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Sayreville approves project to stabilize MacArthur, Weber neighborhoods

SAYREVILLE – Officials in Sayreville have approved the first phase of a project intended to restore and stabilize two borough neighborhoods that were damaged by tropical storms.

At an Aug. 21 meeting, the Borough Council passed a resolution approving the first phase of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension’s (RCE) restoration implementation plan for restoring Weber and MacArthur avenues at a cost not to exceed $50,000.

Homes on both streets were significantly damaged by Hurricane Irene in 2011 and superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Following the damage caused by the storms, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) acquired 125 homes across 22.5 acres on Weber and MacArthur avenues through its Blue Acres program. Blue Acres purchases properties that have been damaged by or may be subject to damage caused by storms or storm-related flooding, and maintains the properties for flood protection and passive recreation, according to the DEP.

Most of those homes in Sayreville have been torn down, leaving flood-prone open space behind.

Although the properties were purchased and are owned by the state, Sayreville agreed to maintain the properties in perpetuity.

The council’s action last month follows a June 26 presentation from the RCE on the plan to restore the neighborhoods. According to RCE representative Jeremiah Bergstrom during the June meeting, the project’s first phase will focus on MacArthur Avenue’s streetscape and install 160 trees where the properties were removed.

Shade Tree Commission member Art Rittenhouse informed the council during that June meeting that the commission passed a resolution to provide for the proposed trees at a cost not to exceed $50,000 if the restoration project were approved. Rittenhouse reasoned that the addition of the trees would begin to restore the area and benefit residents.

In addition to the work on the MacArthur Avenue streetscape, Bergstorm said other phases of the project would involve volunteer reforestation, reestablishing meadows, removing portions of roads and infrastructure and implementing a maintenance program for the process.

The two primary goals of the project, according to Bergstrom, are to maximize flood protection for borough residents and to develop a long-term sustainable management strategy for the properties. Bergstrom emphasized that the properties had to be maintained as open space for passive recreation and floodplain function only.

Additionally, he noted that the streetscape along MacArthur Avenue and pedestrian safety are concerns for residents since there are holes and vacant spaces as a result of the homes being removed. He explained that due to the street having more space, traffic now moves faster through it.

Habitat restoration, primarily forest and meadow, and walking paths and open space for recreational opportunities were also mentioned by Bergstrom as aspects of the project.

According to Bergstrom, immediate work on the restoration project, without grant funding or partner contributions, would cost between $400,000 and $500,000. The project is expected to take four years to complete.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the NJ Tree Foundation and the DEP’s Green Acres program were cited as potential funding partners for the project.

“You’re looking at a project on 22 acres that would be less than $500,000 if you did it right now,” Rittenhouse said at the June meeting. “We’re talking about over a four-year period of time.”

Contact Matthew Sockol at msockol@newspapermediagroup.com.

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