Published in The Asbury Park Press
March 30, 2004
by Dan Kaplan
Camp pact decaying
WALL — In 1993, the Army offered Wall a dream gift. Wall would receive — at no cost — about 190 acres and more than 140,000 square feet of buildings at Camp Evans.
The site off Route 18 is a former Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. laboratory founded in 1913 and acquired by the Army in 1941 as a military radar research facility. Some say work done there helped win World War II.
More than a decade after the Army’s offer, with the Army engaged in a lengthy environmental cleanup, most of the property still hasn’t been transferred. Wall officials worry that the buildings are so dilapidated that the cost of repairs would be prohibitive.
The Army is saying that if the township turns it down, it might sell the buildings at auction.
In an effort to resolve the delay, municipal and Army officials are to meet this week, Township Administrator Joseph Verruni said. The township has acquired or is close to securing about 150 acres of open space at the 217-acre camp, on Marconi Road along the south bank of the Shark River . The Army gave another 25 acres, on which more buildings are located, to Brookdale Community College for its Coastal Communiversity
campus. But more than 10 of the largest buildings have yet to be turned over .
These World War II-era structures, known as H-buildings because of their shape and totaling about 100;000 square feet, were to be converted to a nonprofit information and technology museum that would include the history of the camp and be run by township resident Fred Carl. A temporary museum is housed in two 1,200-square-foot houses across the street from the H-buildings,under an agreement with the Army .
Township officials are growing increasingly impatient — and worried about gaining control of the H-buildings .
“They are disintegrating, and we are uncertain as to what condition they’ll be in on transfer,”
Verruni said last week .”The roofs could be in the basement for all we know. ” Transfer of the H-buildings
initially was delayed because Army missions were still being conducted at the camp, and later, because of soil contamination found at the site around 2000. The debate about the transfer now centers on a memorandum
of agreement reached, 2 1/2 years ago that stipulated the township would accept the buildings in “as-is condition if the Army
would replace a sewer system that it ripped out of the ground in 2000. The system was excavated because cleanup crews at
Camp Evans had detected mercury contamination in it, Carl said. Under the agreement, new pipes were supposed to be installed by April 1, 2003, Verruni said, but the work hasn’t been done. During removal of the sewers, workers hit electrical lines, cutting off power and heat for the H-buildings, listed on the National Register of Historic Places -since 1999. The buildings’ structural decline began soon after, Army and township officials agree, During the last few winters, pipes have burst and radiators have exploded . Layers of latex – based paint have peeled off the walls, revealing lead-based paint that is peeling now also, said Carl, director of the museum, called the Infoage Science-History Center. “You’d have puddles in here
the size of small lakes,” he said. “It’s a really unfortunate situation,” Township Attorney Roger McLaughlin said. “These
were buildings that were perfectly usable at the, time we accepted to take them, and now they’re not usable at all. “
‘The value is millions’
Chuck Appleby, Base Realignment and Closure environmental coordinator for Fort Monmouth, who’ oversees cleanup at the site, said the township must realize what it would be gaining by owning the property. “The whole idea is, we are getting rid of excess property at a public benefit,” Appleby said. “The value is millions of dollars. ” Carl said the Army has threatened to sell at auction the buildings on the 37-acre site in question, known as Parcel C. “We have an agreement with Wall Township to convey the property as a public benefit conveyance and have been working in close cooperation with township officials toward that end, ” Fort Monmouth spokesman Timothy Rider said in a statement “We are, however, obligated to obtain the best value
for the property if public conveyance is not possible.” The Army has spent about $25 million to clean up Camp Evans
to rid the soil of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and mercury, Appleby said. The PCBs were in oils used to cool the
many electrical transformers on the site. Appleby said crews hope to finish cleanup work in a few months. But Verruni said the Army is not acting in good faith. He questions the validity, of the agreement reached in 2001 because, he said, what was “as-is” then is far from what is “as-is” now. “We’re reluctant to make an unknown deal,” he said. “(The Army needs) to tell us what condition (the buildings will) be in upon transfer.” Verruni said the military violated its promise to repair the sewer system . Carl said the repairs are crucial before the buildings can be opened to the public Rider said bids received for the project came back higher than the anticipated cost of $285,000. “The Army has reissued
the solicitation and has every reason to expect to award a contract at a price more in line with our expectations,” he said.
Verruni said one option may be the township installing the sewers and the Army cleaning up the buildings.
Bob McAllan, community cochairman of the Camp Evans Restoration Advisory Board, estimated the buildings will cost
between $750,000 and $1 million to restore, whereas the sewer installation would be much less, Carl said the township has some money set aside.
Carl, 49, a former high school science teacher in Ocean Township and Long Branch, is hoping an agreement can be worked out and the museum
soon can begin operations in the buildings, which include the 90-year-old, 12,000-square-foot Marconi Hotel, one of the few structures on the site that is in good condition. But his optimism is guarded. “I won’t believe it until someone hands us the keys,” Carl said .
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