Published in The Coast Star on April 15, 2004
Page 7, cont. 51
By Louis C. Hochman
Representatives of the U.S. Army will join Wall Township officials for a walk-through of deteriorating buildings at Camp Evans later this month, to further negotiations over the structures repairs.
But the Army has yet to say just how much repair work it is willing to do before handing the buildings over to Wall Township as part of the ongoing transfer of most of the 217-acre Camp Evans to the municipality for open space and related use.
“We’re committed to addressing health hazards, and we’re continuing our discussions with Wall Township officials regarding other concerns they may have,” said Army spokesman Henry Kearney.
But Wall officials — who place blame for the extensive water damage, peeling lead paint, exposed asbestos and other signs of wear at the so-called H-buildings squarely at the Army’s feet — said they’re looking for a greater commitment. “The bottom line is the township believes it is incumbent on the Department of the Army to under-take the remediation of the buildings,” said Robert McAllan, chairman of the Camp Evans Restoration Advisory Board,
How much work that means remains at issue. When the Army and Wall first entered into a contractual agreement to transfer the property, the Army pledged to maintain the buildings, part of a historic district, said Township Administrator Joseph Verruni.
“The buildings were not in perfect shape at that point,” said Mr. Verruni of the H-buildings, slated to eventually become home to the InfoAge Learning Center, which is now run out of a temporary office. “But they were far more easily salvaged. The heat was working. The electrical was working. Was there some peeling paint? Sure, but not nearly as much.” Wall would have had to incur some expenses to repair the buildings, and restore them to the condition suitable for the Infoage center, Mr. Vemtni said. But he said the buildings should be “as ready for salvaging” as they were Wall’s agreement with the Army was made.
“The memorandum of understanding we had clearly has language that said it would be maintained in the condition in which it was in,” said Mr. Verruni.
The accelerated deterioration, officials said, is largely due to a delayed sewer project. While the Army had pledged to replace sewer lines leading into the H-buildings and the historic Marconi Hotel, that work was delayed for more than a year and still has yet to be completed.
But when the Army severed original sewer lines, it also cut off utilities to the buildings, leaving them exposed to extreme weather.
Mr. Kearney said, however, talks between the parties are progressing. On April 1 — exactly one year after the sewers were set to be installed, a date Army officials said they missed because of bid award problems — representatives of the Army, Wall, a historic preservation group, Congressman Chris Smith’s office and others laid out their cases in a telephone conversation.
“It provided for a productive discussion and exchange of information,” said Mr. Kearney. “The Army agreed to work with Wall Township’s engineer and environmental consultant to schedule the walk-through.” A date for that building inspection has not yet been set, but it is expected to take place sometime in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, the Army has finally found a contractor to conduct the sewer work, Mr. Kearney said. He estimated a May 15 completion date.
But, so far, that sewer work only includes connections to the Marconi Hotel, not the H-buildings.
“The decision to restore the two H-buildings is being deferred pending Wall’s final decision to accept those two buildings,” said Mr. Kearney.
The Army has previously suggested if Wall rejects the buildings it could sell off the land to another government agency, or even a private contractor.
But according to Mr. Verruni, that’s a moot point.
“We certainly intend to accept those buildings. That hasn’t changed,” he said.
The only question that remains is how much work will have to be done before that happens, he said.
While Wall officials have suggested they could pursue legal remedies if the Army doesn’t meet its obligations under its agreement, InfoAge director Fred Carl said he hopes it won’t come to that.
“The best case would be that they meet their contractual obligations through Army regulations, and they turn over the property quickly.
Mr. Carl said it’s “not in the public interest” to see a dispute over the details of the land conveyance reach that level of time-consuming acrimo-ny.
‘We intend to continue working closely with Wall Township officials,” said Mr. Kearney.