Van Drew urges state to remove Parkway fence by Memorial Day

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State Sen. Jeff Van Drew announced Thursday that he will meet with a member of the Christie administration to assess the security fencing that surrounds the Great Egg Harbor Bridge connecting Upper Township and Somers Point and discuss accelerating its removal.

The fence, part of a $7 million project funded through the Department of Homeland Security to keep terrorists away from bridges, was unpopular from when it was erected on each side of the Parkway between the Drag Channel Bridge and the Great Egg Harbor Inlet Bridge just south of the Somers Point toll booth last year.
The fence was part of new security measures at 10 bridges on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. State officials have said it would keep someone from pulling over on the Parkway and getting near the supports for the bridge.
The bridge, the primary link between Cape May and Atlantic counties since the closure of the Beesleys Point Bridge, spans the Great Egg Harbor Bay, a busy place for boats and personal watercraft in the summer.
Van Drew said he will conduct a site visit of the bridge with Charles B. McKenna, who serves as chief counsel to Gov. Chris Christie and was previously director of the State Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
The purpose of the visit is to determine whether the fencing along the Garden State Parkway, which was approved by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and installed last year, could be removed sooner than 2013, when the project to replace the southbound span of the Great Egg Harbor Bridge is scheduled to begin and the fencing taken down, said Van Drew.
The senator said he is aiming to have the fencing removed prior to Memorial Day weekend or July 4, two peak dates for tourism in the area.
“I am pleased to have a commitment from the state to remove the security fencing in 2013 as part of the Great Egg Harbor Bridge project,” Van Drew said in a press release. “However, I continue to hear from residents about the need to have the area restored to its natural state sooner rather than later. This visit will allow the state, through a top official from the governor’s office, to conduct another assessment of the project to determine whether the fencing could come down earlier than currently scheduled.”
In January, county freeholders unanimously approved a resolution asking the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to remove the fence, saying that the board has received “loud and persuasive objections from many of its citizens as well as the business community.”
Freeholder Sue Sheppard called it an eyesore.
Instead of a beautiful view of wetlands, visitors heading into Cape May County faced a “disheartening image and unwelcoming impression” from the fence, according to the county government.
“No member of the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders claims to be an expert on homeland security, but they collectively believe this fencing provides exceedingly limited deterrence to a genuine and sophisticated terrorist threat and overreaches any reasonable and practical anti-terrorist measure,” read the resolution.
Van Drew said he made numerous requests to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, the Department of Transportation, and the governor’s office for the fencing to be taken down. Last month he announced at a Cape May County infrastructure conference that the fence would be removed in 2013.
“I appreciate the governor’s chief counsel taking the time to travel to South Jersey to get a firsthand look at the project,” said Van Drew. “If there is anyone who understands homeland security issues and the effectiveness of preventive measures it is Mr. McKenna, the former state director of homeland security.”
Van Drew said he has asked the state to use in-house labor and equipment to take down the fencing and that it reuse the materials for other projects within New Jersey, in order to ensure there is no additional expenditure on outside labor and minimal loss of materials.
The site visit will take place during the month of April, according to the press release. Van Drew said he will report back to residents of the legislative district following the meeting.

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