Lacey Township, New Jersey
The best of both worlds
BVM interviews Veronica Laureigh, Clerk/Administrator of Lacey Township, New Jersey, as part of our focus on best practices of towns and cities.
Lacey Township is a bay front community in Ocean County, New Jersey, first incorporated in 1871, and named after Revolutionary War Brigadier General, John Lacey. The township covers 84.6 square miles of land area, with 66 percent of that land in the Pinelands National Preserve. It also encompasses 15 square miles of water, much of which is Barnegat Bay, as the Township boundary crosses the Bay to the shoreline of Island Beach State Park. Lacey Township is a bedroom community of approximately 29,000, with most working adults commuting north to New York City, or west to Philadelphia, via bus, rail, or highway.
Since 1969, Lacey has also been home to the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, the nation’s oldest operating nuclear power plant, located in the southern part of the township. Owned by the Exelon Corporation, at its peak, the plant produced nine percent of the state’s electricity. While it was licensed to operate until 2029, Oyster Creek was closed in September 2018, and its operating license was transferred to Holtec International, a manufacturer of storage casks used for spent nuclear fuel, which has recently begun an eight-year, $1.4 billion decommissioning process.
For almost half a century, Oyster Creek had been a major contributor, along with several other energy and utility companies, including Comcast Cable, New Jersey Natural Gas, Verizon, and Jersey Central Power & Light ((JCP&L), to Lacey’s municipal coffers. According to Veronica Laureigh, the Township’s Municipal Clerk/Administrator, Lacey receives approximately $11.1 million, annually – 40 percent of its budget – in energy tax receipts (ETRs), with the majority coming from Oyster Creek and JCP&L, owner of its electric transmission lines.
“So, are we faced with losing ETR money?” Laureigh asks. “According to the legislature, ‘No,’ we’re not, because they would have to change the legislation in order for us to lose that money,” she claims. “Those transmission lines are still there; there’s still power going through those lines because they’re interconnected throughout the state, but the amount of transmission from the plant is not there anymore. We were told that the lowest that our ETR money could be reduced to would be $10.6 million, so could the township sustain with a $500,000 loss, or so? Yes, we could. That’s a little bit over a penny on our tax rate, but we could adjust for that type of loss. We do have this confirmation about the ETR in writing from the state that the formula wouldn’t change and we would still see either $11.1 or as low as $10.6.”
The problem, though, for the Township, is the potential loss of $2.3 million in real estate taxes on the site where Oyster Creek is located. “We get about 17 percent of that, and the majority, some 63 percent goes to the schools,” Laureigh explains. “So, they’re the ones going to see the biggest hit if Holtec were to demolish every single building on the reactor site. We could be faced with losing $2.3 million in property taxes, with the schools losing $1.4 million, themselves. That is where our concern is. Holtec is slowly going to be taking those properties offline, so the assessment on those properties will be coming off of the tax role. However, with that being said, the average assessed home in Lacey, at $277,900, would see a tax increase of $170 per year if we lost the assessment at Oyster Creek.”
“At this point, they’re saying that they’re not going to be taking buildings down until 2022; that is still yet to be seen,” she continues. “They are still putting in their plans. They do need to build a new security building onsite, because, as you know, we are hosting the spent nuclear fuel until there is a federal depository created somewhere, whether it’s Yucca Mountain, or the State of New Mexico, which has been very vocal that they don’t want wish to be a host state. Holtec needs to expand the storage facility to take into account the remaining rods in the pool and put them into new casks. From what we’ve been told, the site has to be brought back to the original condition prior to the plant being built in 1969.
“Will that happen? Who knows? But we want to see that site redeveloped; we want to see something there. New Jersey Natural Gas and other gas companies have looked at that site because the transmission lines are already there; the major grid is already there. There have been talks with Ørsted, a Dutch company connecting into the grid off of the Atlantic Ocean for their wind mills out there. Ørsted did buy into the PJM in order to get their rights to be a generator in the system. (PJM, the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland Interconnection, is a regional transmission organization, and part of the Eastern Interconnection grid.) We don’t know how far along they are on that. They had to go through several hearings; BPU approval; DEP approval, so on and so forth. Ørsted has asked to meet with Township officials to revisit their initial meeting and provide us with updates about connecting into the grid and gaining access to the site by acquiring easements from the Township. So, we’re hoping to work with them.
“The NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) has a big voice about the future at the power plant and how the site is redeveloped. It’s going to be dictated by the federal government through the NRC. It is zoned as an industrial node, so it will be some kind of industrial or manufacturing site and that’s what the township officials would like to see. Decommissioning is about eight to ten years. And I don’t know if any redevelopment can take place while they’re decommissioning it; I don’t believe so.”
While Laureigh admits that the worst case scenario can be “pretty bad,” since the closing of the plant will not only affect the township’s budget, hurt local businesses, as well as end Oyster Creek’s long-time support of Lacey’s many volunteer organizations if Holtec doesn’t pick up the mantle of good corporate citizen, she is still optimistic about the future of the community. To date, Holtec has continued with the community support and has been very responsive to the Township’s requests for meetings and updates.
“We could say the sky is falling but we don’t because we have the confidence in the community leaders to do the right thing and the volunteers on our Planning Board, and Board of Adjustment, and our Economic Development Committee to welcome businesses and to do what we need to do to encourage new business growth and the right type of businesses in our town to move forward,” she asserts. “We have a good Board of Education that works with us, as well, to do the right thing for our future growth. Are we losing a major employer and ratepayer? Yes we are. But, we’re not going to become a ghost town, because we’ve been working with individuals and have planned for our future. We still see the economic growth in our community and we are still looking to work with the current company that is going to decommission the site to make them part of our home here after they’ve completed the decommissioning. We would like to see Holtec stay as a good neighbor and, maybe, expand their services. Lacey would welcome Holtec and a manufacturing site of their SMR-160 (safe small modular reactors) or the spent fuel storage casks as in their Camden site, or their special purpose pressure vessels and critical-service heat exchange equipment, such as air-cooled condensers, steam generators, feed water heaters, and water-cooled condensers.”
Indeed, Lacey is still moving forward despite the loss of Oyster Creek; housing and retail are two areas where Laureigh cites growth. “The Walters Group completed a 118-unit affordable apartment complex; a 563 age-restricted housing development is almost completed – a Toll Brothers property called Seabreeze at Lacey. We have a 258-unit townhouse complex with retail space in the plans to start in the spring by Edgewood Properties. So, we do attract housing and we haven’t had a problem filling our housing; even filling the new homes being built. We are welcoming Lidl, a German food store opening in September; we have Aldi filling a vacant storefront; Wal-Mart became part of our community in 2005; and Dollar General opened in June. So we do have movement throughout our community and commercial corridor.”
“One of the other zoning matters that our governing body has accomplished: we went for an application process before the State of New Jersey Planning Commission for what is called a Town Center Plan Endorsement,” Laureigh adds. “What does that do for us? We’re under the Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA). We’re limited with what we can cover on our property. Under today’s standards, we’re only allowed coverage of 30 percent. With this Town Center Plan Endorsement, we’re allowed to cover up to 70 percent with impervious coverage. This will help some of the old sites redevelop with a more modern footprint that allows for a planned environment with retail on the bottom and housing above. This also allows us to redevelop our industrial sites and bring in more industrial/warehouse facilities along our highway corridor. Of course, there are items the Township has to meet to keep the Town Center Plan Endorsement: resiliency, sustainability, green infrastructure – we just can’t pave a parking lot and make it asphalt; you’ve got to have some green elements in there. All of those items are on the Governor’s forefront to save energy in the state and to lessen our carbon footprint. Those are the items we’re accomplishing to try to help the growth with our economy here in town and along our major corridor, Lacey Road and Route 9.”
Laureigh adds that the Township also continues to work with local legislators and state agencies to address its transportation needs and the movement of goods and traffic. It hopes to update the circulation plan to incorporate a strategy for dealing with commercial truck traffic along Route 9 as it relates to existing and future land use patterns, adjust the timing of traffic lights to allow traffic to flow more efficiently, improve bus routes along the route, and work with the County Transportation Department to improve the trolley/jitney service to local retail areas.
In addition, the Township continues to make open space a high priority. There is ongoing consideration to adding pocket parks and creating links between open spaces and recreation sites. Lacey is known throughout the county and state for its beautiful, well-maintained parks. Recently, Laureigh reports that the Township installed an inflatable water park in one of its man-made lakes, which has caused in increase in the use of its public beach and brought revenue in from outside the community. “We are also planning to enhance the bulkhead along our municipal docks, as well as protect the Pinelands National Preserve by improving and repairing a high hazard dam,” she adds.
In addition, Lacey is committed to focus on a strategy that seeks to mitigate the effects of climate change, such as coastal flooding and sea level rise, with the enhancement and/or protection of its tidal marshes, including the development of bay and riverfront wave energy dissipation structures, the implementation of living shorelines, and the restoration of oyster and shellfish properties. Other potential sustainable initiatives include electric vehicle charging stations, micro grids, bios swales, community gardens, energy audits, the implementation of an anti-idling program, and the incorporation of renewable energy into site plans and redevelopment areas.
In 2021, Lacey will be celebrating its 150th anniversary and the Township is marketing itself with the following slogan: Live it, Love it, and be a Part of it. “We are home to the unique Forked River Mountains in the heart of a vast 20,000-acre wilderness that remains relatively unchanged in the last 40 years because of preservation efforts by the conservation community,” Laureigh declares. “On our eastern shores we are home to the Barnegat Bay fed by the Forked River Tributary. So, Lacey Township offers residents and tourists recreational activities on our waterways and in our preserved forested lands. We have the best of both worlds. Lacey may be reaching our 150th but our story is still unfolding and we are committed to the future.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Lacey Township, New Jersey
WHAT: A community of approximately 29,000
WHERE: Near Barnegat Bay in Ocean County