By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City’s proposed community recreation center and new stormwater pumping stations top the list of big-ticket items in a new five-year capital plan that would cost more than $54 million if all of the projects are built.
The capital plan for 2022 to 2026 was unveiled Tuesday by Mayor Leonard Desiderio’s administration during a workshop meeting with City Council.
The plan is essentially a sweeping blueprint for the next five years for improvements to the beaches, bayfront, roads, Promenade and other parts of town.
“It is just a framework for us to move forward,” Chief Financial Officer Paula Doll said in opening remarks during a presentation to Council.
Altogether, the capital plan proposes a total of $54.2 million in spending from 2022 to 2026 for any array of infrastructure improvements, including water and sewer projects. However, Council will need to adopt funding ordinances in the future to finance individual projects, Doll explained.
“This plan does not appropriate any money,” she said.
Desiderio said the objective is to reach agreement with Council on the priorities in the capital plan as part of a process that will involve “considerable public review and discussion.”
“This is consistent with the same practice we’ve followed for many years, which is part of our overall capital improvement program to review citywide priorities, assess progress to date, and re-establish priorities for the coming years,” Desiderio said in a statement.
Council President Jack Gibson’s initial reaction to the capital plan was positive. He said he was strongly in favor of the plan’s emphasis on flood-mitigation projects – including new stormwater pumping stations – to counter the threat from rising sea levels.
“I like what I see,” he said of the overall plan. “I think it has to do with protecting us as an island resort more than anything else.”
Two major priorities in the capital plan include the city’s proposed community recreation center and four new stormwater pumping stations to protect flood-prone areas of town.
“We’re confident that we can accomplish both of these priorities, along with all of the other projects that are proposed, in a financially sound manner,” Desiderio said in his statement.
The proposed community recreation center, discussed and debated in recent years, has been slowed down by concerns over its $20 million cost, the project’s impact on the local tax rate and whether the facility would be widely used in a town that has 2,100 year-round residents.
In October, Council failed to pass a funding ordinance to finance the project. The 2-2 vote fell short of the required “super majority” of four affirmative votes needed to approve the funding plan.
Desiderio responded to Council’s concerns about the project by setting up a public meeting on Dec. 4 to review the community center plan in greater detail. The meeting will be held at 10 a.m. in the Community Lodge next to the Sea Isle City Welcome Center.
“We’ll review the facility plans in detail, we’ll show the need for the proposed spaces that are currently part of the plan, and we’ll show the cost projections related to construction of a Community Center as well as our other priorities, and how those costs will impact future tax rates for property owners,” Desiderio said.
Under the city’s current plan, the former public school at 4501 Park Road would be demolished to create room for the community recreation center. Reflecting its dual purpose, the center would include a gymnasium and other workout facilities for recreation as well as meeting space for community events.
The capital plan proposes spending $20 million for the community recreation center in 2022. Expressing concerns about the cost, Gibson and Councilwoman Mary Tighe cast the two dissenting votes in October against the bond ordinance to finance the project.
Gibson said he wants the mayor to revise the project so that the cost would be significantly less than $20 million. After the workshop meeting on the capital plan, Gibson said he thinks it is “prudent” to scrutinize the project even more before making a decision.
“I’m still open,” he said about the community center.
Meanwhile, the city is proposing to spend a total of $7 million to build two new pumping stations in the next two years. City Business Administrator George Savastano, though, told Council that Sea Isle plans to “aggressively pursue” grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help defray the cost for both projects.
“We’re going to push for the grants and we’re also going to push for the engineering on these projects,” Savastano said, stressing the city’s intention to finance and build the projects as quickly as possible.
Under the capital plan, the first pumping station would be built in 2022 at an estimated cost of $3 million. Savastano said it would generally protect the area from 45th to 47th streets, from Landis Avenue to the bay.
Sea Isle plans to follow up with another pumping station in 2023 for the area from 42nd to 44th street, from Landis to the bay. That project would cost an estimated $4 million.
In addition, the capital plan proposes to spend $3 million in 2025 and another $3 million in 2026 for two more pumping stations. The proposed locations were not announced.
Sea Isle built its first pumping station in 2019, in the flood-plagued bayfront neighborhood of Sounds Avenue and 38th Street. The project cost about $800,000.
The next pumping stations would protect a much larger swath of Sea Isle, making them more expensive than the one at the bay end of 38th Street.
Pumping stations intercept floodwater and channel it back into the bay much faster than it would normally take to drain off the streets after a coastal storm. They have proved effective in Ocean City, Avalon and other shore communities vulnerable to flooding.
In combination with the new pumping stations, Sea Isle plans to spend $500,000 to $1 million per year from 2022 to 2026 on road reconstruction and drainage projects to help ease flooding on the island.
Sea Isle also plans to spruce up its beaches, bayfront and Promenade with new projects in the capital plan.
Among them, the city is proposing to spend $2 million in 2024 for its share of the next round of beach replenishment done in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A total of $1 million is proposed in 2023 and 2024 for improvements to the lights and loudspeaker system on the oceanfront Promenade.
Lagoons along the back bays are line for dredging in 2026, at an estimated cost of $1.5 million, to clear out muddy sediment.
In a previously approved project, the city plans to resume dredging of the lagoons and waterways this winter near the Yacht Club of Sea Isle City, 38th Street and the municipal marina on 42nd Place.