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  • Writer's pictureJoseph F. Berenato

Town concerned by roadwork

THG/Jaime Wuillermin. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.

HAMMONTON—Town council raised several concerns about the work being done by Think Pavers Hardscaping, LLC on three simultaneous infrastructure projects during Town Engineer Mark Herrmann’s report at the council meeting on September 26.

The projects in question are the repaving of Valley Avenue, from Broadway to Central; the repaving of Vine Street/School House Lane; and the installation of playground equipment at Hammonton Lake Park’s Cpt. Gerard V. Palma Memorial Playground.

Regarding Valley Avenue, Herrmann said that the concrete work—including the curb and sidewalk to the intersection with Broadway—was anticipated to be completed during the week of September 30

“Once the concrete work’s done, they’ll jump right into repaving next week, boxing out the road and rebuilding the road,” Herrmann said, noting that the contractor was planning on applying the base course to the road for now.

Mayor Stephen DiDonato asked for clarification.

“You feel that, in the next two to three weeks, by mid- to late-October, this project will be in the 90 percentile, other than top course?” DiDonato said.

Herrmann answered in the affirmative.

“All of the utilities are in and in good shape, so I do believe that by the middle of the month to the end of the month we should be 90 percent, like you said,” Herrmann said.

DiDonato continued, noting that there were questions about natural gas lines that were “possibly nicked or damaged or hit.”

“Has there been any education process for the contractor so, if he’s on jobs again, that this doesn’t happen again, and has there been any fines? How are we doing this? Any slap on the wrist? What’s the deal? What’s the contractor doing to never have this issue again?” DiDonato said.

Herrmann said that the matter falls under the purview of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU).

“The one in question was an actual main that was marked; that was hit. That was referred to the BPU; they came down. They’re going to see a substantial fine … They’re going to get slapped hard on that one,” Herrmann said.

Herrmann said that it was his understanding that two additional gas laterals were also damaged.

“One was actually under the curb, and when they removed the curb—it was marked—when they removed the curb it was actually stuck to the concrete and it pulled a tab. Another one was not marked out,” Herrmann said.

Herrmann said that he anticipates receiving a report on the incident once the matter is concluded. He then relayed a conversation he had with the contractor.

“I talked to the guy in the field. They don’t have any internal training that they do when this happens. These guys are excavators; they’re not really gas operators, so they don’t really have certain training levels. They’re going to get hammered by the BPU regarding a fine, and possibly more; I don’t know, but they’ll pay pretty substantially for that incident,” Herrmann said.

DiDonato commented on how potentially dangerous the situation could have been.

“When you hit a main, somebody could really get hurt—not only the operator of that machine, the employees and/or the residents of the town. Honestly, when you hit a main, they’ve got to throw the book at you, because you screwed up bigtime,” DiDonato said.

Herrmann concurred.

“It’s coming. I agree 100 percent; no one wants to see that. I don’t believe the guy has even done any more operating since that,” Herrmann said.

Councilman Steven Furgione asked several questions regarding the project, noting that bad weather was anticipated for the weekend of October 1.

“Can we make sure the contractor gets this squared away for the weekend? I don’t know if he has to bring in DGA [dense graded aggregate], bring in stone, but if we get a substantial rainfall, it’s not going to cut it over the weekend with all that mud out there,” Furgione said.

Herrmann said that he would have a conversation with the contractor on the matter. Furgione continued.

“He has no silt bags on the new storm sewer, and if we’re going to get a heavy rainfall he really needs to get those stabilized so we don’t have sand and silt going into those new storm drains,” Furgione said.

Herrmann said that he would made sure it was taken care of.

Councilman Edward Wuillermin then inquired about the projected completion.

“Are we going to try to keep the stab course in place for a while, in order to get as much compaction over all the trenches that were dug there before we put it on the final wearing course?” Wuillermin said.

Herrmann affirmed that it was so.

“We’ll let it sit for a couple weeks and we’ll monitor that,” Herrmann said.

DiDonato suggested leaving the stabilization base (stab course) for a longer period of time.

“Should we keep it longer than that and come back in the spring? Base both roads this fall, and come back in the spring and top both, since it’s the same contractor?” he said.

Herrmann said that it was possible, and Wuillermin commented further.

“I think it would behoove us if we can, and it would be up to the engineer and his discretion as to whether or not we can get by for the winter on the stab course. I know the residents may be a little leery of that; but, on the other hand, any kind of settlement that’s going to occur is going to occur during the winter,” Wuillermin said.

Herrmann said that he would talk to the contractor about the subject, as well as possible remobilization fees and asphalt prices, and report back to the Public Works and Transportation Committee.

Regarding School House Lane, Herrmann said that the storm sewer work was expected to be completed during the week of September 26.

“We’ve had some issues with conflicts out there by St. Joe school. We’re ironing them out; we’re working on them, but we’re back on track so we’ll keep pushing on there,” Herrmann said.

Herrmann said that he anticipated that most of the month of October would be needed to install the utilities.

Furgione asked Herrmann to relay to the contractor that, when work is done for the day, the safety barriers must be put in place.

“I drove through here tonight, and they have cones that are moved—so someone could, in theory, drive down either from Bellevue or from Central. They’ve got to get that every night buttoned up so you can’t get down that road at all,” Furgione said.

Herrmann concurred.

Regarding the playground equipment, Herrmann said there was “one minor issue” regarding the installation. Herrmann said that the manufacturer, GameTime, included the wrong layout instructions.

“The contractor laid it out wrong; luckily, we caught that before they did it. GameTime gave us the new layout, so we’re back on track. This week they’ll be out there to start putting in the playground equipment,” Herrmann said.

Wuillermin asked for a projected end-date for the project; Herrmann said he anticipated between two and three weeks. Wuillermin then asked what the contracted stated for completion, and DiDonato asked about a contingency.

“I believe it was contingent upon receiving the equipment, correct?” DiDonato said.

Herrmann said he believed it was a 60-day contract.

“I did pause it for a little bit waiting for the manufacturer’s delivery; I think it was a six or eight week lead time on the equipment,” Herrmann said.

Councilman William Olivo inquired further.

“How far past the contract are they?” Olivo said.

Herrmann replied.

“If you start it from day one, we’re probably, I would say, at least a month and a half or so over,” Herrmann said.

Wuillermin asked when the playground equipment was delivered, and Furgione responded.

“The equipment sat there for about a month already. I know Mr. Herrmann has verbally put them on notice—but I would say, if we don’t get activity here Wednesday or Thursday, that we need to take a more forceful approach and put them on notice in writing and get this thing done and put behind us,” Furgione said.

DiDonato reiterated that part of the delay was due to the incorrect layout being included with the equipment, and Olivo asked when the contractor opened the equipment containers to examine the layout. Herrmann replied.

“A week and a half ago,” Herrmann said.

Olivo continued.

“So the equipment’s been here three weeks, and they didn’t take a look at it?” Olivo said.

DiDonato replied.

“Probably about two to two-and-a-half weeks before they took a look at it; yes, sir,” DiDonato said.

Herrmann said that, if need be, he would work with Town Solicitor Michael Malinsky to draft the necessary legal notices, and DiDonato responded.

“As long as they get out there this week, I think council’s fine; we just want to get the project done. We’d rather not get into legal maneuvers at this time, but we need them out there this week,” DiDonato said.

Later in the meeting, Councilman Sam Rodio was able to provide an exact answer for the delivery.

“I was just told that that equipment was delivered down at the lake on August 9; it’s been sitting there since then,” Rodio said.

Furgione said that he has spoken with Herrmann about how the town is becoming frustrated with the work delays. Furgione echoed the sentiments of the mayor, noting that Herrmann has notices prepared for the contractor on each of the contracts, but it would be prudent for Adams, Rehmann and Heggan Associates (ARH) to attempt to “push them along and get done.”

“I think once we start with the notices, it’s going to slow this thing down more than it already is, but we’re prepared to go that route if we need to. I just hope we don’t have to,” Furgione said.

Furgione did say that there were issues with School House Lane that “were not the contractor’s fault.”

“They did hit a sewer line early on in the project—which caused St. Joe to close for a day and a half, which was very frustrating—but they found a sewer line last week that we had to deal with. We dug it up—it’s going to be a time-and-material change order—the lateral was buried under a tree that they didn’t even find,” Furgione said.

DiDonato commented on the issues with Think Pavers Hardscaping, LLC.

“You don’t get to pick the contractor you want, gang. You get to pick the lowest contractor, unless you have a reason to throw his bid out. So, you don’t necessarily get the most qualified contractor; you get the cheapest,” DiDonato said.

Councilman Thomas Gribbin commented further.

“That’s the law,” Gribbin said.

DiDonato agreed.

“That’s the law. When you’re playing poker, sometimes you want four aces and a full house, and you end up with two twos, and you’ve got to play them—and that’s what we’re doing here. We’re trying to get it done,” DiDonato said.

Speaking with The Gazette following the meeting, Malinsky said that the state defines the lowest responsible bidder or vendor as one whose response to a request for bids offers the lowest price and is responsive and who is responsible.

“To reject the lowest bid there must be evidence of such character concerning the irresponsibility of the bidder as would cause fair-minded and reasonable people to believe it was not in the best interest of the municipality to award the contract to the lowest bidder,” Malinsky said, citing the 1959 case of Arthur Venneri Co. v. Housing Auth. of City of Paterson.

Malinsky also said that a responsibility hearing would have to be held to determine if the lowest bidder is not responsible. Factors the municipality can consider, Malinsky said, are experience, moral integrity, operating capacity, financial capacity, credit and workforce, equipment and facilities availability.

Malinsky said that responsiveness is defined through the Local Public Contracts Law, N.J.S.A. 40A: 11-1 et seq., which details requirements that are mandatory items to be submitted “at the time specified by the contracting unit for the receipt of the bids,” according to the statute.

Those items include a guarantee to accompany the bid, a certificate from a surety company, a statement of corporate ownership, a listing of subcontractors and a document “provided by the contracting agent in the bid plans, specifications or bid proposal documents for the bidder to acknowledge the bidder’s receipt of any notice or revisions or addenda to the advertisement or bid document.”

Think Pavers Hardscaping, LLC was originally awarded $2.5 million in contracts for the three projects at council’s February 28 meeting. At the time, Furgione expressed concerns about the contractor’s ability to manage the projects at the same time.

“Are we OK? We’re giving them three projects tonight that they’re basically going to do simultaneously. Are we comfortable that they can handle three projects?” Furgione said at that meeting.

Mayor Stephen DiDonato said during that meeting that he was comfortable doing so.

“I am. I am, knowing the company,” DiDonato said at that meeting.

Also during his report, Herrmann requested a change order for Ambient Group, the contractor responsible for the demolition of the former K&K Linens property at 224 Vine St.

“The contract was $111,000; the final value will be $102,000, so a change order will need to be submitted for a deduction of $9,000,” Herrmann said.

This change order was codified under Resolution No. 137-2022, Approve Change Order No. 1 to the Ambient Group for the demolition of 224 Vine St. Wuillermin made a motion to approve the order, which Olivo seconded, and the motion passed unanimously.

During the meeting, DiDonato expressed gratitude to all those who worked on the demolition of K&K Linens.

“That looks terrific with that building finally gone. Eventually, it will be a parking lot; we’ll tie that in with town hall. I believe we’re going to wait for some settlement and different things—a little bit of time—because there was a basement in a small section there, but it’s going to look fantastic when it’s done, so thank you all for your hard work,” DiDonato said.

Herrmann’s report also contained the following information items:

• NJDOT FY2022 Municipal Aid—Old Forks Road: ARH has begun the preparation of the construction plans. They anticipate scheduling a meeting with the Public Works Director in the next few weeks to discuss the roadway and utility design prior to submission to the NJDOT for authorization to bid the project.

Hammonton Bike Path Connector – Phase II: ARH has begun the preparation of the construction plans for the Bike Path project and has prepared and submitted legal descriptions for an access easement across the frontage of the Kathedral Event Center.

• 11th Street Sidewalk Improvements: ARH has begun the preparation of the construction plans for the 11th Street Sidewalk project, which will need to be submitted to the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) for approval and authorization to bid.

• Octagon Oil/Vine Street Parking Lot: The lab results have been received and reviewed by ARH, and the Remedial Action Permit (RAP) has been submitted to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).

• Mazza Muffler Site/104 S. Egg Harbor Road: Project plans and specifications for the demolition of the building have been completed. Confirmation of the grant funding in the amount of $151,160 has been received, and ARH will proceed with the public bidding of the project.

Skinner Property/317 N. Egg Harbor Road: The town has been notified that they have received a $76,932 grant from the Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund for the remedial investigation of the Skinner property. ARH will prepare a proposal for this work.

• Celona Site Remediation/130 Railroad Avenue: ARH completed the receptor evaluation at the site and completed the remedial investigation report.

• 2021/2022 Water Capital Projects: The Director of Public Works has been in contact with the property owners along Rt. 54, to obtain utility easements to allow the proposed water main to be relocated outside of the road. ARH has completed the field work and base maps and have prepared the legal descriptions and exhibits, and has begun revising the plans and specifications for the relocation of the water main.

• Water Quality Accountability Act Compliance: The NJDEP WQAA Capital Improvement Plan has been completed and submitted. The draft Asset Management Plan has been submitted to the Municipal Utilities Superintendent for review. ARH is currently working on the water audit.

• Boyer Avenue Pump Station: ARH met with the Director of Public Works. Additional input has been received by the adjoining residents; ARH will make the final changes to the plans and specifications and coordinate with the town to publicly bid this project.

• Hammonton Middle School Tennis Courts: Bids for this project were received on September 21, where the apparent low bidder was American Athletic Courts, with a bid of $502,790. ARH will make a formal recommendation for consideration at the October council meeting.

During his report, Public Works Manager Robert Vettese said that the Pinelands Commission is generating new requirements for amendments to their Comprehensive Management Plan that would deal with water allocation for municipalities and other users in the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer System.

Vettese said that the town contacted a consultant, Dr. Raymond Ferrara, for a proposal to review the regulations; Ferrera returned a proposal in the amount of $8,000 which includes attending a meeting at the commission on October 12.

Wuillermin made the motion to approve the proposal, which Furgione seconded.

“Dr. Ray is our consultant on all our water and sewer issues,” Furgione said.

The motion passed.

Vettese also said he met with school officials regarding the possibility of installing a bicycle and pedestrian path along Linda Avenue, from Fairview Avenue to the bridge at Cedar Branch Stream, with an alternate connection from Linda Avenue to Liberty Street along the tennis courts.

Vettese said that the town met with its landscape architect, Scott Taylor, to make submissions to the South Jersey Transportation Authority and the DOT for possible grant funds, and asked Triad Associates to provide a price to complete an application to DOT for that work.

“They gave us a cost estimate of $8,950, so what we’re going to do is recommend approval of that, subject to verification of funding consideration. The other thing that we’ll do is maybe see, since it involves both the town and the school, see if the school can help out maybe 50 percent of that cost,” Vettese said.

Vettese said that the amount for which the town is applying is approximately $1.3 million.

“This investment, if we do get funded for it, is a pretty good chunk of money for not that much of a cost,” Vettese said.

Vettese said that the project would include work to the dirt parking lot at Hammonton Middle School.

“Right now, it’s a free-for-all, so we would provide a curbed entrance to that,” Vettese said.

Rodio said that he had a recent conversation with Hammonton Hawks president Clark Hovermale about the parking lot.

“He’s looking for ideas—he’s going to contact the chief—what to do on the five or six Saturdays of the Hawks season, because it’s totally out of control; it’s chaos. All you’ve got to do is walk across the baseball field and you’ve got the A-wing parking lot—and there’s six cars in it—and you walk over to the B-wing parking lot across the tennis courts and there’s three cars in it. Along Linda Avenue, there’s 600 cars,” Rodio said.

Rodio said that it is common throughout the region for people to park as close as possible during sporting events “instead of parking where they belong in a parking lot and walking a little bit—including myself.”

Wuillermin made the motion to approve the expenditure for Triad Associates, which Furgione seconded. DiDonato commented further.

“We’re going to try to get 50 percent of that from the school,” DiDonato said.

Olivo spoke about Triad Associates.

“Triad is very good in trying to obtain these grants. Anytime we engage Triad, as we’ve been doing over the last year or so, we’ve had a good success rate—so kudos to Triad, if I may say so,” Olivo said.

The motion carried.

Also during his report, Vettese said that the town received notice that the application for the overland drip on Boyer Avenue will be heard at the October meeting of the Pinelands Commission. Vettese said that the application had the support of Fred Akers, the administrator for the Great Egg Harbor Watershed Association, and the commission’s open meeting.

“He brought up that the Pinelands should try and support the town’s application for other improvements that they do from a wastewater and stormwater standpoint, because we cannot take advantage of Pinelands infrastructure funds,” Vettese said.

Vettese said that is because Hammonton is at the headwaters of the Pinelands and is not considered a regional growth communities.

“The only way that can change is through the state legislature, so we discussed possibly seeking help from our legislator, and maybe asking him to see if he can push that along. It only makes sense: if there’s money available, and we’re at the headwaters, and we’re doing our best to comply with all the regulations, help us out,” Vettese said.

DiDonato said that water management has been an issue for at least as long as he has been mayor.

“Every gallon of water we pump in the town of Hammonton, we have to dispose of in the town of Hammonton. Every town of water that comes from the sky in the town of Hammonton, to our storm sewers, it gets infiltrated in our town limits. We’re one of the few towns in the country that has that responsibility,” DiDonato said.

DiDonato said that the water management comes at a great cost to the taxpayers.

“Any help we can get would be appreciated,” DiDonato said.

Furgione made a motion to send a letter to Assemblyman Michael Torrissi on the matter, which Councilman Jonathan Oliva seconded. The motion passed.

Wuillermin asked for clarification.

“That was to seek some funds, or to get Hammonton, as a town—or Pinelands Towns—in the infrastructure trust fund for the Pinelands? Have Pinelands Towns incorporated as eligible receiving areas for that money?” Wuillermin said.

DiDonato replied.

“I don’t care if they do other Pinelands Towns; I only care about Hammonton,” he said.

The next meeting of town council will be on October 24.


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