Mark Strauss, liaison to the Environmental Commission, said he’s received “a specific request for [an electric car charging station] for Windy Acres.”
The Hunterdon Review reported that Strauss “passed along some research about the possibility of an ordinance or amendment to accommodate electric car charging stations at some selected open space locations in the township.”
It’s not clear whether the councilman studied the research himself. It’s quite clear that Councilwoman Amy Switlyk did not. Nonetheless, reported the Review, she “agreed that an electric car charge station is a great idea for the Environmental Commission, but the she doesn’t think Windy Acres has the traffic.”
Green chargers on Windy Acres because it’s “green?”
Taxpayers pay to toss the Frisbee
Councilwoman Switlyk also thinks it’s “a great idea” that the township should fund, build and maintain a Frisbee Golf Course that would be open and free for use of non-residents as well as residents.
One need only remember the township’s skate park, which was dismantled and its parts sold for pennies on the dollar over a decade ago after it was over-run by unruly non-residents.
The Frisbee Golf Course project is already underway, off Regional Road. Green Acres requires that the course be open to non-residents.
This is what happens when policy making is a free-for-all of “great ideas” before anyone has studied anything.
Let’s see — EVs are “green” so this must be a “great idea” for the Environmental Commission since much of our preserved land was acquired with “Green” Acres funds from the N.J. Department of “Environmental” Protection. So let’s let the environmental volunteers handle the mechanics and economics of fueling up EVs!
But, Switlyk said, “Bundt Park would be better” because it gets more traffic.
Mayor Brian Mullay likes the “green” connection, too. He said that “the State is really pushing for electric car charging and could be amenable to stations at Green Acres locations.”
Then the motivation for this became clear: There might be grant money available! Maybe they could use some of the Open Space trust fund money they set aside for “maintenance” of open space to install those chargers on our preserved lands.
Logical, intelligent, fruitful discussion about policy making is not possible without preparation — not if you’re going to do it in public. Council meetings quickly deteriorate into a free-for-all when a town doesn’t have a full-time Administrator who oversees what’s on the agenda. Without someone responsible for a reality check, council meetings turn into a meandering talk show — and taxpayer dollars pay for it.
Clueless in Clinton Township
The council is clearly clueless about EVs, charging and EV user behavior. Strauss, Switlyk and Mullay could have asked a local EV user or two for a quick lesson. The council could also do its own research before its meetings on Google. It’s free. And it would make for more productive council sessions.
It doesn’t take long to learn that a charging station at an open space preserve or a playground makes no sense.
In “Electric Vehicle Charging 101,” the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council) reports that “according to the US Department of Energy, over 80 percent of EV charging happens at home, where EV owners have set up their own chargers.”
It’s telling that the most recent installation of EV chargers in Hunterdon County is at the Flemington Wawa, at the nexus of 3 highways, and an easy stop for travelers passing through. You still can’t get a cup of coffee at Bundt Park.
Windy Acres: Hike while you charge!
A quick survey of Google reveals that local EV owners aren’t going to drive over to Windy Acres or Bundt Park to charge their cars. They don’t need to because they charge at home.
A single charge can power an EV for up to 350 miles, and the average U.S. car owner (any kind of car) drives only 31 miles per day. Even low-capacity EVs can get by locally without ever charging anywhere but at home.
Would anyone use a charger at a “Green Acres location?” The NRDC did some serious test driving to study EV charging, and reports that “being dependent on public charging… is the exception — not the norm.”
EV owners need chargers mainly when they’re traveling out of town, when they need a charge to continue or complete their trip. This means the most likely user of any local charging station is a non-resident who’s passing through.
A full charge at a Bundt Park station for a Chevy Bolt, which has a range of about 220 miles, would take about 40 hours on a Level 1 charger. A Level 2 charger would add about 25 miles to a Tesla Model 3’s battery in an hour.
How much hiking at Windy Acres would a non-resident Tesla driver want to do while waiting to charge? Maybe they’d like to shoot a few hoops at Bundt — for a few hours — while their EV charges.
Level 3 chargers are much more powerful and much more expensive. Usage at even Bundt Park, which, according to Switlyk, “has the traffic,” would never deliver the necessary ROI. As the EV industry pushes the limit with massive investments in ever-faster charging, slow chargers become less attractive to EV users.
EV Charging 101
Charging time is no small matter in the EV business. That’s why most Level 2 and 3 chargers are located in shopping center parking lots where there’s access to a Panera, Wawa, Starbucks or other fast-food establishment. You can get a full charge in about the time it takes to have lunch, or a quick boost on the highway while you have a cup of coffee.
Any Clinton Township EV owner could explain that they charge at home unless they’re on a long trip. A public EV charger would most likely be used by non-residents who are passing through — and the best place for such a charger is at a commercial establishment. The benefit of low-speed public chargers seems to be purely political: “Look, we’re green! We’re hip!”
Just because EVs are green doesn’t make EV chargers a project for the Environmental Commission. Just because our preserved lands are funded by Green Acres doesn’t mean they’re the right place for chargers.
It seems this entire misguided display of government in action may have been driven by nothing more than someone reading that there’s grant money for “green” projects.
Public funds — grants or otherwise — should not be spent on chargers on our preserved lands. It’s not “a great idea.” A great idea would be for our mayor and council to do some homework and demonstrate that they know what they’re talking about — before they embarrass themselves in a public meeting.
But that’s a long-shot for a council that makes policy based on what a select few want, without consulting the community as a whole.
In the upcoming Primary Election (June 8), and even in the November election, you might as well not vote. That’s a shocking suggestion. But it’s apt.
Because your vote doesn’t matter. The Republican party and the Democratic party have seen to that. What’s wrong with Clinton Township is Republicans and Democrats.
The Republicans are letting you vote to re-elect 3 incumbents, whether you like them or not. The GOP gives you no choices in their Primary. Only the incumbents are on the ballot — Tom Kochanowski, Marc Strauss and Bill Glaser. They’ve already “won” the Primary for lack of competition. So your vote literally doesn’t matter.
But wait — you’re a Republican and you’re not happy about hundreds of affordable housing units being built in the township? Blame it on Kochanowski, Strauss and Glaser. They just voted to approved yet another affordable housing deal in a “special” 7-minute meeting with no public present. In one secret deal after another this council keeps approving ultra-high density units — soon in your own backyard.
In the upcoming elections you have no choice but Kochanowski, Strauss and Glaser.
By the way: Kochanowski and Glaser got onto the council without an election. Nobody voted for them. They were appointed. (These shenanigans go back years. See Clinton Township Republicans play hardball.) More about this below.
No competition so you can’t “Vote the bums out!”
In America, the strength of our government lies in competition. That’s how voters get to choose between ideas, plans, agendas and promises. It’s also how we “Vote the bums out!” in order to ensure we get people in office that represent us.
But the Democrats are running no candidates at all for council. The 3 Republican incumbents are guaranteed re-election in November. The incumbent all-GOP council has no competition in the November election. The Dems have seen to that.
You voted for cannabis to be legal in Clinton Township? (Over 60% of you did.) Well, the GOP mayor and council just banned any and all cannabis businesses from the township — and relinquished cannabis tax revenues to other towns. You can blame the Democrats that you can’t vote the bums out in November.
The Clinton Township Supreme Soviet:
Government of politicians, by politicians and for politicians
Oh, you could write a candidate in as a protest vote, but you’d be pissing up a rope. Not only doesn’t your vote matter in Clinton Township; nobody’s listening.
Clinton Township is run by a Supreme Soviet, a government of politicians, by politicians and for politicians.
When elections are uncontested, the incumbent candidates don’t bother to campaign. They won’t knock on your door or otherwise ask your opinions, or about what’s most important to you, or what problems in the township you want to see addressed. They don’t have to. They don’t care. They are guaranteed their seats and their power.
You’re not happy about lack of leaf pickup every fall? (Or winter, since that’s when they get around to picking up leaves.) Blame your Supreme Soviet, then go pound sand. You can’t vote the bums out. You don’t have any choice because there’s no competition.
There are no politics in Clinton Township
For the first time in years, 3 council seats are in play. (Normally it’s just 2.) That means a majority of the council, which means whatever 3 candidates win, they will have control of the council.
You’d think the Democratic party would be all over this election. But they haven’t put up even one Democratic candidate on the Primary ballot.
No Democrat has been elected to the township council in over 30 years.
Republicans might see this as cause to cheer. In fact, former Hunterdon County Republican Committee Chairman Henry Kuhl used to say:
“We don’t care whether they’re doing a good job. Our job is to make sure Republicans keep getting re-elected!”
This is why there are no politics in Clinton Township — just politicians serving a select few friends and special interests that keep them in office.
There are only politicians in Clinton Township
So, if you’re a Republican and you have issues or problems with anything your government has done, blame it on the GOP, which keeps new blood, new ideas, and fresh thinking off your council.
If you’re a Democrat unhappy with your mayor and council, blame it on the Democratic party, which cannot be bothered cultivating and developing candidates for local office. They’re too busy asking you to attend rallies and to make donations to state and federal level elected seats.
You think Comcast rates are too high? Blame your GOP council. They control Comcast’s franchise deal with Clinton Township — and they let Comcast get away with information-highway robbery. And residents keep paying. Where does all that money go?
The Republican party gives you more of the same, year in and year out.
The Dems don’t give Democratic voters a choice — and they don’t provide disaffected Republican voters a choice, either.
The Republican and Democratic parties are what’s wrong with Clinton Township.
2 of 5 council members didn’t even get elected
You’re mad your taxes keep going up (+5% this year alone) while services are being cut? You’re mad you can’t reach the township CFO or Administrator because they work only 3 days a week? Don’t worry — your taxes are still paying them the highest salaries ever given to any township employee.
No choice and no competition is just a part of the problem.
2 of the 5 council members were not even elected when they got onto the council. Under a questionable New Jersey law, councilmen Tom Kochanowski and Bill Glaser were appointed by the Republican party (2017 and 2021), not elected by voters. As incumbents, they’re guaranteed re-election because voters have no choices because there is no competition.
And that’s also how council members stay in office for a decade or more.
9 years of the same old, uncontested, guaranteed trouble
How many uncontested, guaranteed years in office does any politician deserve?
Councilwoman Amy Switlyk is coming up on her ninth year in office. Brian Mullay has served in office as long, as a councilman and as mayor — and he’s in for at least 2 more years. When he was elected mayor in 2020 voters had no choice; there was no competition from the Democrats.
Raised taxes year after year: About 5% this year. In 2019 they raised the tax rate over 14%.
In 2017, voted to approve “affordable housing” that will generate over 800 new housing units total in the township without any citizen input. Taxpayers are on the hook for decades.
Donated $30,000 of your tax dollars to Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC), which sued the township. [UPDATE: Since this column was posted, Strauss, Kochanowski and Glaser voted to donate another $15,000 to FSHC, for a total of $45,000 in taxpayer donations.]
Approved suing Readington Township to confiscate its sewer capacity to appease FSHC.
Caused a $908,000 budget deficit — unprecedented, according to their auditor.
Got sued by the school board for failure to deliver millions in school taxes to the school district.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Mullay, Switlyk, Kochanowski, Strauss, Glaser — all get re-elected without competition to speak of, year after year — going on a decade for some of them. They know they can do anything they want.
The public loses every Clinton Township election. What’s wrong with Clinton Township is Republicans and Democrats who pretend we have a vote.