South Jersey officials are on alert for Hurricane Dorian, which brought catastrophic devastation to the Bahamas over the holiday weekend. But for now they only have to monitor, rather than act.
“We’re doing what everybody should be doing. We’re not going to let our guard down by any means until it passes us,” said Vince Jones, director of emergency management for Atlantic County.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dorian was a Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph sustained winds. Hurricane-force winds extended out 35 to 60 miles from the center of the storm. At least five deaths were attributed to Dorian in the Bahamas, with the full scope of the disaster still unknown.
South Jersey has been out of the cone of uncertainty, the area over which the National Hurricane Center forecasts the eye of the storm to travel, since Monday. However, the region continues to remain at risk for tropical-storm force winds, classified as over 39 mph sustained. Risk percentages range from 20% to 30% in Cape May County to 10% to 20% elsewhere.
“We’ve been watching it for about five days. The dispatchers have all of the latest information coming in to them,” said Marty Pagliughi, emergency management coordinator for Cape May County.
Many in the emergency management community have discussed internal preparations and plans. However, even in a worst-case scenario, South Jersey may see Friday about a half day’s worth of something the region sees almost every year.
“It’d be like our typical nor’easter that we get,” Jones said.
Regardless of the track, high surf, one to two rounds of minor coastal flooding and beach erosion will be of concern for coastal communities Thursday into Saturday.
“We’re going to lose a certain amount of sand that we wouldn’t in any other nor’easter,” Pagliughi said.
The beach erosion might be of the biggest concern for some towns. Jones said Margate and Ventnor have already seen some beach erosion as summer winds down.
Ventnor has sent out some messages to residents and second-home owners about the wind. Sustained winds of 20-30 mph will be likely along the shore late Thursday night until about Friday evening, with gusts of 40 mph at times.
“I’m going to send a blurb out on social media which will ask everyone to take in whatever they can take in from their porches so that way they don’t fly,” said Donna Peterson, emergency management coordinator for Ventnor. “On our Police Department page, we always put a blurb around this time to tell all of the second-home owners to please leave a good phone and/or email address with dispatch.”
While Peterson said there’s not been any coordination with the county just yet, Jones said he’s had some informal conversations with the state.
“The state guys are just watching it,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
NORTHFIELD — A freeholder committee will study how to resolve a dispute between the Atlantic County Institute of Technology and other high school districts over the vocational school’s planned expansion to more than 2,000 students.
The decision came after presentations by ACIT Superintendent Phil Guenther and Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District Superintendent John Keenan at last week’s meeting held at Northfield City Hall, down the street from the freeholders’ usual meeting place at the county Stillwater Building.
Other districts lose resources for their own schools because they must pay tuition for their students who attend there, officials said.
“Why are we continually adding on to this school when other high schools in the county are suffering?” asked Democrat Freeholder Caren Fitzpatrick.
Local and vocational school leaders are at odds again over planned growth at Atlantic County Institute of Technology, which draws enrollment and funding from its sending districts.
Democrat Freeholder Ernest Coursey said he agreed up to a point, but “we can’t tell folks where to send their kids,” Coursey said. “They have a right to send kids where they want. We ought to be talking about how to get high schools to implement some programs ACIT is implementing now.”
Keenan said his three-high-school district pays about $4.5 million to send 459 students to ACIT each year — more than any other district. He said its budgeting process is hampered not only by losing students but by tuition bills that increase dramatically years after original bills have been paid, causing unexpected expenses for which he cannot plan. Unlike his district, ACIT does not have to keep to a 2% cap on spending increases, he said.
Earlier in August, the Greater Egg school board unanimously supported a resolution calling for ACIT to “immediately cease” plans to expand until a comprehensive review of the local impact was completed.
New Jersey voters on Tuesday narrowly agreed to take on the debt to provide an additional $350 million to the state’s county vocational schools to increase enrollment and program offerings.
Guenther said ACIT is addressing the workforce needs of Atlantic County and would be giving up a unique opportunity if it doesn’t apply for millions in grant money available after voters passed a bond referendum for vocational education in last November’s election.
New Jersey voters agreed to bond for $500 million, with $275 million available for the state’s 21 county vocational schools to expand programs. The question failed in Atlantic County but passed overall.
“We are in the planning stages of applying for a grant for 75% grant funding,” Guenther said, adding the Department of Education hasn’t put out the application yet. “If we don’t apply for it, it will go someplace else in the state.”
Through the grant, ACIT plans to add programs for aviation maintenance, autobody repair, diesel technology, welding, and heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration. The school also plans to expand courses in construction grades, culinary arts, medical and dental, and health, science and medicine, Guenther has said.
A shift in state aid that pumped extra funding into Atlantic County’s vocational school will mean an unexpected drop in tuition prices for sending districts this year.
The expansion would add about 400 more students to ACIT’s current enrollment of 1,706, requiring an additional cafeteria, gymnasium, classrooms and outdoor space.
The state’s 21 vocational and technical high schools, including ACIT, are popular with students and parents. They get two applications for every one seat available, Guenther said.
Keenan said after the meeting that perhaps the grant application should be for funds to place some ACIT vocational programs in other high schools.
It is more cost-efficient to house the career and technical programs in one facility because they are equipment-intensive, Guenther said.
“Clearly something has to be done differently,” said Fitzpatrick, saying ACIT’s student body is diverse “and what we need in the county is more of that.”
TRENTON — Pointing to New Jersey’s multibillion-dollar debt load, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday slashed a legislative proposal for $1 billion in bonds for vocational schools and school security to $500 million.
She suggested consideration of a countywide high school system.
“Somebody’s got to come up with new ideas and see what sticks on the wall,” Fitzpatrick said. She said a countywide district could offer magnet schools for science, arts, liberal arts, “so kids can go where they want.”
Freeholder Director Amy Gatto called it a shame that school districts are fighting one another.
“We have a county superintendent. He should be part of leading the conversation at some point,” Gatto said. “Another reason we are going to get into this potential conflict ... is because the state has failed to fully fund school districts.”
The fight over enrollment between ACIT and Greater Egg has gone on for several years and has included disputes over bus routes to ACIT.
Cumberland Regional High School fought legal battles with the Cumberland County Technical Education Center last year and was ultimately stopped from becoming a local vocational technical high school in order to hold onto students.
As Hurricane Dorian approaches the U.S., first responders and mechanical technicians from South Jersey are being dispatched to help provide aid in Florida.
Eighty members of New Jersey Task Force 1, one of 28 federal FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams, have been dispatched to Jacksonville, Florida, ahead of the storm’s predicted U.S. landfall. A spokesperson for the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management said the first responders who have been dispatched have been assisting with resident evacuations in low-lying coastal areas.
Two local firefighters, Villas fire Chief Rich Harron, who is also a Wildwood firefighter, and Wildwood fire Capt. Matt Johnson, were among the task force members sent to Florida.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dorian was a Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph sustained winds. While the threat of a direct hit on Florida had all but evaporated, Dorian was expected to pass dangerously close to Georgia and South Carolina — and perhaps strike North Carolina — on Thursday or Friday.
South Jersey has been out of the cone of uncertainty, the area over which the National Hurricane Center forecasts the eye of the storm to travel, since Monday. However, the region continues to remain at risk for tropical-storm force winds.
In addition to Task Force 1, Atlantic City Electric dispatched more than 150 employees and contractors, along with repair and power restoration equipment, to Florida.
“Energy companies from across the country have supported our responses to major storms here, and we are glad to return the favor,” said Gary Stockbridge, Atlantic City Electric region president.
Vince Jones, director of the Atlantic County Office of Emergency Management, said Monday the county has not dispatched any of their first responders but is monitoring the storm.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.