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Cape May Coast Guard training puts recruits on job in 7.5 weeks

CAPE MAY — The U.S. Coast Guard may have the shortest training of any military branch before recruits take up their jobs in the field, but that doesn’t make it simple.

By the time they graduate after 7½ weeks, recruits must pass a swim test, learn to fire and maintain a Sig Sauer P229 handgun, show they can perform helmsman duties on Coast Guard boats, throw rescue lines at least 50 feet for water rescues and demonstrate basic firefighting skills.

And those are just the highlights.

Considering many arrive with no experience with guns and little experience on boats — some cannot yet swim — the training has to be thorough and tough, Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Tamargo said.

“They are sent right to boats. They have got to be operational,” Tamargo said as he waited to accompany Commanding Officer Kathy Felger on a tour of Coast Guard Training Center Cape May for U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd. The tour included everything from high-tech firefighting training to a basic knot-tying class.

Van Drew said he wanted to learn more about Training Center Cape May so he can better advocate for it in Congress.

“You can’t leave here without being proud of the Coast Guard and the service they perform,” Van Drew said after the tour. “I will fight for them in Congress and fight for appropriations.”

Van Drew said he is working to pass federal legislation to ensure the Coast Guard is paid in any future government shutdown.

During the Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 25 shutdown, the Coast Guard was the only branch of the armed forces that was not funded, because it is part of the Department of Homeland Security and not the Department of Defense. As a result, Coast Guard members — including those stationed at Training Center Cape May and Air Station Atlantic City — were furloughed or required to work without pay for more than a month, harming Coast Guard families and national security, Van Drew said.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Van Drew said, adding the bill is in committee now.

The Cape May facility is the Coast Guard’s only training center for enlisted personnel in the country, Felger said. It’s also home to 13 other Coast Guard tenant commands, including Station Cape May, which has five Coast Guard cutters — a sixth arrives Oct. 26 — that patrol area waters and perform rescues.

Just about every Tuesday, a new group of 70 to 100 recruits arrives, and every Friday, a group graduates. More than 550 recruits are on base now, with a class due to graduate Friday as Hurricane Dorian passes off the coast.

“We’ve moved inside,” Felger said.

Felger said Station Cape May has not yet been asked to provide support for efforts down South in the wake of Dorian.

“The Carolinas are where everyone is focused right now,” Felger said. “If the Coast Guard does need help, we could be asked for backup.”

The firefighting training is conducted in dim light indoors, to mimic actual conditions they are likely to experience on board.

“So they can see what it looks like to have to defend your home at sea when you can’t call the fire department,” Chief Warrant Officer Patrick Haney said.

Once suited up and covered head to toe with no skin exposed, using masks and oxygen tanks to breathe, the recruits headed into a dark and smoky room where they used real fire hoses and water to fight digital fires.

“The petty officer controls with a remote control,” said Commander Scott Rae. Screens in front of the digital fire can tell if water is properly aimed and at proper force.

“The days of training with real fires are getting to be over,” Rae said. “It’s expensive and dangerous. This works for us and does what we need it to do.”

In another area outside, a much more basic training was in progress. Recruits practiced over and over throwing lifelines with floats 50 feet to dummies acting as people in need of water rescue.

And in a nearby classroom, another class worked on mastering maritime knots. An instructor called them up one by one to be tested.

“I don’t want to get too close — don’t want to make them nervous,” Felger said as she watched one recruit demonstrate a complicated knot. “It’s good to see success.”

Like a nor'easter, winds, erosion, some flooding to come from Dorian

Hurricane Dorian could cause erosion issues for some coastal communities, some of which have already had issues with their beaches this year.

“It’s going to compound the beach erosion that we already received during the last two weeks of August,” said Chuck LaBarre, emergency management coordinator for Margate as well as a lieutenant for the Margate Beach Patrol.

In Cape May, cliffs were seen along the shoreline in August, but local officials don’t expect the storm to do too much additional damage.

“It’s not going to be days’ worth (of the storm), so I’d think the threat will be minimal,” said Jerry Inderwies Jr., deputy city manager and emergency management coordinator for Cape May.

Local residents, having seen images of the devastation left by Dorian in the Bahamas, are hoping for the best in South Jersey.

“With joy, we face the storm and defy it,” said Donna Dougherty, 60, of Cape May Court House.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, Dorian was a Category 2 hurricane with 105 mph sustained winds, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm was moving to the northeast at 10 mph.

Forecasters expected Dorian’s eye to pass near or over parts of the North Carolina coast within the next 12 to 24 hours.

South Jersey started to see cloud cover from Dorian on Wednesday night. Winds blew from the northeast starting at this time as well. However, winds were expected to pick up in strength Thursday night.

jmartucci-pressofac / PivotalWeather 

Sustained winds pf 25-35 mph will be likely at the shore on Friday afternoon. This is just below tropical force strength (39 mph). Wind gusts will be 35-45 mph, with lower Cape May County likely reaching around 50 mph. 

Winds will be sustained from 25-35 mph during the day Friday and into the evening. Gusts will be 35-45 mph. However, there remains a 10% to 20% risk of tropical-storm-force winds in Cape May County and along the shore, according to the NHC.

jmartucci-pressofac / National Hurricane Center 

As of Thursday afternoon, Cape May County, eastern Atlantic County and southern Ocean county were in a 10 to 20 percent risk of tropical storm force or greater sustained winds, over 39 mph. That's a drop from the 20 to 30 percent risk that has been in place for most of the week. To the west, a 5 to 10 percent risk of tropical storm force winds are in effect.  

Cape May, which should be 175-225 miles from the center of the storm late Friday, should see wind gusts up to 50 mph.

“I’ve reached out to the five or six beach concessions that have equipment on the beach and requested that they secure their equipment for the storm. Some already implemented it,” Inderwies said.

On Thursday morning, companies secured beach umbrellas and tents in preparation for the storm.

“Since there’s nice beach days still, they really don’t want to remove their equipment,” he said.

Margate does not have the same beach concessions, but LaBarre said he would make sure loose objects are secured.

“I’ll tell people to take in their umbrellas and other projectiles,” he said. “When we (Beach Patrol) close Thursday afternoon, we’ll pull the equipment to as high to the dune as we can.”

Cape May has already taken down its American flags on Beach Drive. Public Works crews have cleared the storm drains of debris to reduce the chance of flooding.

Spotty power outages could be seen from the storm. In preparation, Atlantic City Electric is reaching out to residents.

“As we see one of the first named hurricanes this season roll up the East Coast, it is a reminder for all of us to prepare for extreme weather,” said Gary Stockbridge, Atlantic City Electric region president.

Tips include keeping a flashlight with fresh batteries on each floor and reviewing instructions for safe operation of residential generators.

LaBarre and Inderwies anticipate red flags going out on the beaches, meaning no swimming will be allowed in the rough water. A high risk for rip currents is likely Friday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is in the middle of a dredging project near Cape May, also is monitoring the situation. Inderwies said the Army Corps might be able to bring its equipment to the inlet for protection if need be.

Minor stage coastal flooding is expected during the Friday and Saturday afternoon high tides.

In Atlantic County, flooding will be likely in West Atlantic City in Egg Harbor Township, Route 30 in Atlantic City and along the back bays in Atlantic City and Ventnor.

In Ocean County, bayside flooding will be likely in Harvey Cedars.

Only the most susceptible spots likely will see flooding in Cape May and Cumberland counties.

Press Meteorologist Joe Martucci's 7-Day Forecast

'Celebrate America Parade' coming to Atlantic City Boardwalk Saturday

ATLANTIC CITY — Veterans, first responders, floats, balloons and marching bands will take to the Boardwalk on Saturday afternoon for the first Celebrate America Parade.

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City is putting on the event to honor local heroes and inspiring Americans, featuring local police and fire personnel as well as sports legends and a pageant queen.

The parade falls on the Saturday that traditionally has been reserved for the Miss America “Show Us Your Shoes” parade, when the 50-plus Miss America contestants would ride down the Boardwalk in convertibles and rolling chairs with themed costumes and footwear. However, the spot was left vacant after the competition announced its move to Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, over the summer.

This is the first time in seven years and the second time in Miss America history the pageant will not be held in Atlantic City.

But Joe Lupo, Hard Rock president, said Wednesday the new parade isn’t an attempt to fill in the gap.

“We were looking for those that represented the concept or the theme of celebrating America, so we obviously spoke to Miss America,” Lupo said. “We’re not trying to replace the Miss America parade. We tried to engage with all different types of people that help celebrate America.”

Lupo said they saw so many veterans and other individuals at Hard Rock’s June anniversary parade who felt so much pride when they saw a flag or a veteran that it was easy to choose the theme for the September parade.

The parade comes on the heels of another veteran-themed event in the city. Last month, the Atlantic City Airshow, once nicknamed “Thunder Over the Boardwalk” was rebranded as “A Salute to Those That Serve.”

From 2011 to 2016, the Atlantic City Salutes America’s Armed Forces Parade kicked off airshow week, a tradition founded by Press of Atlantic City columnist and radio personality Pinky Kravitz, who died in October 2015.

The parade consisted of military bands, veterans and local marching bands. In 2016, the parade highlighted 11 World War II veterans.

However, there wasn’t enough funding available to support the cost of the parade, and in 2017, officials announced it wouldn’t be held.

This year, Hard Rock wanted to create a parade everyone could enjoy, Lupo said, adding they’ve advertised both locally and regionally to pull in crowds.

In addition to the nod to local heroes, Hard Rock wanted summer to last a little longer, bringing in visitors from around the region, but also create a community-driven event, Lupo said.

“It’s a beautiful time of year here, and we thought, how could we extend the summer?” he said. “We are really just trying to create another experience post-summer when things are a little slower and to create an event that the city can be proud of.”

Miss America 1984 Suzette Charles will serve as grand marshal, and the current Miss Washington, D.C., Miss Maryland, Miss New Jersey and Miss Pennsylvania also will be in the parade.

Charles, a Mays Landing native who lives in Ventnor, is excited to be the grand marshal.

“The Hard Rock approached me about the parade and explained that it would be celebrating local heroes, military veterans, professional athletes and people known in this area,” she said Thursday. “It’s for the community.”

Lupo said they’re trying to create an annual parade that brings the community together in patriotism.

The first weeks of September have always been a part of the area’s “shoulder season,” dating to the original Fall Frolic parade of the 1920s that aimed to extend summer tourism.

“We really hope people enjoy the day, and we hope it can inspire others not only to celebrate America but also our community,” Lupo said. “And hopefully it gets bigger next year and becomes a long-standing event in Atlantic City.”

The parade starts at 5 p.m. on the Boardwalk at Metropolitan Avenue and ends an hour and a half later at Arkansas Avenue.

Staff Writer Lauren Carroll contributed to this report.

Tax credit experts suggest NJ reduce business incentives

TRENTON — New Jersey’s business tax credits amount to twice the national average, and officials should consider reducing them, experts on Thursday told lawmakers considering overhauling the state’s expired tax credit program.

The Democrat-led Senate Select Committee on Economic Growth Strategies held its second meeting in the Statehouse annex Thursday and heard from a half-dozen tax incentive experts. The hearings come after the state’s business tax incentives, which were enacted in 2013, expired this summer.

They also come as Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration puts tax credits under the microscope. Murphy earlier this year commissioned a comptroller’s report that showed the agency overseeing tax credits did not always know whether businesses were meeting required thresholds to get credits. That also led Murphy to establish a task force, whose work led to a report in June showing special interests had helped author the 2013 tax credit law.

TJ Bartik, a senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, says New Jersey should consider halving its awards, along with implementing strong claw-back provisions, as well as awarding incentives upfront rather than over a long period.

He also pointed to programs in other states, including Oregon, where awards are given as loans and then forgiven if the jobs thresholds are met or maintained.

New Jersey’s awards amounted to about $66,000 per job, according to Democratic state Sen. Bob Smith, who chairs the committee.

The committee also heard from Josh Goodman, a senior officer at Pew Charitable Trusts, who pointed to capped awards, which could allow for easier budgeting and planning.

That aligns with a key part of Murphy’s proposal, which has called for capping how much the state awards.

Lawmakers initially balked at the notion, but Smith said after the hearing that some type of “flexible” cap, which would entail allowing the Legislature and governor to permit certain firms to go beyond the limit if certain conditions are met, could work.

Jackson Brainerd, a policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures, cautioned lawmakers and responded to a frequent opinion from the chamber of commerce and other business groups: that tax incentives are necessary to make New Jersey competitive with other states.

“There is no evidence that the number of economic development tax incentives offered bears any relation to the broader performance of a state’s economy,” Brainerd said.

Smith gave some credence to worries raised by business groups.

“There’s a lot of concern out there that we really need to get the program back up,” Smith said. “If we’re going to do it, we should do it sooner rather than later.”