PART 4: Drastically "Revised" Resilient Communities Program Grant Application

PART 4: Drastically Revised Resilient Communities Program Grant Application

By Manville.Today
May 15, 2024

On March 7th, the Resilient Communities Program grant application revision was submitted. In the application, the plans for what the grant would be used for changed drastically.

The first part of the application discusses how some grant funds would be used to automate the emergency sirens, as discussed in the original application. This is not a bad idea and has benefits for residents.

The application then proceeds to discuss how the DPW building flooded "to the ceiling" and lost "all office equipment included(sic) computers and records". However, we question the honesty of this information, as the DPW building itself did not flood, per several sources close to us. The water came up the steps, but did not flood the actual building itself. Only the garage bays flooded. DPW staff moved out all their equipment before the storm. The application also called out how the OEM building is located in an area that becomes an island during a flood event, making access difficult. This part is true, and more is explained below.

The project summary states that Manville will acquire the Rustic Mall property using the grant funds. Per the project budget, $2.75 million of the $5 million would be spent on buying the Rustic Mall land from the current owner. It appears (per the budget plan in the application) that the land would cost the Borough $4 million to acquire, with the additional $1.25 million coming from the Smart Moves grant, or through "Capital" which means taxpayers would face the cost if the other grant is not approved.

The Borough of Manville would then use the Rustic Mall and convert it into a "Municipal Campus." This means that over the course of the 3 phases of the project, Borough buildings, such as DPW, OEM, Police Station, and the Municipal Building, would be rebuilt on the Rustic Mall site. This is a very costly undertaking, as projects can run over budget quite quickly, especially a project of this scale.

Resilient Communities Program Grant - Phase 1

"Phase 1" Plans

Looking at this photo, this is the area of Rustic Mall along the railroad tracks. Their plans are to construct a new OEM and DPW building, complete with parking and two above-ground stormwater detention systems.

A stormwater management component might be the only positive element to this plan. It would enable stormwater to be stored, especially from the underpass on Main Street, so that it remains open during a flooding event. The water retained can then be released once the event is over.

But this brings another question. Can they even build stormwater systems on the land, since the EPA is currently actively monitoring groundwater at the site for any remanent creosote contamination? Would the EPA need to review and approve this project? Prior news articles from the time of the original mall being demolished state that some creosote only went down a few feet, while in other areas, it was significantly deeper in the ground. Are there limits on what can actually be built here?

Other reasons cited for relocating the OEM/DPW buildings would be to facilitate storm response. However, when Manville floods, many areas of town become inaccessible. They go on to cite the several gas explosions after Ida. Manville was so inaccessible in many areas, that even if you relocate these buildings, you wouldn't be able to easily access the affected flood areas of town.

Did you know there is vacant land in front of the Manville Library? The vacant land by the library is currently owned by the Borough, but it is not being utilized. How come the mayor and council haven't considered moving the municipal buildings there?

Let's think for a moment. What if you move OEM to the library area? OEM is typically active during emergency situations, such as flooding. The current building is mostly used for meetings, and the storage of equipment. It would be low-impact to residents, as far as noise and activity, unless there was an active emergency occurring. Manville could use land that they already own, which would have no impact to the taxpayer in regard to lost tax revenue.

As for DPW, the current building was built with flooding in mind. When a flood is about to occur, DPW typically moves their trucks and other equipment to other areas of town. It was verified that the DPW building did not flood, and equipment was moved prior to the Ida event.

Why would the Borough want to relocate the Police Station? This building was constructed as part of a deal with Adesa back in the 1990s, when the Marketplace was being built. Adesa built the Police Station for Manville. Manville only had to furnish the interior. The building does not flood, so moving it seems to be a very unnecessary expense.

Borough Hall doesn't need to be relocated. Yes, it can flood, but there are other measures you can take to help mitigate the impact. For example, sources tell us they are looking into flood prevention items that would block off the doors to prevent water from entering. In fact, flood walls were mentioned during the Budget Presentation on May 6th. In states like Florida, businesses put up these mini "flood walls" to protect their buildings during flood events. Manville can do the same, and use the Rustic Mall land for something else to generate much-needed tax revenue.

During past flood events, like Irene in 2011, Borough staff moved computers and paperwork to the second floor. It seems that the same level of preparation was not done prior to Ida. Having a comprehensive plan to be prepared for a flood could help save critical files and equipment.

The main concern we see with this proposed plan for Rustic Mall, is that Manville will lose a significant opportunity to generate tax revenue. Any buildings or land used for Municipal purposes will not be subject to property tax.

They are only including two "low to moderate" income housing buildings on the property, based on these plans. This will not generate the tax revenues that this property warrants. The plans for 2014 should be revisited, where the Rustic Mall turns into a mixed-use property, featuring both residential buildings, and retail stores. This would be the best-use case for Manville's taxpayers, especially in light of future Blue Acres buyouts that will affect us all.

How come no new 14-day public comment period occurred after these plans were presented at the Council meeting back in February? Instead of seeing just 2 comments like on the original application, we can see the comment list becoming very large, with residents opposed to this idea and plan.

Rustic Mall Plans

Full image of the proposed Rustic Mall plans

A property owner in Manville posted these new Rustic Mall plans to a local Manville Facebook group shortly after the February Council meeting. The response was astounding. The majority commenting on the post had negative feedback. They were not in agreement that the land should be turned into a Municipal Campus. Did the Mayor and Council revise the grant so residents would have no opportunity to provide their input to the State? Was this done on purpose?

The next part of this series will cover how briefly this project was discussed at a Council meeting back on February 26th.