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Edward Lea  

West Atlantic City Blackhorse Pike road close due to coastal flooding occur with the high tide Wednesday Oct 9, 2019. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City

Blue Heron Pines East site to see light industrial development, not housing

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — For the past 12 years, plans have been made to build homes at the more than 400-acre former Blue Heron Pines East golf course off Tilton Road.

The property had been approved for senior housing from 2007 to 2013. In 2013, the township Planning Board approved eliminating a 55-and-older age restriction for the previously approved 944-unit complex.

Following the housing market collapse in the area, property owners, Galloway-based Ole Hansen and Sons, told the state Pinelands Commission it was giving up its approvals for the housing project.

Ole Hansen then started working with the township to have the deed restriction for the property lifted, said David M. Goddard, president and CEO of the company.

Blue Heron East not happening map

At the request of the property owner, Township Council last month canceled the development deed restriction rights for Blue Heron Pines East, which lets future plans for the property match the light industrial uses for which the area is already zoned, Mayor Anthony J. Coppola Jr. said.

“Rescinding the approvals and all the terms and conditions in those approvals allow us to fully pursue potential commercial and industrial development options, which are permitted under township zoning ordinances without the prior approvals hindering us,” Goddard said.

Buildings at Blue Heron Pines East have been renovated to accommodate Enlightened Solutions, an addiction treatment center run by Jennifer Hansen, who also is the director of real estate development for the family company.

Barrette Outdoor Living, an aluminum and vinyl fence and rail manufacturing operation, has done well in the same neighborhood, one of several in the township that allows for tax breaks because it has been designated for redevelopment, Coppola said.

In 2014, Barrette took over the former Lenox china plant on Tilton Road. The company has created more than 500 jobs in the area during the past five years and has been a great ratable for the township, Coppola said.

In fact, “Barrette expressed interest in some of our property to enhance their business operations if our land use approvals and restrictions were rescinded,” Goddard said.

Barrette Outdoor Living did not respond to a request for comment.

The Blue Heron Pines East site is a great property for industrial and commercial development and is close to Atlantic City International Airport and major highways, Goddard said. The township works closely with Ole Hansen to attract development projects, he said.

Coppola said the township needs another tax revenue source to help offset costs without increasing the demand for services.

Projects in the Blue Heron Pines East area will go before the Zoning Board if there are any changes in usage and before the Planning Board to figure out logistics and to make sure any future development adheres to township building codes, Coppola said.

Coast Guard members recognized for heroism in hurricane search-and-rescues

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — When hurricanes battered Southern coastal communities the past two years, flooding streets and threatening residents, Coast Guard members deployed from South Jersey to assist in locating and rescuing the most vulnerable.

Pilots, rescue swimmers, avionics electrical technicians and aviation mechanics were recognized Wednesday for their bravery in the face of high winds, rising floodwaters, grueling hours and technical failures during their work extracting survivors in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Florence, and during local search-and-rescue missions.

At the ceremony in a hangar at Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, 14 Air Medals were awarded for "single acts of heroism or meritorious achievement while participating in flight," and one Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded for "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight."

Altogether, those recognized saved 66 lives and assisted in the rescue of 84 more.

"In my career, I have never seen that many awards (given) at one point in time," said Capt. Sean O'Brien, commanding officer of Air Station Atlantic City. 

The recipients, who were stationed in Atlantic City at the time or have since been transferred here, walked up to a stage backed by a giant American flag as their names were called. The recipients were recognized by visiting family and rows of their peers Wednesday morning, as the narratives of their rescues — and the conditions they had to battle to carry them out — were read.

The recipients were noted for risking electrocution by entering rising waters, being lowered on baskets to hoist sick and injured residents, and landing helicopters in tight areas surrounded by power lines and trees, among other feats. Many dealt with low fuel in tense situations, low visibility and instrument failure as water interfered with their helicopters' avionics. All demonstrated heroism, staying calm under mounting pressure to carry out their mission, their superiors said.

"One of the things I hear consistently ... is the Coast Guard have the finest aviators that the United States has to offer," said Capt. Gregory Stump, 5th Coast Guard District chief of staff. "What you're seeing behind you here, they are the best of the best."

Lt. James Rader sticks out even among those select few. Rader, 31, was stationed in Texas when Harvey made landfall. From Aug. 26 to Sept. 1, 2017, Rader flew 18 "day and night" hours, fighting winds over 50 mph, visibility under a quarter-mile and torrential rainfall as he rescued residents trapped by floods. 

In one instance, he navigated his helicopter among unlit towers and exhaust stacks during a citywide power outage to transport a 2-year-old girl "clinging to life" to Texas Medical Center. He immediately refueled and went back out to rescue and transport a resident suffering from severe head trauma. Strong downdraft winds pushed the helicopter on takeoff, bringing the blades within feet of nearby buildings. He maneuvered it to a hospital helipad between cranes and buildings in low cloud cover.

He transported a "crucial supply of blood" to a hospital, saving 55 more lives, O'Brien said. For his work, Rader was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

"Some of it kind of brings back some memories that I try to not think about much anymore. They were difficult times for a lot of people, and fortunately we made it through," Rader said. "It's nice to be recognized, though, for what happened a couple years ago."

Receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross is a "very, very rare" achievement, O'Brien said.

"Lt. Rader's actions, aeronautical skill and heroism were instrumental in saving the 57 people," O'Brien said. 

Petty Officer 1st Class Steven Maccaferri, a rescue swimmer, responded during Harvey, helping prepare 12 mariners for rescue on a ship in distress 10 miles offshore amid "hurricane winds and breaking waves." They all survived. He also waded through contaminated, chest-deep water to save a mother and her four children, one of whom was a paraplegic with a tracheostomy.

And when Florence hit North Carolina, Maccaferri was involved in more than nine hours of rescue efforts. Most notably, he spotted an 85-year-old woman in critical condition in the window of a flooded home and completed three hoists in the course of rescuing her, battling high winds and obstacles. He provided medical care on the way to the hospital.

He was awarded two Air Medals for his efforts.

"Not only do these medals represent exemplary and heroic performances over the past two years, but they are also small reminders of the impacts that those standing before you have had on families, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and grandparents, and all those that are in harm's way," said Commander John Egan. "These medals, and the life-saving achievements they represent, speak directly to the caliber of military professionals that we have at Air Station Atlantic City."

GALLERY: U.S. Coast Guard Medal Ceremony

GALLERY: U.S. Coast Guard Medal Ceremony

Enjoy a time gone by during Cape May’s famed Victorian Weekend.

Ventnor woman pleads not guilty to new charges in homicide case

MAYS LANDING — A Ventnor woman pleaded not guilty Wednesday morning to the latest charges filed against her in the murder and robbery of her mother and grandmother last summer in their condo.

After waiving a formal reading of the superseding indictment handed down last week that included murder during the commission of a crime and credit card theft, Heather Barbera’s attorney, James Leonard Jr., entered the plea in Atlantic County Superior Court.

Barbera, 42, was brought into the courtroom shackled, wearing an orange Atlantic County jail uniform. She remained silent during the 11-minute hearing, conferring with her attorney once while Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. went over the timeline for her pending trial.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Nov. 12, with opening statements in the afternoon that day, DeLury said, followed by a two-week trial. A case review is scheduled for Oct. 31.

If convicted, Barbera faces life in prison.

A grand jury Oct. 3 handed down the second, superseding indictment, which includes two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree murder during the commission of a crime, three counts of first-degree armed robbery, one count of third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and one count of third-degree credit card theft, court records show.

Superseding indictments are fairly common, said J.C. Lore, a clinical professor of law at Rutgers Law School in Camden. They are filed so a person is accurately charged before a trial.

“They want to be accurate in what they’re charging,” Lore said. “If they’ve learned new information, they’ll want to correct or add information.”

The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office did not return a request for comment asking why different charges were presented to the grand jury.

Prosecutors allege Barbera beat Elaine Rosen, 87, and Rosen’s daughter, Michelle Gordon, 67, to death before robbing them July 8, 2018, inside a condominium at the Vassar Square Arms complex in Ventnor.

For both victims, the cause of death was multiple blunt-impact injuries and the manner of death was homicide, Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said at the time.

She was first indicted Oct. 17, 2018, on two counts of first-degree murder, third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and first-degree robbery by inflicting bodily injury. She pleaded not guilty at an arraignment several days later.

PHOTOS from the Downbeach Seafood Festival in Ventnor

mbilinski-pressofac / MOLLY BILINSKI/Staff Writer/  

Heather Barbera, 42, was originally indicted Oct. 17, 2018, on two counts of first-degree murder, third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and first-degree robbery by inflicting bodily injury.

Proposed loan redemption program for new STEM teachers in NJ advances

As the focus on careers in science, technology, engineering and math continues to build, a bipartisan bill that would provide up to $20,000 in tuition reimbursement for new STEM teachers in New Jersey schools is advancing in the state Legislature.

If approved, the bill could provide opportunities in 12 schools throughout Atlantic County, said co-sponsor Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic.

Several loan redemption programs are already available through the state and federal government, especially for those who pursue certain degrees. The new funding, provided through the state’s Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, is intended as both aid and an incentive for students pursuing degrees in education and teaching STEM, said its sponsors.

“In order for us to continue to grow our labor force, we have to start right in our classrooms, by engaging students and nurturing their interest in these subjects. To accomplish this we must encourage more recent graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math to pursue careers in education,” said Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, D- Essex, one of the bill’s primary sponsors along with Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen/Passaic.

Under the bill, a teacher hired to teach STEM in a state-designated “low performing school” may receive a loan redemption of up to 25% if that teacher remains at the school for four years, for a total amount not to exceed $20,000.

The bill also establishes a tuition reimbursement program for a portion of the eligible expenses incurred by a teacher who is completing a master’s degree or doctorate program in STEM.

“We have a generation of children who need the skills to thrive in our modern economy, and we have a generation of college graduates struggling to pay off student loans, so we have an opportunity to help our families by giving our children a chance to succeed while lifting our graduates out of crushing student loan debt,” Brown said.

Careers in STEM are in high demand. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates STEM-related jobs will grow by nearly 10% over the next decade, with a median salary of $84,880. But the bill’s sponsors say a wage gap still exists between STEM professionals in other fields versus education.

“This bill will create greater financial incentive to teach, rather than take a private-sector job, and in turn ensures that we have a robust pool of STEM teachers,” Sarlo said.

The bill unanimously passed the state Senate last month and now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

The Office of Legislative Services’ fiscal analysis of the bill said the financial impact was indeterminate, but noted that based on state assessments administered in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, about 292 schools in 164 districts satisfy the bill’s criteria to be designated as low-performing public schools under the loan redemption program.

Brown said the bill would be applicable at Buena Regional High School, Cedar Creek High School in Egg Harbor City, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School Complex in Atlantic City, Egg Harbor City Community School, Egg Harbor Township High School, Jordan Road School in Somers Point, North Main Street Elementary School in Pleasantville, Pleasantville Middle School, Texas Avenue School in Atlantic City, Washington Avenue Elementary School in Pleasantville, Atlantic Community Charter School in Galloway Township, and Chartertech High School for the Performing Arts in Somers Point.

Under the bill, HESAA would be required to submit an annual report to the governor and the Legislature on the program. The report would include information on the total number of participants, the impact of the program on attracting STEM teachers and the number of participants who withdrew prior to completing the program.