Milltown officials considering how to use surplus funds

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By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

MILLTOWN — Borough officials are discussing what to do with funds left over from the construction of the new electric substation.

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A request has been made by the Environmental Commission to plant 108 trees on the county land that is located behind the Ice Cream Depot, next to the new substation on Washington Avenue, which is part of the landscaping requirements of a Green Acres project for the site.

Borough Engineer Michael McClelland said he negotiated a change order with the contractor on the request by the Environmental Commission at a Borough Council meeting last month.

Councilwoman Doriann Kerber requested additional public meetings on how to utilize the funds.

She said currently the site has a walking path; an Eagle Scout project of a butterfly garden will be conducted on the site in the future; and the site will be home to the last remaining structure of the Raritan River Railroad, which currently sits across the street.

Kerber said she would like to hear additional input from master gardeners and green teams at the schools.

McClelland said he would be more than happy to hold additional meetings.

He said the funds would usually be left to sewer, water and stormwater upgrades.

“The money that you borrowed is basically the money for the project,” McClelland said. [In terms of] how you fund the rest of it, you probably need a standard type of ordinance.”

Kerber said she was thinking the borough could use the funds to take down the old substation and prepare it for selling or scrapping.

Councilman Jerry Guthlein said it was a shame the project did not include taking down the old substation.

“We are looking at several hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean the site up,” he said.

McClelland said the taking down of the old substation was not included in the new substation contract due to the costs associated with it.

He said at the direction of the new electric substation superintendent, they have attempted to sell the equipment — including a $400,000 preowned transformer; however, it has been unsuccessful.

“There have been some estimates,” he said. “There’s no question there is some value [of the transformer].”

McClelland said once they do find an interested party, moving the former substation would be complicated.

In 2013, the borough purchased the Schwendeman log cabin property adjacent to Albert Avenue and Mill Pond Park for the purpose of a land swap with Middlesex County for property adjacent to Borough Hall on Washington Avenue. The next year, the borough acquired the 1.3 acres from the county for the new substation.

The use of the property on Washington Avenue allowed for the new substation to be built on higher ground, outside of the floodplain, according to the New Jersey State House Commission, which had jurisdiction over the land swap.

In exchange, Milltown conveyed the former Schwendeman property — 2.6 acres on Kuhlthau Avenue — to the county.

The Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders announced Nov. 1 the authorization of $103,850 from the county’s Open Space and Recreation Trust Fund to help the borough renovate the vacant log cabin on the Schwendeman property that could host the borough’s Environmental Commission programming and nature tours.

The grant funds also will be used to rehabilitate an adjacent building and surrounding property so they can be used to display a collection of preserved animals donated by a local taxidermist.

The aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 led borough officials on a journey to move the electric substation to higher ground.

Irene brought torrential rains in August 2011 that overflowed area waterways, flooding nearby streets as well as the borough’s electric substation, resulting in a nearly weeklong power outage. Borough officials shut down the substation in preparation for the floodwaters, which reportedly rose halfway up the transformers.

Officials and contracted electricians then spent five days drying and repairing the substation before restoring power.

Milltown is one of eight municipalities in the state that operates an electric utility for the benefit of its residents and businesses.

In September 2014, borough officials awarded a contract for the construction of a new electric substation, and it became fully operational this year.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@gmnews.com.

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