Residents of the Evergreen Woods community are facing a dearth of options as they continue their fight for relief from what they say is unbearable noise and fumes from the Garden State Parkway due to a project to widen shoulders in the Brick area.
Residents of the condominium development have been successful in publicizing their fight, producing YouTube videos, appearing on radio shows, and garnering attention from the media both locally and on New York and Philadelphia television stations. But the New Jersey Turnpike Authority has consistently blunted the residents’ efforts to have a sound wall installed, claiming that widening the shoulders and removing thousands of trees does not constitute an actual widening of the road. Mayor John Ducey has advocated for the residents before the authority and in a closed-door meeting with state Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox, in which Ducey said Fox told him he was against sound walls.
The homeowners have also said a lack of federal funding allowed the state to avoid what would have been their responsibility to conduct a sound survey to determine the need for a sound wall following the shoulder widening project. State officials say they complied with the law, but the residents claim they have been bullied by the Turnpike Authority, brushed off at meetings and treated unfairly. When Ducey tried to use state grant funding to replace some of the trees lost in Parkway project, the state Attorney General’s office stepped in and stopped him from doing so, refusing to grant a waiver to plant the trees on private property near the condominium complex.
Residents are now facing a dwindling number of options, and township officials say their hands are largely tied as well.
“Is there anything that this council can do?” Evergreen Woods resident Lenis Morano pleaded at the March 17 council meeting.
Council President Paul Mummolo said despite the township’s advocacy, the state remains unwilling to fund the construction of a sound wall, and the township cannot spend taxpayer money to “fight just for specific people.”
Conceivably, the township could fund a sound study, but even that option presents a scenario where the findings would be challenged by the Turnpike Authority.
“We don’t know what [the readings] were before, so it’s hard to compare what it was before to the present,” said Mummolo.
Joanne Bergin, the township’s business administrator, expressed her own frustration with the process.
“The authorities that make these decisions are regulated above us,” Bergin said.
Now, she said, Evergreen Woods residents appear to be having difficulty finding help from their own homeowners’ association, which has chosen not to bring legal action against the authority. Bergin said she spoke with him at a recent authority meeting she attended to support the residents.
“He’s told me that the association has told him that spending more money on him is not something that’s important to them,” said Bergin. “The association has the ability to take this to a legal level, but they’ve decided that it’s not something they want to pursue.”
Michelle Spector, one of the most outspoken residents of the development, said she and her neighbors have brought a retired FAA scientist and a sound expert with them to a recent meeting and hope the authority will listen.
If not, the sleepless nights and smell of fumes will continue, the residents say. The only recent solace they had was when the Asbury Park Press decided to place an article on the issue on its front page. Most of the residents saw it early after the night they had.
“We were up all night, so the fact that it made the front page made us a lot happier,” Morano said.