2018 has been a year of transition in Bayonne, when local events sometimes reflected national concerns, like danger from guns and the rights of Muslims to worship, while others like traffic and road improvements and saying goodbye to revered local officials were strictly local.
Two elections brought many incumbents back to City Hall and the Board of Education. Mayor James Davis emerged from a contentious municipal election to win a second term that ends in 2022. Development was another big story; most undeveloped properties now have buildings under construction.
Bayonne received a $650,000 federal grant in May for construction of a ferry terminal on the southern shore of the former Military Ocean Terminal Base. In October, the city announced the ferry operator would SeaStreak, based in Atlantic Highlands. Fares, routes, schedules, and when the ferry will begin operation are yet to be determined. SeaStreak runs a ferry from Highlands and Atlantic Highlands in Monmouth County to Wall Street and 34th Street in Manhattan. Bayonne may be an added stop along the route. SeaStreak may also provide seasonal ferry service for Jersey Shore day trippers. The Bayonne terminal would be SeaStreak’s first in Hudson County. The rest are operated by NY Waterway.
Traffic and road improvements
The $310 million 14A Interchange Project, which was completed in May, increased toll plaza capacity from 11 to 13 lanes, extended the ramp from Interchange 14A westbound, expanded the Hudson County Extension to two lanes, and replaced the two-lane connector bridge with a new four-lane structure to Routes 440, Route 185, and Port Jersey Blvd.
A new flyover ramp was also constructed from the interchange and Port Jersey Blvd. to Route 440 south. The traffic signal at East 53rd Street was removed, and the new roundabout will provide permanent access to the 14A Interchange.
The project will increase access not only for truckers, but for motorists coming to and from the former Military Ocean Terminal Base, where thousands of units of residential housing and a commuter ferry are due in the coming years.
The Bayonne City Council chose not to renew NJ Animal Control and Rescue’s contract in favor of the Jersey City-based Liberty Humane Society.
Muslim community center
Bayonne’s Muslim community successfully challenged the Bayonne Zoning Board’s March 2017 decision to deny the group a parking variance in its effort to convert an old warehouse on East 24th Street to a Muslim community center. The group was awarded $400,000 in February of 2018 as part of an agreement with the City of Bayonne, which was required to approve the group’s planned community center.
Bayonne Muslims challenged the Zoning Board’s decision based on the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Municipal Land Use laws, which give places of worship special consideration in zoning decisions.
The damages, Davis said, will come from the city’s insurance fund and mostly consist of attorney’s fees.
Board of Education
In April, the BBOED adopted a $130.7 million budget to fund the 2018-2019 school year. The school district, which is funded by the state and from 40 percent of Bayonne’s property tax bills, levies additional taxes when the cost of running the district increases. Bayonne experienced a 13.2 percent rate increase to the state’s health insurance plan as of January; increased spending on school security; curriculum updates to math and science programs; upgrading of aging facilities (the average building is 83 years old); a growing student population; and a low reserve of funds from the previous year.
The NJ Department of Education released its annual report cards in January, which assign a grade to every school district based on PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). Bayonne falls in the 21st percentile. High rates of absenteeism and math readiness are two of the district’s main concerns.
Unsafe at any speed
Five people have died in four years on Route 440, including Christian Rodriguez, 22, killed on Nov. 7 by a driver who fled the scene and was later arrested. The stretch of road between 22nd and 34th streets is particularly dangerous. Businesses at South Cove Commons continue to tempt people to cross. The fatality comes after upgrades to the 22nd Street intersection improved crossing signals and allowed more time for pedestrians to cross. City officials have long considered constructing a pedestrian bridge that would extend from the current bridge that takes pedestrians over the light rail tracks and into a parking lot. The city council requested design bids and has applied for federal grants.
Soon after the Feb. 14 Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, students and administrators organized the district’s participation in “National School Walkout” on March 14 on Avenue A. Students, parents, and faculty walked out of school for 17 minutes, one minute for each person killed in the Feb. 14 shooting. Some Bayonne students attended the national “March for Our Lives” protest in Washington D.C. the following week.
On Feb. 23, Bayonne High School went on lockdown after a message circulated through social media threatening a school shooting at “BHS,” an acronym for the New Mexico high school, Belan High School that was confused with Bayonne. Later in the day, police were called to Henry E. Harris Community School after a child told her parent that a student said a shooting would take place at the school. Police quickly determined the threat not credible.
A social media post on March 4 that threatened to “shoot up all Bayonne public schools” caused the Bayonne School District to close on Monday, March 5. Other threatening posts followed before the account was suspended.
The school district increased the number of security guards from nine last year to 12 this year, allowed some of those guards to be armed, and purchased metal detectors and more security wands. Security aid from the state was increased from $700,000 last year to $3 million this year.
A Bayonne hockey coach and social studies teacher, David McKenna, 38, resigned his position after allegedly pointing a State Trooper’s semiautomatic handgun at two people in the coach’s locker room at Bayonne High School on November 30, 2017 during hockey practice. The fallout from the incident was felt in 2018.The gun, which was holstered and hanging in the coach’s office, belonged to an off-duty NJ State Trooper and assistant hockey coach, Richard Korpi Jr. (The school’s ice rink was named for his father in 1986.)
McKenna allegedly removed the gun from its holster and walked into the hallway with the weapon. He then walked back into the office and allegedly pointed the weapon in the direction of a student and a teacher.
McKenna, who led the state in scoring as a Bayonne High School hockey player, was suspended from his position with pay. Korpi is no longer in his coaching position.
McKenna was replaced by Harvey Boehm, the former hockey varsity coach and current high school history teacher.
Project labor agreements (PLAs) are now required for all private development projects of more than $15 million that sign payment-in-lieu-of-tax (PILOT) agreements with the City of Bayonne. The city council passed the ordinance in February after it offered PILOT agreements to most of the major developers. A PLA is a collective bargaining agreement signed by one or more labor unions and a developer that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a construction project.
Bayonne is now one of only a few cities in the state to have passed such an ordinance, modeled after Jersey City’s.
Union workers support the ordinance, citing safety, fair pay, youth career building, the benefits of hiring local workers, and gender inclusion.
Curtains for old MOTBY
Most young people in Bayonne have no memory of the former Military Ocean Terminal Base (MOTBY), unlike older residents who worked there. Now, landmarks of MOTBY’s industrial past are gone. The iconic water tower was demolished in December to make room for 1.6 million square feet of industrial warehouse space slated for construction by 2021. Lincoln Equities Group (LEG) completed its acquisition of a 153-acre site on MOTBY, called the Bayonne Logistics Center, in June.
The existing World War II-era warehouses once stored missiles, tanks, and cargo to ship abroad to support war efforts from 1967, when the peninsula became a military base, to 1999, when the base closed. In 2007, Ports of America purchased the land and buildings. The old warehouses will be demolished, and the land raised by six feet, which will require two million tons of fill.
Former Bayonne Police Chief Jim Sisk died in September at the age of 79. Cornelius (Neil) Carroll, a former Hudson County Freeholder, athlete, and Navy vet, died at the age of 91. His grandson, Neil Carroll III was appointed in November to replace former councilman Thomas Cotter on the Bayonne City Council. On October 15, former U.S. Representative Neil Gallagher died at the age of 97.