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Longport changes polling station due to mold in Borough Hall

LONGPORT — Mold has been found at Borough Hall, displacing commission meetings, the Police Department and the polling station for next month’s general election.

The mold, found in the Commission Chambers and Centennial Hall, is tied to the discovery of failed HVAC equipment Aug. 18, Mayor Nick Russo said.

He also said the age of the building and water that got underneath the structure after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 are factors.

Both rooms have been sealed off amid remediation efforts, and commission meetings are being held in the library. Polling for the Nov. 5 election will be held at the Longport firehouse at 2301 Atlantic Ave., and a senior luncheon, held every month at Borough Hall, was canceled for September and October.

Russo said a decision hasn’t been made about November’s luncheon.

Five police officers also haven’t been feeling well, Russo said. While he doesn’t know whether the officers’ ailments are related to the mold, the borough is temporarily relocating the Police Department to trailers on the property.

“We’re doing the things that we can now as we try to move forward on figuring out the best avenue to remediate all of this,” borough Administrator A. Scott Porter said during Wednesday’s commission meeting.

Public works employees are conducting inspections at the building three times a week and are replacing water-damaged ceiling tiles and removing mold as they see it, Porter said.

A new part for the HVAC unit, costing $12,500, was also delivered and installed Thursday, borough Chief Financial Officer Jenna Kelly said.

The Atlantic County Division of Public Health’s Environmental Health Unit surveyed the building and submitted a report that suggested the borough increase its fresh air intake through the HVAC system, address areas where water damage has occurred, such as the ceiling tiles, address areas where water leaks into the building and consider using humidifiers.

While there is no timeline to rid the building of mold, Russo hopes to have it remediated by next month. Kelly said officials are still gathering information on how much the remediation process will cost.

The borough has bid proposals to remediate mold and asbestos in the affected areas.

“My understanding at this point is we have to get approval from the state with a lead time of approximately two weeks,” Porter said. “What we don’t have is a lead time from the contractor on when they can start.”

There are also asbestos tiles underneath the carpet in Borough Hall, said Richard Carter, borough engineer. If the carpet, which is glued down, is lifted, it could disturb the tiles, which also would have to be removed.

When Russo took office in 2008, he had the borough put about $400,000 into the building for repairs. He saw repairs as cost effective compared with building anew.

“But when you have an older building, there are always going to be issues,” he said.

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Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer  

Holy Spirit Ahmad Brown in action against Kingsway. Oct.25, 2019 Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer

LAUREN CARROLL / Multimedia Reporter 

Bernie Issacson, forester for the state Department of Environmental Protection, displays the red leaves of a native dogwood tree vs. the green leaves of the surrounding oaks Monday at Wharton State Forest.

Massive American Dream mall to open but will shoppers come?

EAST RUTHERFORD — More than two decades ago when a mega entertainment and shopping complex was being conceived on a vast swath of swamp land in New Jersey, the iPhone didn’t exist, Amazon was only selling books online and malls were where you went for all your shopping needs.

Now, after endless fits and starts and billions of dollars spent, American Dream is officially opening its doors to the public as the second largest mall in the country, and third largest in North America. It will showcase 3 million square feet of leasable space dedicated to more than a dozen entertainment attractions like a 16-story indoor ski slope, roller coaster, waterpark and eventually 450 retail, food and specialty shops.

The big question is: Who will come?

In today’s retail landscape, consumers are glued to their iPhones and smartphones, where they can do their shopping without ever leaving their couch. Amazon has morphed into the biggest online retailer in the world. And overall traffic at malls, which had been on the rise in the late 1990s, has declined 10% since, according to an estimate by Coresight Research.

A report from Credit Suisse published two years ago predicted that up to a quarter of the shopping malls will close by 2022 given the increasing popularity of online shopping and a rash of store closings. Since 2015, only nine malls have been built, a dramatic fall from their peak construction in 1973 of 43, according to CoStar Group, a real estate research firm.

Amid that new reality, American Dream is looking to draw 40 million visitors in its first year, with entertainment accounting for more than half of its space. Attractions include a bunny field and an aviary. There will also be such amenities as a doggy day care and a luxury wing, where shoppers can sip champagne and sample caviar as they wait to have their designer handbags wrapped. Two hotels with a total of 3,500 rooms are being planned next to the complex.

“You can make it your backyard playground if you live in Manhattan or even if you’re in New Jersey,” said Ken Downing, chief creative officer for Triple Five Group, the mall’s developer. “It’s a staycation. So, it’s a little bit of competing with mindset and emotion, far more than a property or even Disneyland.”

During the grand opening Friday, the smell of sawdust and sound of electric drills served as a reminder that the American Dream is still a work in progress. Only certain sections were accessible to shoppers, and the mall won’t be fully operational until next spring.

At the ice-skating rink, spectators were watching professional skaters do routines. Gov. Phil Murphy and his wife rode one of the roller coasters along with other state officials at the Nickelodeon amusement park.

“The attraction is this,” said Giovanni Scolaro, who lives in nearby Elmwood Park, pointing to the roller coasters and other attractions. “I have a 7-year-old child and grandchildren. This is going to be a draw.”

Canada-based mall and entertainment conglomerate Triple Five in 2011 took over the massive project originally dubbed Xanadu from two developers, whose plans included building the world’s largest Ferris wheel. The project broke ground in 2004 but it languished during the early years, with its multi-colored, checkerboard exterior — since removed — drawing derision, including from then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who called it “an offense to the eyes” and “the ugliest damn building in New Jersey and maybe America.”

The project was suspended in 2009 during the financial crisis after a Lehmann Bros. affiliate failed to fund its share of the construction. Creditors seized the project in 2010, and Triple Five came on board a year later, renaming it American Dream.

Triple Five reimagined American Dream as a community hub for tourists and locals, taking a page from two other malls it had developed, West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada and Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota — the two largest malls in North America. Entertainment was a big selling point for both, accounting for 20% of the West Edmonton Mall’s space and 30% of Mall of America’s. That compares with the 6% average for U.S. malls, according to CoStar.

American Dream has its fair share of skeptics who wonder about its chances of success, especially given its proximity to New York City less than 10 miles away.

“This development will either sink or swim,” said Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer of Publicis Communications. “It’s going to be tough to get a lot of attention when you are next to a much bigger amusement park — Manhattan.”

Goldberg believes the complex could work if the amusement park entices enough families in New Jersey to get into their cars and drive out there . But he’s not sure about how stores will fare since many of the tenants like Zara and Uniqlo can be found elsewhere. Another thorny situation: The mall will abide by the blue laws, meaning retail will be closed Sundays even though the restaurants and theme parks will be open, says James Cassella, the East Rutherford, N.J. mayor.

Still, there’s reason for hope. While vacancy rates on average at the nation’s malls are currently at 4%, top malls have been the industry’s bright spot, boasting strong traffic and currently averaging a 2% vacancy rate, says CoStar. That’s compared with the bottom rung of malls, which are wrestling with a 7% average vacancy rate.

David Smiley, assistant director of urban design at Columbia University, predicts American Dream “will do quite well.”

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in the retail world,” Smiley said. “But American Dream is unusual. It is not a typical mall.”

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South Jersey synagogues remember Pittsburgh shootings

NORTHFIELD — As many American Jews did nationwide Friday, Rabbi David M. Weis of Congregation Beth Israel used the one-year anniversary of the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh for personal reflection.

“It shattered our innocence. It shattered our complacency,” Weis said of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history, in which 11 people were killed.

The American Jewish Committee organized a #ShowUpForShabbat initiative to pack synagogues with the largest-ever expression of solidarity with the American Jewish community.

Beth Israel was not the only South Jersey synagogue to answer the call.

At Temple Beth Shalom in Brigantine, Rabbi Gerald Fox presided over a normal Shabbat service with additional readings. Fox spoke about anti-Semitism and the Jewish experience. His goal was to affirm the right to live full lives, including religious services, and to lift up lives in joy and dignity.

Rabbi Jonathan Kremer of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Ventnor said his synagogue will participate during a Conservative Shabbat Service on Nov. 16. In the Jewish calendar, the one-year anniversary, or yahrzeit, is Nov. 16, Kremer said.

There will be a brief memorial with some of the materials drawn from Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, Kremer said.

Friday evening, Weis talked about growing up in a post-Holocaust world. He attended school with people of other races and religions. He said he did not experience anti-Semitism.

“I experienced no violence, no hatred,” he said.

Weis said he studied history and knew about anti-Semitism in America, but the freedom and integration Jewish people achieved in this country made them feel that maybe they had won the battle and defeated the monster.

As Weis commemorated the anniversary of the Pittsburgh murders, he said America seems to be moving backward, with an increase in fear-mongering, scapegoating and hate speech.

“The idea of dehumanizing others destroys and eats away at our ability to have empathy,” he said.

Weis mentioned other shootings that targeted religious groups or minorities, including an April shooting at a California synagogue where one woman was killed; the killing of 22 people — most of them Latino — in August at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas; and the June 2015 Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting in which nine black people were killed during Bible study.

“The one thing they have in common is grievances,” said Weis of the people who did the killings.

This type of violence is intolerable, and people have been awakened now, Weis said.

“We must raise our voices. We must stand together,” he said. “In 2019, the landscape of America ... is many colors and incredibly diverse.”

One year after Pittsburgh, Weis called on his congregation to avoid despair.

“I will fight to build this vision. A world that’s every color, every race, building a better America one person at a time,” he said.

Other South Jersey synagogues that commemorated the Pittsburgh shootings included Beth El Synagogue in Margate, Young Israel of Margate, Beth Judah Temple in Wildwood and the Jewish Community Center of Long Beach Island.

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Factors in place for fall foliage fans to have good season

WHARTON STATE FOREST — Walking around the largest tract of land in the New Jersey State Park System on Monday, the colors of the leaves on the trees ranged from green to red to yellow to barely a leaf left.

“In general, spring leaf-out (when leaves grow on trees) is much more clustered in time than fall leaf drop,” said Bernie Issacson, forester at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Issacson said leaf change can take four to six weeks for any one location.

The vibrancy and timing of fall foliage in South Jersey vary from tree to tree, but, as a whole, the 2019 season looks to be better than usual for those seeking to take in the change of colors, due to recent wet weather and cooler nights.

“In those places where water was available, there seems to be good likelihood for beautiful color,” said Jason Grabosky, a professor of urban forestry in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University.

A tree in an area with low water content in the soil will see its leaves turn before trees in a soil with large amounts of water.

And, as in real estate, the key to finding colorful fall leaves is location, location, location.

For example, Issacson said, leaves at the top of a forest canopy, which receive the most direct sun, can get hot and dry out. Leaves that are shaded, meanwhile, are under less environmental stress.

“Since autumn color change is hypothesized to be ... something akin to sunscreen for a tree, leaves that only become unshaded later in the season are likely to be slightly delayed in their phenology (annual leaf change),” Issacson said.

As of Friday, the New Jersey State Parks service reported fall foliage conditions varied in the region. Parts of Ocean, Burlington and Atlantic counties were in peak form. Most of Cumberland County was in midpeak form. And the shore and other parts of Atlantic and Cumberland counties were in near peak form.

On The Road with Joe

During the spring and summer, the increasing daylight ramps up production of chlorophyll, transforming carbon dioxide and water into sugars and starch. The sugars and starches provide the energy to keep trees and plants alive.

As the days grow shorter, chlorophyll production slowly decreases. As it does, the leaves’ green pigment gives way to the yellows, oranges and reds seen during the fall. In addition, a special layer of cells “corks” the leaf stem from the tree. That process happens in every tree, but the way in which it happens varies depending on the species.

“Chilling and water availability during different parts of the growing season are the strongest predictors of fall foliage timing,” Issacson said.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Atlantic City International Airport was 2.2 inches of rain below average in August, when wet weather is needed to bring out the vibrant fall colors. Millville Municipal Airport was 1.8 inches below average, while Cape May Airport was slightly above average, by 0.4 inches.


Rainfall departures from the 1981-2010 long term average during the month of September, 2019. 

In September, sunny days and cool nights are ideal for getting the leaf colors to arrive.

“Now that temperatures are dropping and there has been some rain, we are looking for cool, clear days to better develop the reds, and the yellows ought to be fine,” Grabosky said.

Climate change has and will continue to bring increased amounts of precipitation to the Northeast, according to Climate Central in Princeton. According to the Iowa Environmental Mesonet, rainfall between September and November has increased from 9 to 11 inches at Atlantic City International Airport between 1943 and 2019. Temperatures have warmed as well, especially at night.

Iowa Environmental Mesonet 

Precipitation during the fall months at Atlantic City International Airport and the Naval Air Station Atlantic City. 

“The warming climate will delay the onset of fall color and ultimately when the leaves fall,” said Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at Climate Central.

But beyond the change in temperature, it will be the way in which society reacts to the changes that will matter.

“Future fall colors will depend on our choices as a society on how we respond to climate change, not just changing temperature,” said Issacson. “If we decide to make our forests more resilient to expected climate change by encouraging trees better adapted to our future climate, we may end up seeing autumn the way other Southeastern states do (later in the year). We shouldn’t expect that our forests in 2100 look like they do now in 2019.”

Press Meteorologist Joe Martucci's 7-Day Forecast

Fall foliage in South Jersey

LAUREN CARROLL / Multimedia Reporter