During a Sept. 12, 2022 board meeting of the New Jersey Water Supply Authority, the public asked a variety of questions related to the ongoing closure of a portion of Hunterdon County Road 629. The following fact sheet addresses the most frequently addressed issues raised at the meeting. For the purposes of brevity, most of those questions have been paraphrased or summarized here.
A member of the public questioned why accommodations for additional people were not made or considered and why the board meeting was not held at a time that was more convenient for the public.
The Authority made accommodations for members of the public by moving the Sept. 12 meeting to its larger Annex Building that allows for a 60-person occupancy, which is three times larger than the occupancy for the room where board meetings are usually held. The Authority conference room was also open to members of the public to view the meeting and provide public comment remotely.
Board meeting times accommodate the availability of the Chair and Authority Board members, as well as staff who must attend to conduct the business of the Authority. To accommodate those unable to attend in person, board meetings may be attended remotely, by computer or phone. Instructions for and links to remote access will be posted at www.njwsa.org/authority-meetings.html. Adequate notice as defined under the Open Public Meeting Act (“OPMA”), P.L. 1975 c. 231 is given when all board meetings are scheduled and/or canceled.
A member of the public asked why the original construction included County Road 629 over the crest of the Round Valley Dike in the first place, if there was a security concern.
The Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks resulted in many new security considerations and increased vigilance for terror threats. Consequently, further evaluation of public infrastructure, and especially water supply facilities, as potential targets became a priority for all owners. Mitigation strategies to manage risks and protect public safety have evolved over time. It is the Authority’s responsibility to be aware of and manage those risks as effectively as possible to protect the public. Security concerns of this nature were not typically contemplated in designs prior to Sept. 11, 2001.
A member of the public asked about the genesis for the idea to permanently close County Road 629.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, many potential targets for terrorism have been re-evaluated for safety. In 2012, a Round Valley site-specific confidential pilot study was performed under a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Bureau of Dam Safety. The joint study included a report that recommended protective measures for consideration, including access control and vehicular barriers to the Round Valley Dike.
The DEP Bureau of Dam Safety selected the three dams (embankments) at Round Valley Reservoir to be used for the pilot study because they are some of the largest and tallest in the state and contain 55 billion gallons of water when the reservoir is full.
A member of the public asked for the parameters of the analysis in the USACE/DHS/DEP Bureau of Dam Safety site-specific study.
As a matter of security, the Authority cannot provide additional information from the above-referenced study to the public. Information will continue to be made available to Hunterdon County officials as allowed by the authors of the site-specific study.
A member of the public asked why no action had been taken since the site-specific study by the USACE/DHS/DEP Bureau of Dam Safety performed in 2012.
The Authority has made security improvements throughout its facilities and will continue to evaluate and improve as necessary. Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, Hunterdon County did not allow the Authority to close the road for more than a day.
When the aforementioned 2012 report was issued, Authority management believed the road was critical to the county’s network and, therefore, did not seek road closure. With recent construction closing the road for much longer than anticipated and having received very few public comments or complaints about the closure, Authority staff approached Hunterdon County Engineering to inquire what steps the Authority would need to take to make a formal request to permanently close the road.
A member of the public asked whether it was practical for emergency vehicles to use the proposed gates to travel through the potential closure area during emergencies.
Road access would continue to be permitted for emergency and law enforcement authorities for responses within the secure area, as has been the case during the temporary road closure period. The Authority is aware that the paved turnaround at the toe of the dike is used occasionally as an emergency helipad; the Authority intends to permit that practice to continue. It was never the Authority’s expectation that emergency vehicles would use access to the closed road as a short cut. However, the Authority would leave such decisions to the discretion of county or municipal emergency services personnel.
Several members of the public asked if economic losses for citizens and businesses were considered, if the road were to be permanently closed, and questioned whether the Authority has the expertise to make those determinations. Others asked if the impacts resulting from the loss of the use of the road for convenience and emergency use had been considered.
If an official request is made to close the road permanently, the Authority will consult with Hunterdon County officials on concerns about economic losses as well as loss of the road for convenience and use by emergency responders.
A member of the public asked if the Authority has a financial incentive, such as an insurance reduction, to close the road.
The Authority has not communicated with its insurance providers regarding a potential permanent road closure and does not anticipate a financial benefit. Conversely, the Authority will become financially responsible for maintaining the road if it is permanently closed to vehicular traffic.
Several members of the public asked if the potential road closure is the start of additional potential closings, such as recreational facilities.
The Authority has neither a security need nor intent to expand requests for closures to include any other areas of the reservoir.
A member of the public asked why the Authority is focused on the Round Valley Dike and not the Round Valley North Dam or South Dam, or Spruce Run Reservoir Dam.
The Authority is only discussing a request to permanently restrict vehicular traffic on the road over the Round Valley Dike because the dike is the only high hazard dam that is under Authority jurisdiction where the crest of the dam is open to the public for vehicle access.
The Authority shared that the contractor’s current schedule calls for the road opening on Dec. 1, 2022. A member of the public asked that the road be opened by Oct. 1.
On Sept. 9, 2022 the Authority received a letter dated Sept. 6, 2022 from Board of Hunterdon County Commissioners Director John Lanza. The letter requested that the Authority study an immediate reopening of the roadway during periods of non-construction. Evaluation of reopening the road has been ongoing for months and is subject to contractual obligations by the contractor and the permit that the contractor holds from Hunterdon County. The overall project is behind schedule by approximately two years.
The current positioning of the gates and security booths provides a security/safety enclosure for the entire construction site. Several areas of the Authority’s permanent fencing have been temporarily removed by the contractor to facilitate the construction efforts. At minimum, the contractor needs to complete various security and public safety installations including restoring fencing removed for construction, installing additional security fencing and gates, replacing guiderail sections removed for construction and restoring the damaged asphalt where the existing temporary gates cross the road.
A second letter (dated Sept. 15, 2022) was received from Director Lanza on Sept. 19 urging improvement on the targeted Dec. 1 reopening date. The contractor has recently committed to make every effort to improve on the targeted reopening date. The most recent schedule provided by the contractor now targets Nov. 15 to reopen the road. The Authority will keep the county informed of whether the contractor will meet that target date.
A member of the public asked what has caused the contractor to delay reopening the road, and what measures the Authority Commissioners have taken in response.
The reasons for the delay and the Authority’s response are contractual in nature. Authority staff continues to work with the contractor to expedite completing the project and reopening the road.