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Letter to the Hightstown Council: Use Your Heads

Rob Thibault posted filtered facts on his blog and has given Borough Council filtered facts, saying the Lucas Property is polluted with dangerous chemicals. This leaves out pertinent information...

To Mayor and Council,

I’m not going to yell at you that you are all idiots. That’s not my style and it isn’t true. From what I can tell, only two of you are, and the other three are being mislead with the use of filtered facts. I hold the hope that you three will soon see that you are looking at the hind quarters of the lead dog, and he isn’t letting you see that you are only getting scraps of information.

Gail, I had high hopes that you would be a welcome change to the former council that closed out the public from the discussion, and only asked questions amongst themselves as if they had all the answers. Last meeting, you tried to discredit my statements during the first round of public comment, by reading a memo I wrote to the planning board. That memo was to be used as my opinion IF I was not available to attend the October planning board meeting. I was able to attend and hear the valued opinions of all members in attendance, thus that memo means nothing and is not part of the public record. Your assertion that I disagreed with myself is a lame attempt at grasping at something to counteract what you know is true–that rebuilding in a known flood zone is a stupid idea.

Mr. Thibault, you are a disaster! The agenda from November 5, 2012 had nothing on it about the Planning Board response. At the beginning of the meeting you added it as a discussion item, and hey look, you had a draft response all prepared with enough copies for everyone! This topic was purposely left off the agenda so that people wouldn’t show up and disagree with you. Sounds to me like you are violating the Sunshine law AGAIN!

I filed an OPRA request to get my copy last week. (It’s interesting that the first public comment last night was after your discussion of the planning board response to, I assume, preclude any disagreement.” Smooth…)

Here are my comments anyway: Your response says that the Borough Hall ONLY saw 3 or 4 inches (of water) at the front of the building, and 30 inches at the rear; and that the “current Borough Hall site has not experienced flooding in the past…but rather has seen only minor occurrences of water levels of one or two inches at the FAR rear of the property.” Really? I found these pictures from 1934. Maybe you should double check your factual evidence. And, would you want regular invasions of 3-4 inches of water in your house?

You wrote a blog on the Patch as if you hold all the answers. Are you speaking for the ENTIRE council? You are speaking for them, “Council discussed…,” “Council made a reasoned, sound decision…” Did they sign off on all that you said? I’ll go out on a limb…they didn’t, and that Blog is your opinion. It should come with a disclaimer, “The following “facts” are my opinion and I have left out certain pieces of information to make myself and my decisions look like the right way to go.”

On this Blog of filtered information you state that the Lucas Property is polluted with dangerous chemicals. The site is listed by the NJDEP as a contaminated site and it is “…heavily tainted by hazardous and cancer causing chemicals.” True – well sort of. Thank you for the links to the Agency for Toxic Substances within your Blog. The DEP also lists just about every gas station and service station in Hightstown. Hmmm, it’s interesting that the Borough Hall site used to be an Esso gas station.

Of the three chemicals you list, benzene, ethylbenzene, and toluene, only benzene can cause cancer. Something I don’t take lightly as I had the cancer that it specifically lists. However, within the other information by the Toxic Substance website and the DEP website are these interesting facts that you seem to not have had room for in your Blog.

1. The chemicals are in the ground water and would only affect the occupants of the Lucas building if you drilled a well.

2. The chemicals are in the Pennsauken aquifer. Hightstown does not draw water from this aquifer. We draw somewhat from the Englishtown Aquifer, but largely from the Potomac-Raritan-Magothy aquifer.

3. All three are by products of gasoline, oil, and industrial processes.

Additionally during the course of the meeting, council discussed possible locations of temporary trailers for the Borough Hall personnel. One of the thoughts was vacant land formerly owned by Agway on Maxwell Avenue. Considering that the old Agway land is also listed on the DEP Contaminated Sites list, I find it odd that this site would be considered for temporary offices, for three years mind you.

So, if it is a deciding factor against a property is having some chemicals in the soil that are a result of gasoline and oil, then it should ALSO be a deciding factor to not build the borough Hall in the location of an old Esso station! I would BET they were less careful about spilling gas and oil on the ground back then.

I also reminded the council last night that in the minutes they approved on for an August 23 open session meeting, there is a paragraph under discussions quoting our Borough Engineer. “The Borough Engineer noted that we will always be at risk for flooding at this location…,” referring to the existing Borough Hall location. Why spend $3.7 million dollars to rebuild in a place that we know will flood again?

Council, stop following, and start using your heads. Rebuilding in a flood zone over an old gas station is the wrong path!

-Rick Pratt

214 Stockton Street

Editor’s note: the above is a revised version of a letter Rick Pratt read during the public comment portion of Monday night’s Hightstown Borough Council meeting.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Rob Thibault November 21, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Mr. Pratt: Name calling and personal attacks are time-honored political traditions, so I’ve come to accept them as part of being an elected official. What I will not accept are potentially libelous statements made about me. In your letter, you strongly imply that I have in the past violated the State’s Open Public Meetings Act, what you call the Sunshine Law. You know that is not true. In fact, it is demonstrably not true. I did not address this when you read the same statement at the Council Meeting on Monday evening, thinking that your then potentially slanderous comment was the result of your obviously passionate disagreement with Council’s actions. Now reading it in the Patch as part of a “revised version “ of your statement to Council I can only come to the conclusion that you consciously and deliberately made a potentially actionable statement as part of a concerted effort to disparage and discredit me personally with the hope of gathering support for your position. Let me be clear Mr. Pratt. This is far different than stating your opinion as you do when directing insults at me. You have purposefully insinuated that I had been charged with and found guilty of violating a State law. Again, you know this is false. I believe that you are, at heart, an honorable person and will do the right thing by withdrawing your accusation. I do not even ask for an apology, merely a statement correcting this falsehood presented by you as fact. Rob Thibault
Rick Pratt November 21, 2012 at 10:37 PM
I withdraw the accusation that there is any factual wvidence that you violated a law. I apologize that you were hurt by my opinion. As you said Monday, your blog post was your opinion. Though I see in the planning board response article comments, you are calling me a liar regarding the developer. This too is a libelous statement. I would say we are even. I don't believe that you set out to violate any laws. However it's fishy that the resolution discussion was added to the agenda on the fly two meetings ago, and we should believe that only by chance you had a sample resolution, and also by chance no one had any corrections. It's fishy and you should be aware of this type of circumstance when the agenda is set and not add things on the fly. Especially about topics that would have potentially drawn a much larger crowd if it had been on the posted agenda.
Rob Thibault November 21, 2012 at 11:49 PM
Rick, I have not commented on anything other than your letter.
B.Bennett November 22, 2012 at 11:32 AM
STOP ARGUING AND GET BOROUGH HALL SOMEWHERE - OTHER TOWNS LAUGH AT US AND THE POOR LEADERSHIP - C'MON - GET SOMETHING DONE AS HIGHTSTOWN APPEARS INCOMPETENT IN ITS LEADERSHIP -
Robert Page November 25, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Mr. Thibault, one part of holding public office is taking criticism from your constituents. You seem very thin skinned and, frankly, childish when you respond to posts here on patch.com with accusations of libel as you did above. We all know that you are a litigious person based on the lawsuits you have been and still currently are involved in connected to the police department and the borough itself. No matter the merits of those other suits (which are a separate matter altogether), responding to Mr. Pratt's criticisms of you with a not-so-thinly veiled threat of litigation. Frankly, your perception that he libeled you speaks volumes about your character and your leadership skills. You would be much better served by listening, and I mean actually listening, to the people of this borough and what they think about the location of Borough Hall. Instead, you immediately fling accusations of libel and completely disregard his points about the issue. I can only assume that you do this on purpose so that you can employ a tactic of "chilling effect" on your detractors' opinions. If you're not familiar with that concept, it's a situation where a government's actions do not overtly limit a person's free speech, but instead create the threat of problems for that person so that they decide speaking out isn't worth it. Is that the kind of borough government that Hightstown wants?
Rick Pratt November 26, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Well said Mr. Page! You hit the nail on the head.
clara November 26, 2012 at 07:49 PM
With all apologies to David Byrne, why can't Rob Thibault STOP MAKING SENSE?! How dare Rob and others on council weigh all possible options, listen to all interested parties -- residents, paid consultants, and unpaid, dedicated volunteers -- and then make what they collectively feel is in the best interests of those who are paying for this?! The nerve, the outrage, the humanity!
rules rule November 27, 2012 at 03:28 AM
In case you haven't noticed, Mr. Page, Hightstown's residents are accustomed to the "speaker outer" being silenced by the "chilling effects". Go get em, Thibault, you have every right to express your opinion, especially when you truly feel you are right. Time to warm this chilly town up, we've been frozen for years.
Torry Watkins November 27, 2012 at 03:24 PM
A hearty "well done" to Rick Pratt for undercutting the last two substantive arguments of the three remaining Deluge Deniers on Council. Rick has introduced (gasp!) photographic evidence of historic flooding in the Borough Hall area. And to refute the DDs' argument against the Lucas site on the ground that it has environmental remediation problems, he neatly shows that Hightstown has other contaminated sites, among which are the very properties that the DD's want considered. No wonder Rob Thibault, spiritual leader of the DD's, wants to change the subject.
Downtown Hightstown, Inc. November 27, 2012 at 05:43 PM
@Clara - The Council is not listening to all interested parties. They have not listened to the town planner. They have not listened to the borough engineer. They have not listened to the Planning Board. They have not listed to the members of GHEWIP who have spent tens of thousands of dollars of their own money try and revitalize the downtown. They have not listened to volunteers who have spent countless hours trying to improve the downtown. They have not listened to past council members. They have not listened to historic preservationists. They are not listening to members of our public who have written their college thesis on the Mill. And they are not listening to mother nature, who is saying I don't give a damn where the lines on the flood map are, I'm going to put water wherever I want. They are not listening.
clara November 27, 2012 at 07:22 PM
It looks to me like they have been listening, researching, reviewing, asking questions and demanding access to information that had been withheld. You sound frustrated and angry because they are not doing what you want them to do. Maybe there is a reason. Have you listened, with an open mind, to their rationale for mitigating and rebuilding on the property already owned by the borough? Members of council are elected to represent the interests (including fiscal) of all the municipality's residents. People who contribute more to the municipality, in terms of monetary donations or time, aren't entitled to more representation, just fair representation. That is what I referred to when commenting that this issue has unnecessarily polarized the common good and ego-driven visions of re-development schemes. They are listening and so are people like me, just working, raising a family and paying my bills, no one important and no one with any self-interest beyond wishing to see property taxes stabilized and municipal services improved.
Downtown Hightstown, Inc. November 27, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Yes, I have listened with an open mind since the beginning of this process. And based on what I have heard, there are many more benefits to moving Borough Hall to different location than keeping it where it is. I tend to trust people who are experts and professionals in their field when they give their opinion - in my mind, it holds more weight than people who are laymen, like you and me. When a paid, professional Borough engineer advocates moving to a different location, I listen. When a paid, professional planner advocates using the space for retail and commercial space, rather than for a new Borough Hall, I listen. (Note: One of the reasons she advocates using the space for retail or commercial is that it would take some of the burden off of residents – see Council meeting minutes from August 23, 2012. Here is an excerpt: "...the tax base here is not really balanced, with too much burden on residential; and the way to relieve that burden is to have more commercial. One suggestion that has been in the Master Plan has been to incorporate this property into development and extend the downtown business district up this way, up Main Street; and that would be valuable commercial property that would help to balance the tax burden...") I have no self-interest or ego-driven motivation for moving our governmental functions out of an area that is prone to flooding. It just makes sense. I want the same things you want, we just seem to have different visions in how to get there.
clara November 27, 2012 at 08:38 PM
I agree with your reasoning that two people can look out the exact same window yet not see the same tree. There is a case to be made for each of the options. But arguments made for re-locating because developers will quickly buy up the property and begin generating tax revenues are faulty. The re-development espoused in the Master Plan and by GEWHIP both assert that any new businesses could only succeed if given tax breaks. Though I think the attempt to improve Hightstown's image is admirable, I don;t view rebuilding/relocating borough hall as holding the answers. And I think the name-calling being done by the noisiest proponents of purchasing the Lucas property discredits not only them, but their entire effort.
Downtown Hightstown, Inc. November 27, 2012 at 09:05 PM
The main reason to relocate Borough Hall is because its in an area that is prone to flooding. That's it. It's a safety issue. We saw what happened in Irene - police, EMS and Fire were occupied getting themselves and equipment out of harms way that their response would have been severely impacted if there was a major emergency. If you have the chance to remove your government and emergency services from an area that is prone to flooding, you do it. Regarding the Mill, and this is secondary to the safety issue, I don't think that anyone is saying that developers are lining up to develop the Mill just waiting for the Borough Hall to be taken off of the table. But, again, we should be listening to the professionals we are paying. It's in the Master Plan for a reason. Neither you nor I are professional planners (well, at least I'm not), but what I do know is that if that parecel of land was opened up for more creative uses, it would be more attractive to developers. From my time on Council, that was THE biggest stumbling block while negotiating with them. We wanted one thing, they wanted another for that parcel of land. Remove the Borough Hall component, give a developer access to the Mill site from Main Street instead of blocking it off with a big Borough Hall, and you've got a better shot of attracting a developer. This is supported by our professionals, and those in town who know about redevelopment.
Ramshead November 27, 2012 at 09:50 PM
The thing I don't understand is if people are saying borough hall needs to be moved, then why aren't they making the same argument for the firehouse? That would really open up main street for the mill.
Downtown Hightstown, Inc. November 27, 2012 at 09:57 PM
If the firehouse was destroyed like borough hall & the police station was, I think that we would be having that conversation as well. But the firemen did a great job of repairing the damage and getting the firehouse up and running again. The firehouse is a different animal though and required a lot less remediation than the Borough Hall – there area that was primarily impacted were the truck bays on the lower level which didn't house offices, electronics, and all the Borough's records like the Borough Hall did.
clara November 27, 2012 at 10:06 PM
And the water tx plant? Public works bldg? The experts also asserted that nearly every parcel of land in the borough is flood prone. This too is a weak argument. I would rather see the current lot remediated and borough hall rebuilt than see a huge property tax hike to avoid potential flood damage. Thus far, it happens every 70 years or whenever borough officials fail to take proactive measures. The most gifted planner and engineer can still fail to take this fact into account and they also aren't experts in fiscal management. As I recall, rug mill developers wantedtobuild high density housing. That will add to our tax property burden, not relieve it. This is why talks stalled.
Lee Stults November 27, 2012 at 10:59 PM
Since when is moving critical Borough functions out of harm's when the opportunity presents itself a weak argument? It seems like common sense to me. While I applaud the concern for controlling our taxes, I'm more concerned with the value of what I'm getting for those taxes. A new 'modular' Borough Hall, in a flood prone area, seems far less valuable to me than relocating to an existing building that is far from any flood zone. Additionally, a successfully redeveloped mill that includes a creative connection to Main Street will provide taxable value while ALSO enhancing the image and viability of the downtown business district. As to the school tax burden, the type of housing that is best suited for the Mill caters mostly to folks with few or no children. That means Mill residents would pay more school taxes than they would use. While it seems Council should have removed itself from the role of Redevelopment Authority a long time ago, I am hopeful that it's not too late to see the forest through the trees.
clara November 27, 2012 at 11:28 PM
I don't view the relocation as the opportunity you portray. I view it instead as a risky gamble, one that is best taken by a private developer/investor, not one funded by already "under water" homeowners/taxpayers. I also place more value on municipal services such as twice a week trash collection (as is done in EW), prompt removal of brush, leaves, clean drinking water, good schools, etc Lower on my list is the appearance and location of municipal administrative offices. But if you, GEWHIP, and others want to invest in redevelopment of the rug mill, without subsidies from taxpayers, I wish you well.
Denny Hansen November 28, 2012 at 04:31 PM
I would like to see a new Resolution by Council that appoints an independent "Redevelopment Authority". The current Resolution does not allow for a solution on Borough Hall & Borough Services that takes into consideration all the objectives that should be key to a decision. It does not allow us to negotiate the idea of the Lucas site with the insurance company. Why wouldn't the insurance company be willing to discuss a shorter (less expensive)l solution that would effect the length of claim? The terms of the insurance settlement are key...why aren't they negotiable? The most recent Council Vote (3 of 6 members abstaining) rejecting the Planning Board's recommendation "not to rebuild in Flood zone" gives me hope that some are reconsidering their position. Ryan is right, council is not listening! I agree with Lee ...not building in a Flood Zone is a strong argument. And thank you to Rick for his infomation and rebuttal. Better facts and figures on the Lucas option are needed. With all options on the table, a more fair and valid comparison based on Safety, Short and Long Term Finances, Planning & Development, Environmental concerns and Property Values could be developed and presented.

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