Piles of logs and brush left as Sandy-damaged debris alongside roads in Bernardsville are growing the longer the wait for the borough's contractor to collect the material, and the cost now is expected to exceed the original estimate, according to borough officials.
The collection is expected to begin in January, following the New Year's holiday, borough public works manager John Macdowall said last week.
In the meantime, borough officials and a contractor hired to collect, chip and mulch the material are searching for a place large enough to stage the collection operation, borough administrator Ralph Maresca told the Borough Council on Thursday morning.
Maresca said the original estimate for the cost was $250,000 to $300,000 when AshBritt was hired by the council late in November. He said the increased expense above that amount would be included in the borough's application for aid from the Federal Emergency and Management Agency (FEMA), which is expected to reimburse the borough for 75 percent of storm-related costs.
Both Maresca and Macdowall said the cost now can be expected to rise since the amount of storm debris material placed at borough roadsides has grown since the contractor initially rode around town to estimate how much debris would be collected.
"We will be going back out with the contractor to get a better idea," Macdowell said last week.
"The longer we wait, the stuff is growing out there," Maresca said on Thursday morning. "It's like it's planted and growing."
He added, "It's a certainty that their [AshBritt's] original quote is going to be exceeded and we're going to have to go out and borrow more money." He said that repayment of money borrowed in 2013 would not need to be repaid until starting in 2014. Borough officials have been hoping to have reimbursement from FEMA by that time.
Mayor Lee Honecker and other officials have asked residents to be honest in only placing storm-damaged trees and brush out for collection. But the mayor said on Thursday that it appears that some residents are taking down other trees and placing them out for collection along with the trees destroyed by Sandy.
"We are asking them not to take down trees," he said. Doing so could increase borough expenditures for all taxpayers, he said, even if FEMA eventually picks up three-quarters of the bill.
The council initially had been planning only to collect brush and trees that had been growing in the right away. But at the end of November, the council modified its earlier specifications about what Ashbritt would pick up while trucks and a chipper make their way through Bernardsville.
The contractor now will be asked to remove any fallen and leaning trees, branches, poles and brush in the public right away, which measures about 25 feet from the center of the road, according to last month's unanimous council vote.
That will include any brush or trees that residents carry into the right-of-way from further back on their property, with the understanding that storm-damaged trees and other vegetative waste after Sandy also will be eligible for FEMA reimbursement.
The collection will not take place on private roads in the borough, Honecker said.
Looking for staging area
Maresca reported to the council on Thursday that AshBritt had told officials that the borough lot across from the borough hall at Mine Brook Road would not be large enough for a staging area for the chipping and collection operation. The borough had expected the operation to be based in that lot.
Borough Councilman Joe Rossi said that the contractor has been looking for three acres, although there has been discussion about doing the project in stages.
Rossi and Maresca said that the borough has been looking to the quarry operators in Bernardsville and even Basking Ridge's Millington Quarry property. It also can be staged on private property, "as a last resort," Rossi said. However, he added, "It's a messy operation."
In November, officials estimated the collection will take about two weeks when it finally begins.
Also in late November, the Bernardsville Borough Council had approved an emergency appropriation of up to $1 million to fund all Sandy-related costs incurred by the municipality, including the clearing of fallen trees and branches in the days following the Oct. 29 storm and also the planned collection by AshBritt.