CAPE MAY _ City Council welcomed three new members on Thursday at a meeting where Mayor Ed Mahaney announced major new initiatives to construct seawalls, double the capacity of the desalination plant, supply affordable housing, create a satellite campus for Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and create a revolving loan program to spur business.
The meeting began with three newcomers being sworn into office on the five-member council. Jerry Inderwies Jr. and Shaine Meier were given the oath by City Clerk Louise Cummiskey while Beatrice Gauvry-Pessagno was sworn in by local resident and Superior Court Judge Ray Batten.
One of largest initial issues the newcomers will face is whether to continue funding the city’s attempt to leave the Lower Cape May Regional School District. City Manager Bruce MacLeod said the city’s special attorney in that case, Vito Gagliardi, will come to a council meeting later this month to bring the newcomers up to speed on the case. The newcomers could decide to defund or continue to fund the effort when decisions are made on the 2015 budget that MacLeod will present to council later this month.
Part of the annual reorganization is the mayor’s State of the City address that includes a look at the past and the future. Mahaney used the event to announce some major initiatives.
One is doubling the output of the city’s desalination plant from 2 million gallons a day to 4 million gallons. The plant produces 66 percent of the city’s water while also serving Cape May Point, West Cape May, parts of Lower Township and the U.S. Coast Guard base.
But Mahaney said one of the city last wells still drawing potable water is getting increasingly salty. He proposed drilling a new well into a deeper aquifer already inundated with salt _ such wells are used to supply the desalination plant _ and then doubling plant capacity. The city is already seeking grants and low-interest loans from state and federal agencies for the project. These helped pay for 25 percent of the desalination plant 18 years ago and Mahaney is looking to secure a 40-percent share for the expansion, which would ensure potable water for another 25 years.
Mahaney also announced two major hazard mitigation projects. Plans call for elevating and bolstering 4,800 feet of the seawall on the east side of town, east of Madison Avenue, as well reinforcing as a section of Cape May Harbor along Delaware Avenue. He said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to do a feasibility study this spring on the project. He expects federal, state and county funds to help pay for it.
“The two projects will cost $12 million. It’s doable over a period of years and costs for the city will be very small,” said Mahaney.
The east side was inundated by Hurricane Sandy and the area historically accounts for about 25 percent of the city’s flood claims.
Mahaney also proposed using $718,000 the city already has from a state Small Cities Block Grant to create a revolving loan program for small businesses. Workers in these businesses need places to live and Mahaney also wants to use $405,000 in affordable housing funds the city has already collected from developers to provide more affordable units. The city’s population is declining while the average age of residents is increasing.
“The combination and integration of this total of $1.1 million would represent a significant initial step in an ongoing initiative to solidify the base of the related year-round population and core base of the business community, especially for our younger adult population,” said Mahaney.
Another project could see the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey help the Center for Community Arts finish restoration of the Franklin Street School for use as a satellite campus and adult education center.
The mayor also proposed combining the Shade Tree Commission, Environmental Commission and the city’s Sustainable Jersey Green Team into a new Sustainable Environmental Commission.
Mahaney said public meetings will be held early this year to gain consensus on a project to renovate Rotary Park. Residents and the business community created the non-profit Fund for Cape May to raise money for the project with the Feb. 6 Ice Ball at Congress Hall the next big fundraising event.
The mayor also outlined progress for ongoing projects including renovations to the pool at Cape May Elementary School, creating a new 38-acre park off Lafayette Street, dredging waterways, preserving almost 100 acres of open space off Pittsburgh Avenue, beach replenishment, and numerous infrastructure projects.
Council also had some business to take care of. The body elected Councilwoman Terri Swain to serve as deputy mayor and reappointed a host of professionals with the only controversy coming with the engineer’s post. Inderwies and Meier wanted to reappoint the firm Remington Vernick to a new three-year term but did not have a third vote. The council voted to give them a three-month term and open the position up to bidding by other firms. The firm could still win the job. Mahaney said a request for proposals, or RFP, will go out next week.
Council also appointed Meier to be the council member on the Planning Board and Gauvry-Pessagno to serve on the Business Improvement District or BID.
Each new council member had an interesting story behind them. Gauvry-Pessagno is the daughter of former Mayor Frank Gauvry, who is credited with helping revitalize the city. She recalled sitting in the balcony 50 years ago, as a 15-year-old girl, listening to her father make a pitch to create the controversial but wildly successful Washington Street Mall. It became a key move in the city’s revival.
“It brought the city from the brink of obscurity to the thriving resort it is,” said Gauvry-Pessagno. “We must never forget our greatest resources and assets are the people of this community.”
Inderwies, a former fire chief who has served the city for 30 years, took the oath with his wife Bridget and daughters Brianne, 18, Caroline, 15, and Lara Jo, 12, by his side. The young family represent a rarity in a city getting older and more gentrified but he also had a link to the city’s earlier revival. His father, former mayor Jerry Inderwies Sr. was elected to City Council in 1972 and helped bring about the Victorian revival.
“I think today is a new beginning,” said Inderwies. “With fresh ideas, a positive attitude and teamwork we can make Cape May a better place.”
He hugged his father after taking the oath of office.
Meier’s story is one of perseverance. It took three tries for the Vermont Avenue resident to win a council seat and he served on numerous community and civic posts in town as he kept trying. He dedicated the win to his mother Helen who got him involved at a young age in Boy Scouts, 4-H, Little League, choir, and other organizations.
“My mother is the toughest person I know,” said Meier, fighting to control his emotions as he spoke to a crowd of about 100 people at the reorganization. “If it wasn’t for her getting me involved at a young age I wouldn’t be here today.”