Home » Pennington Council plans for emergencies

Pennington Council plans for emergencies

by Lynn S. Robbins

Emergency planning, master plan updates, and the 2023 budget adoption were among the top items addressed at the April 3 Borough Council meeting led by Mayor James Davy.

Emergency Planning

David Berez, Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Coordinator for Hopewell Township and Executive Coordinator for Hopewell Valley, spoke about the office’s action plan for responding to the possibility of a train derailment in the Pennington area. Joining Berez were CSX Community Affairs and Safety Representative Bob Rohauer, Pennington Police Chief Douglas Pinelli, and Public Works Superintendent, Rick Smith.

Berez said that if an accident were to take place on the magnitude of the Ohio derailment on February 3, the fire department and other mutual aid groups would be working door-to-door to assist people in moving to community shelters prepared by OEM. An accident of that scale would cover a five-mile radius.

Less serious cases would cover an area between one-half to two miles. OEM uses interactive mapping software that allows for real-time distance measurements from the point of impact. The system includes train lines, water supply, and other utilities as well as data sheets on material safety to estimate the distance they need to cover for evacuations.

Traffic routes and shelter locations would be available to community officers and CSX personnel, as defined in the Incident Action Plan. Berez said he could not discuss the specifics of this information for security reasons, citing the potential for “nefarious acts” that could be committed by bad actors if they knew details of the plan.

Berez said that OEM encompasses a whole community approach, the result of a coordinated effort of several groups, including individuals and communities; police, fire, and public works; local, county and federal governments; school districts; the Red Cross; and other nonprofits. “OEM is the bottom line of FEMA,” said Berez.

Berez urged individuals to have their own personal preparedness strategy which should include these six points:

1. Get an emergency supplies kit.

2. Write down a plan that includes yourself, family, pets, and business.

3. Stay informed of threats and hazards through phone alert systems and social media.

4. Financial preparedness: If possible, set aside some money for emergency expenses.

5. Join a citizen’s group.

6. Get tech ready. Be sure you cell phones and devices are charged, and know where community-based charging places are located in your area.

“When the sky is falling, that‘s not the time to try to figure out what you’re going to do,” he said.

Toward the end of the presentation, Council member Chico Marciante asked Rohauer about the type of railroad cars CSX uses.

Rohauer was having a poor phone connection, but was able to reply, saying that the cars are not owned by the railroads but by private companies. The containers are designed for the type of material they haul and the Federal government sets the guidelines for the chemical shippers. In the case of Ohio, he said, the derailed cars were carrying vinyl chloride.

At this point, Rohauer seemed to have lost the phone connection and was not able to respond to Marciante’s final comment.

“From what I understand,” Marciante said, “Some of them are still running single jacket, the older models. With the newer models, you stand a chance that if they go over, they don’t catch fire or explode.”

Wrapping up his presentation, Berez said he would deliver a packet of information on the emergency operations plan to the Borough office within the next several days, and that he and Rohauer are setting up training for fire department and emergency medical services teams. He invited anyone wishing to speak with him to call his cell phone at 609-439-8775 or send an email to [email protected].

Chief Pinelli thanked Berez and Rohauer for the thorough information they provided. Smith said that he had worked under Berez in a previous position and that he trusts Berez’s decisions and leadership. “He’s a good guy for the job,” Smith said.

Master Plan Update:

Planning Board Chair Jim Riley and Member Andy Jackson reported on the progress made for drafting a new master plan.

Jackson said that the current document, dating back to 1998, has no environmental elements. In devising a new plan, the Board is consulting with the environmental, economic development, and historic preservation commissions, and the open space committee.

Davy spoke of the need for the Board to conduct a robust process for engaging community input before the plan is finalized and Jackson confirmed that it was part of the process.

“We are in desperate need of a new plan,” said Council President Kit Chandler. “It is a tremendous amount of work, but at the end of the day, you do get a very good document,” she said, adding that the plan should have an online presence.

The targeted year for completing the revised plan is 2025.

Budget: The 2023 budget was adopted at the meeting. Before adoption, the public was invited to comment, but no comments were offered.

Congressional funding request for a new water line: Davy announced that the Borough received an opportunity from Senator Cory Booker’s office to make a request for congressional funding for a project it deems important. The Borough determined that replacing a 100-year old water line would be the best project to submit. The line, which runs under Route 31, serves the high school and connects to the other side of the road. The Borough submitted a request for $2 million dollars which would replace the line, connect to the well, and install hydrants.

Summary of  other business:

Local Government Week: April 16-22: Council member Nadine Stern  announced that Pennington Borough will be joining municipalities throughout the state in celebrating the work of local governments.

Residents are invited to Borough Hall on Tuesday, April 18, 5-7 pm to meet the Mayor, Council, and staff. Members of boards and committees will be on hand to share their projects and goals and ways residents can get involved.

Arbor Day: April 28: Davy encouraged everyone to support efforts to protect trees and woodlands, and to support the urban forestry program. Toll Gate Grammar School students and teachers will plant a cherry tree in front of the school at 11:45 am.

Pennington Day: May 20: The Borough will have a table at the event where visitors can meet Council members and learn about town initiatives and upcoming events.

Shade Tree Committee: Merideth Coleman Moore was voted in as a new member.

The next Borough Council meeting is set for Monday, May 1.

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