By MIKE JACCARINO Staff Writer,
Pulished in the Press of Atlantic City
LACEY TOWNSHIP - Closing a chapter that will likely be long remembered in Lacey Township, the governing body here voted Thursday to definitively earmark part of the former Central Jersey Railroad right of way for a bicycle and jogging path.
The committee voted 4-1 to convey 12 feet of the former rail line to the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
"Motion carried!" Mayor Brian Reid cried out after the vote, as a crowd of about 150 people wildly cheered the action.
Meanwhile, Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders Director John Bartlett expressed relief that the committee finally put the issue to rest.
"This has been a difficult decision for Lacey Township," he said Thursday night. "I'm glad we finally know where we stand and can move forward."
The Central Jersey Railroad once ran through the western portion of southern Ocean County until folding decades ago. In the early 1990s, the county decided to turn the old rail line into a $5 million to $6 million bicycle path from South Toms River to Barnegat.
For the past four years, the county has acquired all the property needed for the plan, even building the trail north of Lacey.
Lacey is a different story. There, political hand-wringing over compensation for its 4.5-mile portion and the possibility of building a roadway dominated discussion.
Since January, the committee has flip-flopped about the rail trail numerous times, as fierce public debate on the old rail line has become something of a Lacey pastime.
Now, officials can finally turn the page.
Only Helen Dela Cruz dissented. "No," she voted. "I am for open space. I am for the trail. I have been from the beginning. Here I am, same as before. No change."
Conversely, Committeeman John Parker, long a proponent of constructing a roadway, thrilled at his victory.
"I am so grateful to the people of Lacey Township. You have ensured this (town's) future."
Not everyone is happy with the outcome. Many didn't want a road. Like Dela Cruz, they favored conveying the entire 50 feet to the county.
"I object to calling (the rail) a 'nature path,'" said activist Regina Discenza. "There's nothing natural about a 12-foot glorified sidewalk with fences on one side and 75-tractor trailers on the other. Buses, cars, trucks, no trees. This isn't serene."
Perhaps Bartlett summed it up best.
The freeholder didn't declare political victory. He didn't trumpet the lasting signature he and colleagues can now leave on about 14 miles of former rail line. Instead Bartlett referenced the current difficulty of his weekly bike rides through his native Pine Beach Borough.
"You're supposed to ride your bicycle with the traffic, and you know, that's the most difficult thing in the world - especially at my age," he said. "You're concerned with the car behind you and you're looking backward instead of enjoying the ride."
Now, with the imminent construction of a bicycle path through much of Ocean County, bicyclers won't have to worry about the cars and trucks roaring behind them. For political civil war raging in Lacey over the past three years, it was easy to miss this forest for the political trees.
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