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Charles J. Olson  

The St. Joseph of Hammonton High School softball team celebrate their South Jersey Non-Public B sectional championship after defeating Holy Cross at Rowan University in Glassboro on Friday, May 31, 2019. Photo/Charles J. Olson

Townsends Inlet Bridge could be open by July 30

SEA ISLE CITY — There may be an end in sight for the frustrations shared by business owners, residents and vacationers here and in neighboring Avalon.

The Townsends Inlet Bridge, the tentative reopening of which was pushed in the spring from Memorial Day weekend to late summer, will now be open for traffic “on or about July 30,” according to the Cape May County engineer.

It’s no guarantee, though.

“While we have a reasonable level of confidence supporting this earlier date, there remain a number of critical construction activities to be completed in the next three weeks that could have an impact on the final completion date,” Robert Church said.


Sandra Martin, who owns Sisters Sweet Shoppe on Landis Avenue with her sister, said the announcement, should it come to fruition, “would be fantastic.”

Driving inland to get from Avalon to Sea Isle can be a 25-minute drive, she said.

“The sooner the better,” Martin said. “And it’s a big deterrent, too, because (customers are) not gonna come if they have to do that.”

The bridge closed in September for the replacement of the first seven spans (of 27) on the Avalon side, and the addition of new piling, pier caps, a concrete deck and a railing system.

The work was contracted out to Agate Construction of Dennis Township for $8.6 million.

Originally expected to reopen for Memorial Day weekend, it was announced in March that “unforeseen conditions” made that timeframe untenable. And in April, the Cape May County Bridge Commission announced it was eyeing a late summer reopening.

James McDevitt, a manager at Hank Sauce on Landis Avenue, said the closure hurt business more in the winter, when they were open weekends and the customer base was smaller. Overall, he said he’d rather the county quit the cycle of patchwork repairs to the toll bridge, which has been operating since around World War II and was built with funds from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and rebuild it.

“Obviously, it’s gonna be a good thing when it’s back sooner than later,” McDevitt said. “We’d still like to make sure it’s not re-closing every summer. So it’d be nice if they just redid the whole thing … just to keep business here.”

Frequent closings of the bridge over the years have become something of an inside joke among Sea Isle residents. But for now, many are just happy to hear the bridge will likely be reopened with some summer to spare.

Aided by “more favorable weather conditions,” Church said they expect the framing components of the refurbishment to be completed by June 8 and the bridge deck surface to be completely poured by June 21.

The addition of “final bridge components,” including sidewalks and railing, will follow.

“The county has worked cooperatively with the contractor and engineering teams in order to advance quality work as quickly and responsibly as possible,” Church said. “Additionally, we continue to explore options to consolidate the construction schedule by permitting contract work to proceed concurrently where feasible.”

Tim Grant, owner of Breeze Scooters on Landis Avenue, said Sea Isle was “swamped” over Memorial Day weekend, so it was tough to quantify the impact of the bridge’s closing on business.

“But some of my renters did have to go to Avalon and they went offshore,” Grant said, “which I don’t recommend on those bikes.”

During past repair closings, Grant said, scooters have been allowed over the closed bridge, giving his business a small bump. This time around, he lost out on his favorite path.

“For me, the ride to Avalon is my favorite ride, and I always try to tell people to go that way,” Grant said, “so if it is open earlier … I’d be happy with that move.”

cmatthews-pressofac / Dale Gerhard / for The Press  

Cape May County Technical High School sophomore Alyssa Hicks slides a roller under a 2,400-pound block of concrete Thursday during a public safety training drill at the county Public Safety Facility in the Crest Haven complex in Cape May Court House. The exercise was part of a new program between the school and the county Fire Academy that introduces students to careers in firefighting and other public safety fields.

Cape May students learn about public safety hands-on

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — A handful of teenagers wearing white hardhats had to figure out how to move a 2,400-pound concrete block across an asphalt parking lot Thursday morning.

“This is the stuff they’re doing if a building collapses,” Cape May County Fire Marshal Connie Johnson said. “The whole time, they’re using math, physics, teamwork and they’re thinking about their safety and any victims’ safety.”

The group of students, all from Cape May County Technical High School, moved the block using a Wildwood Fire Department truck as an anchor, a cable and metal pipes with the help of instructors from the county’s Regional Urban Search Team.

The exercise was part of a new program between the school and the county Fire Academy that introduces students to careers in firefighting and other public safety fields at the Cape May County Public Safety Training Facility.

Nick Clemens, 15, of Dennis Township, isn’t totally set on a career path. He’s thinking he wants to become a police officer like his father, he said, and the extra training will help.

GALLERY: Cape May students learn about public safety hands-on

“I like the hands-on part,” said Clemens, a sophomore at the high school. “It’s a good class that you learn a lot that you can use later in life.”

Once the students complete the fire cadet program, they’ll be certified as a special law-enforcement officer I, in CPR and first aid, as well as in dispatching for 911 calls, said Matt Pleasants, a teacher at the high school.

“They can graduate high school with skills where they can be employed in the field,” Pleasants said. “Planting the seed right now, that’s what we’re doing.”

Inside a garage at the facility, another group of students, also equipped with white hard hats, used a high-pressure airbag to lift a trailer, adding wooden blocks underneath it for support.

Called cribbing, the blocks help keep a large object in position and support it while rescues are being made, Johnson said, adding they use the same system to lift buses, train cars and even buildings.

“I learn best hands-on, so it’s a better experience than sitting at a desk all day,” said Mattie Newby, 16, of Cape May Court House.

The program was developed from the Fire 1 curriculum and testing, a national certification program for adults, said William Cripps, Wildwood fire official and an instructor for the class.

“It’s a different dynamic because we’re used to adults coming here, but it’s been easy to adapt,” Cripps said, adding the students sit for a 90-minute lecture and then get hands-on training twice a week.

One student, Gabe Dabow, is already a junior firefighter with the Green Creek Volunteer Fire Company in Middle Township.

Dabow, 16, said he “grew up in the fire service” because his dad is a firefighter in the same company, and he wants to be a career firefighter.

Even though it can be a dangerous career path, Dabow said he wasn’t worried, adding you just have to “look out for each other and pay attention” because serving the community has benefits that outweigh the risks.

“It may sound cheesy,” he said. “But it literally changes the community.”

And having the drive to be that change in the community is something Pleasants wants out of his students, he said.

“They’re learning firefighter skills where they can be a positive contributor to their community,” Pleasants said. “I ask the students if they have a genuine desire to help others. That’s what I look for, and this is a perfect fit.”

cmatthews-pressofac / Dale Gerhard  

Wildwood firefighter Ryan Troiano, center, instructs Cape May Tech law and public safety students during the drill.

Pinelands seventh-grader charged with sharing explicit video of classmate

LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — School officials at Pinelands Regional are asking parents to talk with their children after a seventh-grade boy in the district was charged by police Thursday with sharing an explicit video of a 12-year-old classmate on social media.

“This is not a situation for finger-pointing. They’re young, they’re in seventh grade, it’s more a situation where we should be educating our children and letting them know the ramifications of doing such things,” Superintendent Melissa McCooley said Friday.

Police could not be reached Friday for comment.

The incident garnered varied reactions from parents after McCooley posted a letter Thursday evening on the Pinelands Regional School District Facebook page informing parents of the situation and asking them to get involved.

“Please understand that the student depicted in the video is 12 years old, therefore, this is classified as child pornography,” wrote McCooley. “It is evident that students need additional education regarding the ramifications of sending inappropriate messages/videos and social media.”

Some of those who commented on the post expressed sadness for the girl who appeared in the video, some wanted to see both students receive punishment and most wanted more discussion between parents and their children.

Parent Jessica Hannold, of Eagleswood Township, said her now 17-year-old son sent an explicit photo to a girl when he was in sixth grade, but the parents hashed it out and talked to their children, not to the police.

“If they are both children, I feel counseling should probably be in order over criminal charges,” Hannold wrote.

Reached by phone Friday, Hannold said she believes the incident has instilled in her son the consequences of his actions, but he was lucky the girl who received the photo didn’t share it online. She said she still wants her children to understand: “Once it’s out there, it’s always out there.”

Parent Charlie Roth, of Tuckerton, has three children in the district and said he talks to his kids at least twice a week about using social media safely.

“Myself and my ex-wife have taught regularly, and have constant battles with the kids about activity on social media,” he said. “The world is looking at you when you fool around on social media.”

Roth said “sexting” is not a Pinelands-specific problem. He is right.

Sexting among young adults and adolescents has been a national issue for several years, especially due to smartphones. State legislators have taken notice.

In August 2018, New Jersey passed a law that requires school districts to include instruction on the consequences of distributing sexually explicit images through electronic means as part of New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education.

School officials said they became aware of the incident at Pinelands by a student who had seen the video of the young girl shared online by other people. The vice principal for the seventh grade contacted McCooley and police, and charges were filed against the boy who initially shared the video, McCooley said.

The student who initially shared the video has been suspended, but there was no disciplinary action against the girl who appeared in the video.

McCooley said she plans to reach out to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office for help in this situation and asked parents to speak to their children.

On Friday, McCooley said education about the dangers and ramifications of sexting is part of the curriculum at Pinelands Regional and is addressed in health class, as well as social studies.

“The students are educated, and I think that’s why the girl who came to the principal immediately knew what to do,” she said. “The Prosecutor’s Office has done assemblies for our kids and for parents.”

The district will continue to offer workshops on sexting and social media for parents and students, McCooley said. In addition, the district has technology in place to track the use of certain words and phrases over its Wi-Fi network to prevent these incidents.

McCooley said this is not the first time she has dealt with a similar situation, but it is rare in students so young. She said there are similar incidents at least once a month in the district, mainly at the high school level.

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer  

The Townsends Inlet Bridge, the tentative reopening of which was pushed in the spring from Memorial Day weekend to late summer, will now be open for traffic ‘on or about July 30,’ according to the Cape May County engineer.

Atlantic City's budget down 11 percent over last year

ATLANTIC CITY — The city’s 2019 budget, as introduced by City Council this past month, cuts operating costs by nearly $26 million and keeps the municipal tax rate flat for another year.

The $207.7 million city budget represents an 11% decrease from last year. The city will collect more than $46 million from property taxes this year, nearly $6.5 million less than in 2018.

The municipal tax rate will remain $1.79 per $100 of assessed value. When combined with the county and school district, city residents’ effective tax rate in 2018 was $3.85 per $100 of assessed value.

“We believe this year’s city budget continues to move Atlantic City in a positive and financially prudent direction,” said Lisa Ryan, spokeswomen for the state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the city. “The city and state were able to keep the tax rate flat by carefully scrutinizing each city department’s budget to tighten up salaries and expenditures and by analyzing other expenditures in the budget to ensure there were no excesses.”

Council voted unanimously to introduce the 2019 budget during its meeting May 15. Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr. was scheduled to present the budget to the governing body that evening, but an emergency water main break on Albany Avenue led to his absence.

Gilliam’s office declined to discuss the budget when contacted last week, stating the mayor would “be giving his budget address during the June council meeting and would rather wait to make comments.”

A public hearing on the 2019 municipal budget will take place during the June 19 council meeting.

The city has budgeted for anticipated additional revenue from both the casino payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program ($549,435), the investment alternative tax ($7.11 million) and energy receipts tax ($3.34 million).

However, the city is losing nearly $5 million of leftover funds from the now-defunct Atlantic City Alliance.

The city’s administration department is cutting nearly $3.48 million from last year’s appropriations. Budgets for the Revenue and Finance Department (-$68,447) and Public Works Department (-$892,639) also are being cut.

Planning and Development will receive an additional $340,000, public safety will get an increase of $597,000 and an additional $86,000 has been allocated for licensing and inspections.

The city’s debt service for 2019 increased by $1.024 million. Last year, Atlantic City’s debt service was $34.3 million.

The final casino tax appeal settlement is also budgeted for 2019. A nearly $1.24 million payment to settle an appeal from the former Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, now Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, is budgeted for this year.

“The city’s property-tax appeal reserve fund was sufficiently funded in 2018 and did not require an additional allocation in the proposed budget,” Ryan said. “The decrease in the total amount to be collected by taxes this year is a result of a decline in the assessed property values, mainly resulting from the city’s property tax appeal with the Hard Rock casino and its inclusion in the casino PILOT.”

clowe-pressofac / provided/  

MCCOOLEY Melissa McCooley