BY BILL CLEARY
The spring 2012 Recycler newspaper published by the Camden County Freeholder Board includes an announcement about the planned food and vegetative waste compost facility to be constructed on Water Street in Gloucester City. “Once in operation, this 400 ton per day indoor facility, to be owned and operated by Organic Diversion Inc. would become the first totally enclosed facility of its kind anywhere in North America.“ Officials expect construction to start in mid-summer. A 2013 opening date is anticipated. It will cost approximately $30 million to build. The six day a week operation is expected to increase traffic to around 25 trucks a day.
How many of you remember seven years ago when this Freeholder Board announced $5
million in funding for a planned waterfront community in the very same area? The November 4, 2005 Courier Post ran a banner headline, “Gloucester City’s Vista”, with the kicker, “$5 million to boost housing project on waterfront”. The infusion of cash was to be used for the purchase and environmental cleanup of the first phase of the Southport project along the Delaware River, said Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. That phase calls for up to 450 townhouses on 20 acres owned by GAF Building Material.
“This gives the project a jumpstart,” said Cappelli, noting the Camden County Improvement Authority will raise the money through bond sales. Officials said Gloucester City which announced plans for Southport in 2004, would have struggled to raise the money needed to launch the project.
“This is a project that’s going to happened,” said Freeholder Thomas Gurick, a city resident.
Officials said at the time, construction could begin in a year at Southport, which is to hold about 1000 homes, a marina and shops on 130 acres. A year passes, nothing happens, “we are waiting for environmental studies”, the politicians tell us. To keep us excited the local council incumbents running for election in 2006 continued with the charade that homes are going to be built there.
In 2007-08 we learned from our city leaders the area is so polluted with hazardous chemicals that it would take a decade or more to make it safe for housing/human habitat.
Ask someone in authority where did all the grant money go to study this area, some will say on architect plans, lawyer fees, engineer analysis, and other things. Other officials will say "I don't know?" The drawings of this proposed enterprise and other ideas for the City's waterfront development were "dusted off" every election cycle since the 1980's just to get voters to re-elect incumbents. Shame on them!
Timothy Haas, Philly Magazine online editor was asked at the time what stood out about Gloucester City. Why did Philly Magazine predict Gloucester City's name would go up in lights in the next 10 years? Why was it chosen as a Community to Watch?
Haas said, "The idea wasn't that each of the 40 communities matched each of the trends; just at least one of them. Gloucester City fit within trend #3 as a town with good bones -- its walkable, it's on the water, it has solid housing stock, and is of course very close to the bridge to Philly."
The new compost plant will create, according to Freeholder Jeff Nash, approximately 50 management, operations and constructions jobs. It will also produce a tax ratable for Gloucester City, he said. Politicians will say that is a positive, and who will disagree with that argument.
What about the remaining 100 plus acres in that location? Presently the defunct AMSPEC chemical property (23 acres) acquired by mayor and council (city taxpayers) for $5 million. Next to that property is the former site of GAF and Vanquard, (20 acres) purchased by a group of private investors, headed by Walter Berglund, in 1996 for $450,000. Berglund is a former Gloucester City resident and the brother of Gloucester City Police Chief George Berglund. All three of those properties are being used as a dump for dirt. Contractors building shopping malls and housing developments elsewhere pay the city a fee to dump the fill from those sites at Southport.
Will Gloucester City still be a Community to Watch now that there will be a compost plant located in the southern edge of town? Will the dirt dump ever be developed? Only time will tell.
For many of us who have been following this up and down saga since 1980 a compost plant is the furthest thing we wanted for this prime waterfront acreage. To think we went from town homes, condos, shopping outlet and a major marina to a fertilizing plant and a dirt dump is such a big letdown it is just incomprehensible.
Architect drawing of proposed compost plant.