Published in The Asbury Park Press May 30, 2003
Wall to receive 143 acres at Camp Evans
COASTAL MONMOUTH BUREAU
Raymond’s house is on property that backs up to Camp Evans. She’s worried that when the property is officially turned over to township and Brookdale Community College officials next month, the 219-acre camp could draw thousands of visitors who would clog her neighborhood with traffic and noise.
But as an employee in the computer department at the Lincroft campus of Brookdale – which has put the New Jersey Coastal Communiversity on 26 acres at the former base – the idea that one day she could work at Camp Evans is appealing because it would mean a shorter commute.
“I’m really on both sides of the fence,” Raymond said this week. “I don’t know how I feel about it.”
She doesn’t have much more time to figure it out as Army officials will start to transfer deeds to the property in the next month.
Three parcels, totaling 143 acres, are to be deeded to the township by the end of June, said Chuck Appleby, Base Realignment and Closure environmental coordinator for Fort Monmouth, which has overseen about $22 million of environmental cleanup at and around the camp. Appleby estimates that another $2 million of more environmental work needs to be finished.
Once the township owns the land, it can start renovating dilapidated buildings and clearing overgrown areas. INFOAGE, a museum, would be housed in several of the camp’s former research buildings. The costs and time line for that work have not been officially set, but those involved in the process say the deed transfers are important because substantial renovation can’t begin until the township owns the land.
More environmental work remains, but the cleanup is scheduled to be completed by September 2004 and the bulk of the site should be municipal property by next month, Appleby said. Thousands of tons of contaminated soil must be removed.
While federal officials have focused on the site’s environmental future, township residents and officials have focused on preserving its military past.
“Camp Evans is amazingly historic,” said Fred Carl of Wall, director of the museum. “It would be a shame to lose it. This is a good thing.”
Preserving history and open space was the idea in 1993 when the base closed, 52 years after the Army bought it and turned it into a well-respected but well-hidden research site.
Carl and his small cadre of volunteers have plans to turn the camp’s former Marconi Hotel and more than a dozen other buildings into INFOAGE, an interactive museum that schools can use to introduce children to history, science and technology. Township officials say they will support the museum, but Carl will be responsible for finding funding.
Some help may come from the Wall Foundation for Educational Excellence, which is looking at an idea to incorporate one of the camp’s former radar towers into the school district’s curriculum. said Dwight Pittenger, foundation president.
“We’ve got a little homework to do, but we think it would be a
unique project,” Pittenger said. “I think it would be very enrich ing to be ex posed to an instrument like that. You just normally wouldn’t have that opportunity.”
Plans for the site have been on hold, though, since the base closed. A massive environmental cleanup has removed at least 3,000 tons of soil laden with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, Appleby said. The contaminants were in the oils, insulating and cooling materials base employees used for equipment such as transformers.
Over time, the contamination spread to 10 properties along Evans Road, Appleby said. The federal government will pay to remove the soil and rebuild whatever had to be moved, he added.
“The good news is PCBs don’t go far,” Deputy Mayor Edward Thomson said. “The bad news is it’s there, and you have to go 6 to 8 inches down and go get it.”
PCBs are known to cause cancer in animals and can cause behavioral and medical problems in children, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. A June 2002 report from the agency, however, said there are no health concerns posed by Camp Evans.
“Exposures are infrequent and, even under worst-case scenarios, too low to result in adverse health affects,” the report said.
The federal government will continue paying cleanup costs until the site is deemed clean, Wall Administrator Joseph Verruni said. Appleby said seven homes have been worked on, with three properties scheduled for cleanup.
The government will pay about $280,000 to install sewer lines along Marconi Road, Appleby said. The original sewer system, serving most of the camp’s infrastructure, was removed during the early stages of the cleanup because of mercury contamination, Thomson said.
A township Planning Board meeting will be held Monday to subdivide Camp Evans so 10 deeds can be transferred to new owners.
Wall is getting the bulk of the land, including more than 100 acres of open space for passive and active recreation, but the state will be deeded about nine acres near Route 1.8, and Jersey Central Power & Light will buy about four acres, Appleby said.
Brookdale will get 26 acres around its Coastal Communiversity, an alliance of two- and four-year colleges that allows students the chance to earn associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degrees. The college should get its first eight acres this fall, Appleby said. The school, which opened in 2001, has been leasing space from the Army, Appleby said.
Raymond, the Evans Road resident, may work at the Communiversity one day, but she’s still not sure what it will mean for her house.
She said she never had any. contamination on her property, but she has watched as several neighbors saw their lawns torn up, their decks ripped out and their landscaping dragged away.
She wonders whether the attraction of parkland, a busy college and a museum will flood her quiet neighborhood with unwanted cars and sounds.
“None of us have any idea what it’s going to be like,” Raymond said. “I would have much preferred it stayed the way it was. It didn’t bother anyone, and there was nobody there.”