GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - Some township officials want to hold out for a higher offer from Atlantic County for two parcels of land to be purchased as part of a Garden State Parkway interchange project involving Exits 41 and 44.
The land in question is closer to the site of the new interchange at mile marker 41.
Councilman Jim Gorman said at a recent Township Council meeting that Galloway should not just give up the land to the county for the lowest price. Gorman said the New Jersey Turnpike Authority is never cooperative with the township, so why should Galloway make it easy for them to complete this project.
"I'm not against a fair price, but the parkway doesn't want to work on anything with us, so why should we roll. Maybe try to hold on to the fire a little bit longer with this. We may not get everything we want, but I'd rather try than just roll over and play dead," Gorman said Monday.
Councilman Jim McElwee echoed Gorman's concerns Monday and said he knows that this is a no-win situation and that the county can take the property through eminent domain, but Galloway should not just give it away.
"He can hold out until the cows come home," County Executive Dennis Levinson said about Gorman on Monday. "If they balk at this we'll take it by eminent domain. This is one of the reasons they have eminent domain for the public good."
Levinson said that before buying any property, the county gets two independent appraisals and then decides how much it is going to pay. "We can give less, but not more than the appraisal and that protects the public," Levinson said.
Levinson said the appraisals are confidential. And as far as negotiating the price for the land, that is taken out of the county and local government's hands, he said.
The county believes that the purchase of the two parcels is necessary for the completion of the parkway interchange project, he said. Further details about the property were not available.
Gorman said he hopes the township would have the right of refusal if an offer from the county for the land came back and Galloway didn't want to accept it.
Levinson said the township can challenge the appraisals.
"We're going to move forward with project, and this will not hold it up."
Last month, Township Council passed a resolution to allow the interchange project to continue without the county purchasing the land.
Gorman voted against the resolution.
Mayor Don Purdy agreed that the township must get a fair offer from the county for the land, but the project must go on, he said.
"I understand where Councilman Gorman is coming from, but I cannot vote to stop this project that has been 20 years in the making for the residents of Galloway Township. I am definitely not happy, though, with the correspondence from the NJTA," Purdy said.
Meanwhile, the improvements at interchanges 41 and 44 have started on schedule, Thomas Feeney, spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, wrote in an email Friday. Feeney added that whatever issues there might be between the township and the county - and he stated that he was not aware of any - were not going to have any impact on the project.
In June, the NJTA awarded a $32.5 million contract to South State Inc., of Bridgeton, Cumberland County, to build an interchange at Jimmie Leeds Road and to complete the partial interchange at Pomona Road. A pre-construction conference was held last Tuesday and the contractor was given the notice to proceed with the project, Feeney said.
Plans call for Interchange 41 to have a new southbound and northbound entrance at Jimmie Leeds Road near where motorists are currently able to enter and exit the parkway through an access road at the service area. That access will be lost as a new State Police station is built there to replace the Bass River station.
Interchange 44 at Pomona Road will also be upgraded to a full exit with new traffic lights and exit ramps and bike lanes on Pomona Road.
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