NEWARK, N.J. — The ankle-deep, sloping hole in the sidewalk is smack dab between two curb cut outs and uneven chunks of concrete.
It’s been there so long — at least five years — that grass has grown underneath the sidewalk at the corner of Parkview Terrace and Lyons Avenue in Newark.
No one seemed to notice it until Ronice Bruce, the new executive director of the South Ward Special Improvement District, came across the hazard in March when she was making her rounds, checking on the needs of the neighborhood.
This was a need and it should have been addressed long before Bruce became the executive director nearly two years ago. But Bruce soon learned this was one problem that wasn’t going to be solved easily.
Newark’s engineering department told her staff that the repair was the responsibility of Essex County government, explaining that the “point of tangent,” where the concrete is broken at the curb, places the repair in Essex County’s lap. Lyons Avenue is a county road.
Bruce then had her staff check with the county and, well, you probably know what happened. Its engineering department disagreed, kicking the issue back to the city.
“We’re kind of in this standstill,” Bruce said.
She figured her organization, which generates economic activity and community development in the ward, could take care of it with its limited budget. But the estimated cost, $6,700, represented money the SID could use for other neighborhood improvements. Bruce said the board of trustees became concerned about liability issues and the possibility property owners in the district would question why paying for the curb repair was more important than other needs in the ward.
“We didn’t want to be put in a precarious situation where someone felt we weren’t utilizing funds from our stake holders the proper way,” Bruce said.
So, her board backed off. Months went by. But Bruce was smiling again this week. I called the city and explained the situation. Then I called the county and it checked into the matter.
When the city called back, Frank Baraff, Newark’s communication director, said the sidewalk would be repaired in two weeks. Then, not knowing the city’s response, Anthony Puglisi, spokesman for the county, called to say the county would make the repair next week.
“You better shut your mouth,” Bruce said.
Translation: OMG. She couldn’t believe it when I delivered the good news on Wednesday. Remember, she started this inquiry in March.
Baraff said the city had plans to fix the sidewalk, but the repair was delayed when Gov. Chris Christie ordered a shut down last year of all road projects in the state until the state’s depleted Transportation Trust Fund received a new source of revenue to pay for construction work. The freeze, which ended in March, prevented cities and towns from doing road and infrastructure repairs.
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said the county will take care of the damaged sidewalk, even though, he said, it’s not the county’s responsibility. The county is responsible for work from curb to curb. This issue is on the sidewalk, but DiVincenzo said fixing it is the best thing for the community.
“When we learned of the unsafe condition of the sidewalk at the corner of Lyons Avenue and Parkview Terrace, we knew it had to be addressed.” “Enhancing our residents’ quality of life has been an ongoing priority of my administration,” he said.
So, how did the hole get there? Baraff said a large tree was removed at that location. He’s not sure when, because there are no records of tree removal on file. The city hasn’t had a tree manager for several years and the tree department didn’t resume keeping records until 2014.
On Google Maps, a 2012 street view image shows a huge tree sitting between the curb cut outs. It was in an odd place, inches from the intersection.
Phillip Gilmore, president of the SID board of trustees, said the tree roots may have weakened from rain water that routinely backs up when the sewer drains are clogged.
The hole sat there that long, with people stepping around it, but sometimes on the elevated, jagged slab of concrete. Luckily no one lost their footing.
“Obviously, it’s a hazard. It’s a challenge because this is an area where you have a lot of seniors,” said Gilmore, who is also pastor of St. John’s Community Baptist Church.
The SID organization now has more help than it imagined.
And an extra $6,700, too.
Information from: The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger, http://www.nj.com