Commissioners Commend First Responders, Discuss Litigation

By JESSE WINTER
For The Westfield Leader

COUNTY — The Union County Board of County Commissioners met on September 2, just a day after the remnants of Hurricane Ida pummeled the county and New Jersey with major flooding.

The commissioners began their meeting by acknowledging county residents affected by the storm, while also recognizing the efforts of first responders and county employees.

Speaking a day after the devastation caused by Ida, Board Chairman Al Mirabella offered his reaction.

“Tragically, several members of the Union County community lost their lives to this storm. Our hearts go out to their families and loved ones,” said Chairman Mirabella.

“I want to take a minute to commend the hundreds of Union County personnel and first responders who worked throughout the night to help people with life-threatening situations,” said Mr. Mirabella. “We all knew a storm was coming; I don’t think anyone knew it was coming to that magnitude.”

The chairman applauded county workers for restoring vital roads and facilities in the wake of Ida. Additionally, Mr. Mirabella publicly thanked Director of the Department of Public Safety Andrew Moran, County Manager Edward Oatman and Deputy County Manager Amy Wagner “for organizing the county’s response.” Moreover, as of September 2, the chairman said, the Department of Human Services “is making every effort to help those in need.”

Chairman Mirabella also extended gratitude to the Township of Cranford, a community hit especially hard by Ida’s storm waters, for opening up the Cranford Community Center as a county-wide shelter “for those left homeless by the disaster. It’s always heartwarming to me, that a town like Cranford, almost arguably the most hard hit in flooding situations, are the first to open up their community center for all the county.”

Not to be deterred by the aftermath of Ida, county officials continued on to the regularly-scheduled business of the night.

Chairman Mirabella, Vice Chair Rebecca Williams and County Commissioners Angela Garretson, Sergio Granados, Christopher Hudak, Bette Jane Kowalski, Lourdes Leon and Andrea Staten were present for the evening’s proceedings. Commissioner Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded was absent.

All the attending commissioners passed a resolution to further retain the legal services of the law firm Lum, Drasco and Positan, of Roseland, in the county’s continued litigation against Dobco Inc. of Wayne, N.J. Passage of the resolution comes after Dobco Inc. sued the county, alleging “the county’s public improvement authority skirted public bidding requirements,” according to NJ.com’s reporting in July. As of the end of last July, the courts ruled in favor of Union County, green-lighting construction of the $145-million project.

The resolution passed by the county commissioners last week further bolsters the legal defenses against what County Manager Oatman characterized as “defending the county against the frivolous lawsuit filed by Dobco.” The county manager’s comments came when describing the resolution after public comment. The resolution, entitled 2021-688 on the September agenda, is “in an amount not to exceed $50,000.00 for a total sum not to exceed $150,000.00,” the resolution reads.

Union County Counsel Bruce Bergen offered further context regarding passage of the resolution.

“This is a large project; we have legal advice outside counsel helping us,” noted Mr. Bergen. “Unfortunately, with the litigation we have to defend to get this project going, those fees [legal fees] are going up,” explained Mr. Bergen. “We have done nothing wrong other than get legal advice and defend what we have to,” he said. “This project is hopefully going to be moving along shortly.”

In other county business, all attending commissioners passed a resolution that initiates work on the Lenape Park Dam Rehabilitation Project. Entitled 2021-672, the resolution “provides additional engineering design and construction inspection services associated with the Lenape Park Dam Rehabilitation Project, in an amount not to exceed $77,000.00 for a new contract amount not to exceed $257,700.00.” The contract is with the company Mott MacDonald of Morristown.

Joseph Graziano, director of engineering, public works and facilities management, said work will begin on Wednesday, September 8.

“This is an ongoing project for our dams, and we’re going to finally start getting that dam worked on,” said Mr. Graziano.

The initial construction will include tree removal.

In more somber news, the commissioners observed a moment of silence for the fallen 13 U.S. service members who died in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan at the Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 27.

Additionally, with the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks taking place this Saturday, the Board of County Commissioners will be present that day at the county’s 9/11 memorial, located in Mountainside’s Echo Lake Park, for a ceremony beginning at 11 a.m. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

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