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Charles J. Olson  

Mainland’s Cole Garbutt won the 100 breaststroke event during Friday’s meet with St. Augustine on January 11, 2019. Photo/Charles J. Olson

South Jersey prepares for snow

Emergency management officials are gearing up for a snowy Saturday night in South Jersey.

How much snow will South Jersey see this weekend?

Atlantic County began brining roads Thursday in anticipation of moderate precipitation, said county spokeswoman Linda Gilmore. Brine, a mix of salt and water, can be placed on roads days before a winter weather event, as long as conditions are dry between the time the brine is placed and the start of winter precipitation.

Snow is expected to begin between 8 and 11 p.m. Saturday and end by 6 p.m. Sunday. Most of the snow is expected south of the Atlantic City Expressway, according to Press Meteorologist Joe Martucci.

The area will see 2 to 4 inches of snow that will likely stick to the roads. If 2 or more inches fall, Gilmore said, crews will begin plowing. The county has a 40-vehicle fleet for salting and plowing.

“Residents are reminded to exercise caution on roadways and to leave room behind salt trucks and plows,” Gilmore said.

How much snow will South Jersey see this weekend?

Gilmore said the amount of salt placed on roads will depend on conditions.

In Cape May County, a Code Blue advisory, intended to assist municipalities in protecting homeless and vulnerable citizens during cold weather, was issued Thursday as the temperature was expected to dip to 21 degrees Friday night, said Martin Pagliughi, emergency management coordinator for Cape May County.

Code Blues also are in effect through Monday in Atlantic, Cumberland and Ocean counties. Towns are expected to open shelters and warming centers to those without heat or a place to stay.

Atlantic City Electric is monitoring the system. Last year, the company spent $312 million updating the energy grid, performing maintenance and inspections and enhancing existing infrastructure.

Cape May rallies for its Coast Guard neighbors

CAPE MAY — Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, a sprawling base at the state’s southernmost tip, hummed along as it usually does — 1,000 people working in concert to monitor and guard the coast — in the midst of a nearly three-week government shutdown.

With a resolution to the ongoing partial government shutdown proving elusive, Coast Guard enlistees, contractors and civilian employees — who, unlike other military branches, are under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security, and not fully funded — are preparing to miss their first paycheck next week.

And the community around them is rallying to cushion the blow.

A few “Coasties” stood by as Jessica Manfre made her way through the base’s makeshift food pantry Thursday morning, her 15-month-old daughter Raegan in arm, making sure none of their families go hungry.

The enlisted members couldn’t speak with media, per Coast Guard rules. But Manfre’s husband has been in the Coast Guard for 18 years and she expressed enough gratitude for everyone in the room.

“I think what differentiates this, being here, is the community,” she said. “We’ve lived all over the country — Alaska even — and, not that people aren’t supportive of the Coast Guard, but here it’s a different level.”

Manfre was at the pantry as a volunteer with the Spouses Association on base, working with the Chief Petty Officers Association. Members from South Jersey VFW posts dropped off a monetary donation to the two groups Friday morning. Donation drives were launched by the American Legion in Wildwood, the Seaville Fire & Rescue Company and churches around Cape May County.

Mayor Clarence Lear, who grew up in Cape May and took office last year, stressed how integral to the county the Coast Guard is, from local employment to the influx of visitors at near-weekly graduations on the base.

“The Coast Guard is predominant,” Lear said. “It affects us, it affects our school system. We really bond with the Coast Guard family.”

The Coast Guard has been in the area since before 1900, when the proto-Coast Guard, the United States Life-Saving Service, had stations along the coastline. The Coast Guard took over the current base from the Navy in 1924, and since 1948, all entry-level training for the Coast Guard has taken place in Cape May.

Cape May was designated a Coast Guard Community in 2015, one of 20 cities in the country with the title.

“How the community has rallied together in an effort to support those families impacted by the shutdown is certainly an example of why they have earned the title Coast Guard Community,” said John Edwards, spokesman for the training center.

At First Assembly of God Church on Seashore Road, the Rev. Leo Dodd heard a Coast Guard family in his congregation was at risk of missing a paycheck and asked whether he could cover their groceries. Word spread, and others wanted to help. They connected with the on-base chaplain, and became a collection point for the pantry.

“We just love the Coast Guard and what they’re doing for our community, and we want to help them anyway we can,” Dodd said.

The pantry, though, is for all furloughed federal employees and essential employees working without a guaranteed paycheck, the Coast Guard emphasizes.

“In America, everyone lives paycheck to paycheck, so to go a week could be very hard for a family,” said Dodd’s wife, Jeannie, “and they’re there to help us and protect us, so we want to help them.”

Of 150 students at Cape May City Elementary School, two-thirds are children of Coast Guard members, said Superintendent Victoria Zelenak. Staff at the school are collecting canned food and grocery store gift cards so families can get fresh food. Letters were sent out to Coast Guard parents notifying them to fill out a form for free or reduced lunch during the shutdown, Zelenak said. And the school will host a movie night that usually takes place on base.

“It’s been a great, great relationship,” Zelenak said.

Former Coast Guard members are helping, too. Joe Reed, 74, a retired Coast Guard Reserve member, drove from Gloucester County to the training facility Thursday morning to donate money for food.

“There’re actually people who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to save people who go out in rough weather when they shouldn’t,” Reed said. “Now, for whatever reason … the Coast Guard’s caught in the middle that they can’t feed their family. What a disgrace that is.”

This week, U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, introduced a bill to fund the Coast Guard during the shutdown. The bill remains in the House Appropriations Committee. And nationally, the Coast Guard has acknowledged the coming financial strain for its roughly 42,000 members. The Coast Guard had, but since removed, a tip sheet from its website outlining ways members could stay afloat while they wait for their next check: garage sales, babysitting, tutoring, etc.

Individuals have made their own efforts to ameliorate anxiety during the shutdown.

At his farm in Goshen on Thursday, artist Stan Sperlak, 58, reminisced on his father’s time as a Coast Guard officer. His parents met in Cape May while his father was in training.

“We moved around the country,” Sperlak said. “I watched my parents count pennies.”

Any political disputes about the shutdown are secondary to the fact people are sitting home from work or punching in for a withheld paycheck, Sperlak said. So he wrote a Facebook post, urging anyone affected by the shutdown to give him a call. He’s gotten calls, some anonymous, asking what help he has to offer.

If people need a tank of gas, Sperlak said, he can help. But he can also offer something immaterial for stressed-out enlistees.

“There might be somebody who has a situation where ... they need a distraction, they could use some time,” Sperlak said. “Maybe they would want to be involved in an art class. Maybe they would just like to come up and take a hike on the property.”

At the pantry Friday, Joann Ludwig-Jones browsed the donated goods, placing the food she needed into a bag. Ludwig-Jones and her husband, who has been in the Coast Guard for 12 years, have two kids. She said they have a little money put away, but it will be tough the longer the shutdown continues.

“I think it’s been great. I’m really blown away and surprised,” Ludwig-Jones said. “Instead of just food, they’re getting diapers and toilet paper and paper towels, which I think is really awesome.”

Manfre said some Coast Guard members are hesitant to ask for, or accept, help.

“It is hard for people to walk in here,” Manfre said. “But I want it to be about the fact that the community is doing this for us, and let’s let them.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

SJ Gas seeks to dismiss part of suit over pollution at old A.C. gas plant

ATLANTIC CITY — South Jersey Gas and three other firms that formerly used or owned the old Deull Fuel Co. site are seeking to dismiss part of a lawsuit brought by the state over pollution created at the now-defunct manufactured gas plant decades ago.

In court on Friday, attorneys for South Jersey Gas argued the company cannot be liable under a trespassing claim for hazardous chemicals at the plant that migrated into a nearby channel, the Beach Thorofare, because it is a public waterway. 

The gas company, which has been remediating parts of the North Georgia Avenue site, contends it was working with the state to resolve environmental issues there for years before the Office of the Attorney General filed its lawsuit in 2018. Over the past two years, South Jersey Gas has removed three buildings and thousands of tons of polluted soil.

"We have been working very closely and cooperatively with the DEP," said Chris Gibson, representing South Jersey Gas.

South Jersey Gas acquired the property then conveyed it to Verizon in the 1960s.

Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez suggested the Department of Environmental Protection go to mediation with the firms named in the complaint, including Deull Fuel Co., South Jersey Gas, Verizon and Pennsauken-based McAllister Fuels, rather than continue what could become a long, costly legal battle.

“Is there a benefit for the parties to enter into some type of mediation? Is it something that should be explored?” Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez asked.

The DEP has been pushing for the site's cleanup since the agency received reports of fuel oil being dumped there 40 years ago. For a century, the facility produced gas from oil and coal. 

The plant’s former owner, John Deull, acknowledged in 1986 that oil discharges occurred at the lots he owned, according to the suit. Chemicals entered the ground and into the water, according to the DEP.

Contaminants at the site include benzene, arsenic, cyanide and lead, which are known to cause blood disorders and other health problems.

“There have been discharges on those properties, but they haven’t remained on those properties,” said state attorney Thomas Lihan. “They’ve migrated to various places around the water.”

The state wants a complete cleanup of the site and public restitution. 

Monetary damages the state is seeking haven’t been calculated. Gibson said the case cannot be resolved until the scope of the environmental harm is determined.

“The scope, dollar amount is completely unknown at this point,” Gibson said. “Until that remediation process is done, it seems a little bit difficult to talk about how much you need to restore.”

Mendez will issue his ruling on the motion for dismissal within the next 15 days.

Meanwhile, Deull Fuel Co. and South Jersey Gas are involved in a separate dispute about which entity is responsible for remediating three lots on the site owned by Deull Fuel.

The land where the former gas plant sat is one of 130 known contaminated sites across the resort town as of March 2017, according to the DEP.

Others are also being cleaned up, such as the Texaco Bulk Storage Facility on Absecon Boulevard being remediated by Chevron. The company acquired Texaco in 2001 and plans to excavate 8,415 cubic yards of impacted soil in the summer.

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer 

The contaminated former Deull Fuel Co. property on Georgia Avenue is one of six sites in the state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal targeted last year to force cleanup and seek compensatory damages.

Atlantic City
Atlantic City officials back police chief after media force report

ATLANTIC CITY — City officials are backing their police chief after a North Jersey-based media company published statistics that ranked the department second-highest in the state for use-of-force incidents.

NJ Advance Media on Nov. 29 published “The Force Report,” a database that ranks every police department in the state by the number of times they used force, including compliance holds, takedowns, hands/fists, leg or baton strikes, pepper spray and fired a weapon from 2012 to 2016.

The report shows 2,854 uses of force in Atlantic City, a rate of 110.6 incidents per 1,000 arrests, making the resort second only to Maplewood, Essex County. The report also includes a graph that shows how the department’s use of force has declined from 791 incidents in 2012 to 316 in 2016.

At City Council’s reorganization meeting Jan. 2, the governing body unanimously passed a resolution in support of police Chief Henry White in response to the report. Council members who spoke in support of White said the culture of the Police Department has changed since he took the helm and that incidents of force have been trending down.

Before the council vote, Councilman Marty Small Sr. said the report shows numbers that predate White’s tenure as head of the department. White became chief in 2013.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people get caught up in headlines, and it distorts the facts,” Small said.

In a statement issued the same day as the council meeting, White said the report “fails to recognize the continued dramatic reduction in force and reduction in internal affairs complaints, including excessive force complaints, experienced by the ACPD, coupled with the significant reduction in violent and non-violent crime in Atlantic City.”

The department’s 2017 End of Year report shows a 67.7 percent reduction in use-of-force reports compared to 2013, according to White’s statement. He added that, while 2018 data is still being studied, it looks like there has been a 38.5 percent reduction in excessive force complaints compared to 2017.

White also said the number of arrests the outlet reported was incorrect. NJ Advance Media states in its report that the department has had a 55 percent drop in arrests, while the number has actually been steady for the past several years, White said.

“With the use of erroneous data, NJ Advance Media has extrapolated an incorrect force percentage for all arrests, and uses that incorrect percentage as the basis of its criticism,” White said.

Former deputy chief suing Atlantic City Police Department

ATLANTIC CITY — A former deputy police chief has filed a lawsuit against the city, the Police Department, Chief Henry White and former Mayor Donald A. Guardian, claiming White retaliated against him for voicing complaints about the department.

Elvis Cadavid, owner of Vagabond Kitchen and Tap House on Trenton Avenue, said Wednesday there isn’t a use-of-force problem in the resort.

“They have a very tough job,” said Cadavid, 39, who was born and raised in the city. “Force is needed in a lot of situations that they deal with.”

Those situations include everything from alcohol to prostitution to gangs to domestic disputes, he said, adding officers are often “stuck in the middle” trying to deal with each call.

The solution is simple, he said — just don’t resist.

The city has become a “like a punch line” in the state and across the country, he said, and the negative headlines don’t help.

“Clearly, this place is turning around,” he said, citing rising employment rates and the downward trend in use of force. “The city is definitely going through a growth and a boom.”

ERIN SERPICO / Staff Writer/  

Atlantic City Police Chief Henry White speaks at the unveiling of the new surveillance center in the Public Safety Building on May 24.