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Prospect of civilians on Earle troubles local officials - centraljersey.com
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Prospect of civilians on Earle troubles local officials

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By Peter Elacqua
Staff Writer

The prospect of non-military personnel living in housing on Naval Weapons Station Earle is upsetting elected officials in Monmouth County. In recent months, the U.S. Navy has said a company that manages certain housing on the base could open up that housing to civilian renters.

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The naval base lies in portions of several municipalities, including Colts Neck. Children of elementary school and middle school age who live on the base attend school in the Tinton Falls School District. Children of high school age who live on the base attend Colts Neck High School in the Freehold Regional High School District.

The issue of housing on the base was discussed during a recent public forum held at Colts Neck High School.

Since 2004, Balfour Beatty Communities has owned and managed the housing on Earle through a Public Private Venture (PPV) partnership with the Navy. Under the agreement, the company is authorized to lease housing to unaffiliated civilians only when there is not enough demand for housing from military families and other “preferred referrals,” the Navy has said.

Preferred referrals are active duty families; unaccompanied military members; National Guard members and reservists; civil service employees; military retirees; and civil service retirees.

Before an unaffiliated civilian would be authorized to live in the Earle housing, Balfour Beatty Communities would conduct a criminal history background check and a financial and credit report on the individual, the Navy has said.

If the individual passes the initial screening, Navy personnel would conduct an additional security background check prior to approving access to the base for that individual. Approved unaffiliated civilians would be issued an identification card that would be scanned each time the person enters the base, just as with all base personnel, according to the Navy.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) said, “In September, we learned it is the intent of (officials) to rent vacant housing on the base … units that are located next to our soldiers and sailors, and these will be members of the general public who will come through the front gate and rent apartments like anywhere else.”

Naval officials recently agreed to place a 60-day freeze on renting Earle housing to civilians. The purpose of the stay – which expired Feb. 1 – was to try to fill housing on the base with active duty and retired military personnel.

One resident asked if the affected towns have any recourse after Feb. 1.

“We are approaching this from two perspectives, one a political perspective,” Colts Neck Mayor Russell Macnow said. “We have been down to Washington, met with Congressman Chris Smith and representatives of the Navy and we envision that we will be doing that again … Should it become necessary, we are prepared to file suit to seek (legal) relief to stop (Balfour Beatty Communities) from renting out the housing …”

“Maybe the average Joe is not interested, but somebody who has (bad intentions), somebody who is looking to access bombs or weapons” could be interested in the Earle housing, Beck said.

Macnow suggested that the Navy should buy out the housing obligation from Balfour Beatty Communities.

“The Navy has the money. We are small towns, we don’t have that kind of money. The Navy should step in, do what they need to do to make sure that your security, our security, is cared for, and bear the financial expense …” Macnow said. “We think the Navy made a bad deal with Balfour Beatty, but it is their bad deal, not our bad deal. Let them take care of their bad deal.”

“When I sat with the group we had, which was the second meeting, I asked one security question of the military,” Tinton Falls Mayor Gerald Turning said. “I asked them because their first line of defense was that they were going to do (background) checks on everybody who comes in, I asked them how are they going to do checks on 16-year-old children and the answer is they can’t.

“They are juveniles, (the Navy) doesn’t have access to that information, their juvenile record is a secret, they are not even entered into the computer. (The Navy’s) first line of defense is a failure. Unless you think a 17-year-old can’t do damage in a military reservation then of course you are right,” Turning said.

“There is no civilian living on that military reservation under this policy who will pay any taxes or any fees whatsoever to Tinton Falls and you are asking Tinton Falls to spend $1.2 million educating those children who are civilians and not part of the military so that Balfour Beatty can make $700,000,” Turning said.

“This is not a Tinton Falls and Colts Neck problem, this is our problem as residents of Monmouth County because it just doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “We will continue to stand up for this and fight as much as we can until it makes sense.”

“You have a group of citizens here tonight who are very concerned, very involved and have a very extensive network of people in the community,” said Irene Sessa, a  former vice president of the Colts Neck K-8 School District Board of Education. “We would like to know what it is you would like us to do.”

Beck said, “When the new assistant (Navy) secretary is in (office), I think we need to be writing, emailing and communicating with him directly, as well as to the commanding officer at Earle and letting them know we are concerned. We are all in this together, they are our neighbors and I think that is part of it.”

Monmouth County Freeholder Director Lillian Burry said, “I feel this is a federal matter … I think we need to get our congressman and our representatives in Washington. Don’t let up, keep the pressure on; Congressman Smith has been wonderful, but we need more, we need beyond him, and it is hard to believe there is anything beyond him, but there is. And certainly if it means the President, we go for it. I want you all to be assured that the county is 100 percent behind the concerns you have and will be there for you.”

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