EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Atlantic County officials plan to take advantage of upcoming bridge construction to bolster the fire protection in the isolated Seaview Harbor section of the township.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said the county is “pursuing” a proposal to install a dry pipe on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge. The 1963 bridge, linking the Seaview Harbor section and Longport, is scheduled to be renovated by the county over the next two years as part of a $3.1 million project.
While plans are not final, the pipe is not expected to add appreciably to the county’s costs. It would essentially provide the emergency capacity of a fire hydrant on the township side of the bridge, said Dick Carter, Longport’s municipal engineer, who called the emergency pipeline “obviously a good idea.”
At the same time, however, Carter warned the borough does not have the capacity to also supply Seaview Harbor’s drinking water.
Egg Harbor Township Fire Chief William Danz Jr. brought up the pipeline proposal in recent Township Committee meetings. That section of the township along Somers Point-Longport Boulevard has been cut off from the bulk of the township since the neighboring towns seceded in the late 1800s and early 1900s, leaving the township with isolated bay islands.
It is so remote that firefighters from Longport are expected to arrive at fires there before township crews can arrive, Danz said. And when crews arrive, Danz said he feared local water supplies could be inadequate for a large blaze.
Egg Harbor Township officials have suggested Danz potentially draft water from the bay, but Danz said he feared that using salt water could corrode the expensive metal pumps, tanks and other parts used by firefighters, allowing sand and other debris into the inner workings.
Residents in Seaview Harbor, a neighborhood of bayfront homes battered by Hurricane Sandy, get their water from Seaview Harbor Water Co., LLC, one of the smallest water utilities in the state.
The private utility is owned by George K. Miller Jr., QLongport attorney, Joseph L. Stewart, executive director of Seaview Harbor Marina, and Ralph Henry, an executive with the Arthur R. Henry Inc. construction firm, state records show. The three bought out the original firm in 2008 for $425,000. When the state Board of Public Utilities approved the purchase in 2007, the utility provided water service to about 90 customers with two wells.
Stewart said they are in the process of selling to Aqua America Inc., a publicly traded company based in Bryn Mawr, Pa., that says on its website it serves about 3 million water and sewer customers in 10 states.
Regardless, Danz said he feared that a large fire, involving more than one home, could quickly overtax the local water supplies.
The bridge needs a pipe of about six to eight inches in diameter to link to the Longport water supply in an emergency, Danz said. Otherwise, he said crews would run five-inch hoses across the bridge, closing the 1,323-foot bridge to traffic and further delaying response.
Stewart, the water utility’s managing partner, said he likes the emergency water line idea, saying a two-boat fire in August 2010 got people thinking about the need for greater fire safety. “The fire protection idea is limited because we have a restricted amount of water available,” he said. “By the time they got the tanker trucks in it took a considerable amount of time, and we are discussing options for fighting fire in the future.”
Egg Harbor Township Mayor Sonny McCullough, a Seaview Harbor resident, also liked the idea, saying he would ask the township engineer James A. Mott to investigate further.
Similarly, Longport Mayor Nick Russo said he supported the connection, if the capacity is there. “I’ve had a career in public safety,” he said, “and I’ll do anything as far as mutual aid.”
Contact Derek Harper:
Follow Derek Harper on Twitter @dnharper