Everything does not always go according to plan. In his many years as Weehawken’s mayor, Richard Turner has come to learn this. So following Hurricane Sandy and the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., he was forced to table some his plans for 2013 and confront those issues most pressing.
“These are reactionary events,” he said. “We would like to avoid them, but obviously we can’t. We have to react.”
And so Turner entered the New Year haunted by the tragedies of 2012, rather than looking toward the promise of 2013.
“Our two biggest priorities right now are seeing through our hurricane recovery and making sure our schools are safe,” he said in an interview last week.
Finishing off Sandy
Turner described the challenge of recovery in the immediate aftermath of Sandy as a massive and difficult task. However, it seemed simple when compared to what lay ahead. He estimated that Weehawken incurred about $2.5 million in public damage. Nearly all those costs will be paid out of the township’s pocket until it is reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, Turner said FEMA reimbursement might not come until six months to a year from now.
Overall, Weehawken finds itself starting 2013 in better shape than many other towns and communities affected by Sandy, he said.
“Our two biggest priorities right now are seeing through our hurricane recovery and making sure our schools are safe.” – Mayor Richard Turner
The hardest part for some residents has been managing their own insurance claims. The township has set up a hotline for residents to call and receive assistance on who to call and how to ask for aid. He said he completely understood the frustration some townspeople are feeling, but encouraged them to persevere.
“It’s a constant process, people can’t give up,” he said.
Beefing up security
Since the Newtown shooting, school security and gun safety has been an important issue in the mind of nearly every parent in America, and Weehawken is no exception.
“We’ve had several conversations, and we’re going to be having more, all about what an appropriate level of security in our schools is,” said Turner.
He pointed out that Newtown’s school system resembled Weehawken’s. Both townships organize their student populations by grade, rather than by district.
He noted that police are stationed at all of the Weehawken’s schools every morning when students are being dropped off, but that there were several other facets of school security that have come under review.
“We’re looking at entranceways, lockdown protocols, all things like that,” he said.
Turner, school board President Richard Barsa, and other town officials recently attended an emergency lockdown procedure at the Theodore Roosevelt School, which houses kids ranging from third to sixth grade. They closely observed the actions of school officials as well as responding emergency personnel.
“They have it down, they definitely know what they’re doing,” he said.
Still, Turner admitted that enough precautions can never be taken when it comes to the safety of Weehawken’s young ones.
“It’s really about the comings and the goings throughout the day,” he said. “We need to make sure we have that secure. But in terms of ways in and out of our schools, we’ve checked, double checked and triple checked.”
Turner said that in terms of stationing police officers at each school full time, several options were being considered. Presentations will be made to parent groups soon.
A new park on Boulevard East
Turner said two of the township’s major open space projects will be completed in 2013.
When the American Legion knocked down its old building on 49th Street and Boulevard East last year, its agreement with the township was that their new, smaller building would be built on the township’s tab, and the township would receive the rest of the land so they can build a park.
American Legion Park, or “Old Glory Park II” as it will be known colloquially due to its proximity to Old Glory Park just across the street, was set to be completed by the end of 2012, but construction was sidelined when Sandy hit. Turner said it would be completed in time for spring.
Check out next weekend’s edition of The Weehawken Reporter for the second installment of this article, covering the rest of Mayor Turner’s plans for 2013.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org