Sad Story Continues At Fort Hancock

Pallone, Lautenberg and Menendez should put up. The Asbury Park Press should shut up

By Art Gallagher

In their editorial today, Sad chapter ends at fort, the Asbury Park Press editorial board demonstrates that their grasp of reality is insufficient for a newspaper of record for the Monmouth-Ocean region.

The press rehashes the sorry history of  Sandy Hook Partners’ failed plans to redevelop Fort Hancock. They fault the National Park Service for granting the developer nine years of extensions to obtain financing for the redevelopment plans.  They fail to mention that SHP’s ability to finance the project was thwarted by litigation and grassroots opposition to the commercialization of the park.  The litigation and opposition was supported by the APP and by Congressman Frank Pallone.

Now the APP says,

Fort Hancock must be preserved for future generations. In order for that to happen, a developer or developers with both the money and sound plans need to be found. The park service would do well to heed the suggestion by Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt, both D-N.J., that the historic buildings be leased to entities one by one, rather than as a package.

Clearly, neither the Neptune Nudniks nor the Congressmen have even an elementary understanding of how development works.

Where does Pallone, Holt and the APP think the Park Service will find a developer, or developers, with an extra $60-$100 million sitting in the bank who would be willing to commit it to Fort Hancock after what Sandy Hook Partners went through? James Wassel, the head of SHP is no slouch.  His experience and personal committment to our community made him the right developer, if a public-private partnership was the best method to redevelop the fort.

Private partners were, and apparently still are, sought because federal dollars are not available to rehabilitate the park.  Said another way, Frank Pallone, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez (and Jon Corzine, as U.S. Senator before Menedez) either did not have the clout or commiment to secure federal funding to rehabilitate Fort Hancock.

The Pallone/Holt/APP idea of leasing the 36 buildings of the fort one by one, to non-profits, rather than as a package, is crazy.  Even if 36 organizations “with both money and sound plans” on hand could be found, managing 36 separate projects with 36 separate project managers is not feasible.

Wassel’s plan to “commercialise” Sandy Hook would not have turned the park into Times Square or the Monmouth Mall.  He would have developed the fort into an educational and cultural campus.

As a neighbor of and frequent visitor to Sandy Hook, I never understood how Wassel’s plans would have been commercially viable or returned the investment required for the rehabilitation, given the location and climate of the site.  Yet, I supported the plan because the proposed usage would have been an enhancement of the park.  If private investors or lenders were willing to risk their capital on a project that enhanced the park while giving the National Park Service control of what could be done with the site in the event of failure, there was no downside for the public.  Yes, I read the master lease.  The public was protected from turning Fort Hancock into an amusement park or shopping mall.

Now that Wassel’s is out of the picture, it is incumbent upon our federal representitives to secure funding to preserve the fort.  Failing that, the Park Service should fence it off and install Keep Out-Hazardous signs like there has been for most of the fort’s ruins for decades. 

Alternatively, the Park Service should either level the buildings and convert the land to a recreational use like a marina and camp ground.


Posted: December 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: National Park Service, Sandy Hook | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

4 Comments on “Sad Story Continues At Fort Hancock”

  1. TR said at 11:05 am on December 7th, 2010:

    I never understood the opposition to Wassells plan. It is true it was mortally wounded by litgation started by limosine liberals aghast that capatilism might be the solution. Ironically it was the same capitalism that gave them thier inherited wealth which allowed them to litigate.

    All in all the NPS came out all right as they got 3 buildings renovated and preserved.

    Its just a shame more was not accomplished.
    Now the only way to preserve these buildings is by spending our tax dollars when it could have been done at no cost.

    The more I think about it the angrier I get.

  2. CC said at 4:15 pm on December 7th, 2010:

    Republicans and Tea Partiers alike love to rail against government spending and laud earmark reform, but then complain when one of their Congressman or Senators does not deliver on a project in their district. This is the definition of hypocrisy.

    Is it reasonable to conclude that if Congressman Pallone secured all the money you want for Fort Hancock that you would chastise him for taking part in bloating our federal government and wasting money on personal pet projects?

    Which way do you want it Art – do you want Congressman Pallone to continue seeking earmarks for projects in his district like he had done throughout his entire tenure in Congress or do you want to end the practice all together?

    Because ending the earmarking process could mean an end to Fort Hancock. Unfortunately, you cannot have it both ways.

  3. ArtGallagher said at 4:51 pm on December 7th, 2010:

    CC: Having to both ways is not the definition of hypocrisy. It is perfectly appropriate to call for changes in the system while continuing to operate with in the current system. Doing otherwise would be a dereliction of duty.

    Criticising someone who calls for reforming a system while continuing to operate within the current system is called demoguery, which is what you are engaging in here.

    That being said, earmark reform does not necessarily mean doing away with earmarks. During the recent debate on earmark reform on Capitol Hill, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell argued that eliminated earmarks wouldn’t save any money. It would give the power of spending decisions to the Executive Branch and take it from Congressman.

    I challenge you to point to a place where I called for ending earmarks. I’ve got five years of material between this site and the old one. Have at it.

    I oppose earmark abuses…like Senator Robert Menendez securing grants for a non-profit that just happens to be his tenent.

    How would ending earmarking end Fort Hancock? Pallone has flipped flopped, demogued and failed on Fort Hancock ( and Fort Monmouth) and many many other interests of his district. He takes care of his friends in Long Branch and Middlesex County, but does very little for his Monmouth County Republican constituents.

    Personally, I think Fort Hancock should be leveled and the real estate converted to a purely recreational use. A marina and campground and cabins would be great there. There are such facilities are both national and state parks througout the country. I don’t find anything particulary historic or charming about the rotting buildings. Same for the rest of the fort, the gunnisons, batteries and other ruins that are off limits to the public because the Park Service deems them hazardous. Clear them out and eliminate the hazards. Make the land available to the public as a park.

    But my personal opinion may not be the majority opinion. Someone(s) see value in perserving the fort. If that is the public consensus and if Pallone secured the funding to make it happen, I would applaud him.

  4. James Hogan said at 1:00 pm on December 8th, 2010:

    I don’t find anything particulary historic or charming about the rotting buildings. Same for the rest of the fort, the gunnisons, batteries and other ruins that are off limits to the public because the Park Service deems them hazardous.

    Art is exactly right. Way back 20 years ago or so, when I was a boy scout, we had a camping trip to Ft. Hancock. Most of the buildings were crumbling and off limits then and they still are today, nothing has changed. When I take the dog to the beach up at the end of Sandy hook, there is nothing work stopping to look at. Ft. Monmouth will likely suffer the same fate, aside from the medical center for veterans, there isn’t much there and certainly nothing that I would deem to be so historic that we have to preserve it forever.

    It’s funny to me, in a sad sort of way, when I see signs that say something like “this land preserved for future generations”. Well just who exactly are the “future generations” and what if those “future generations” want to build a casino, garbage dump or a nuclear power plant on land that was preserved, specifically for them? I’m not here to stop them.