Fighting for the right of way

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:50

    BYRAM-Claiming that the project is bigger than Byram, Sussex County is pushing for the original large-scale Route 206 expansion project, regardless of Byram Township's opposition to the plan. While the Byram Township Council recently approved a resolution supporting a six-month moratorium to further discuss with the state a new plan aimed at reducing its impact on the community, the county is pushing for the project to move full steam ahead as is. Sussex County Administrator John Eskilson has urged the state to move to implement the final design and enter into the construction phase of the project. "We are not trying to take an adversarial position at all," said Eskilson. "We have every respect for the township's concerns, but this is a project of regional concern and we are trying to move it along as such." That comment infuriated Byram Councilwoman Donna Griff. "I am so mad at that statement," said Griff. "The DOT, everyone all said the project will only serve a local need. This is not a regional thing. I am very disturbed by that comment." In addition, Eskilson explained that Byram had plenty of opportunity and time to make its objections known earlier in the process. "We have been asking for this for ten years. There was a great deal of time spent with all parties discussing this project," said Eskilson. "A lot of the issues were discussed two years ago and we thought we had consensus on the project." Not so, countered Griff. "There have been huge changes in state regulations, the Highland's Preservation Act, the designation of Bryam as a non-growth area by the state, and the Village Center plan," said Griff. "The state says it doesn't want growth here. Ninety-eight percent of Bryam is now included in the Highland's Preservation area. We have to step back and take a look. Do we still need a five-lane highway? The answer is no." If Byram continues to push for a redesign on the plan, Eskilson is concerned that the state funding may be used somewhere else. "There are several projects in Sussex County alone that have been waiting a long, long time," said Eskilson. "They would love to have access to that $10 million dollars." One of such projects is the plan to add a center turning lane on Route 23 from the West Milford/Hardeston line over Hamburg Mountain. According to Eskilson, the county has been asking for funding for that project for more than 10 years. There is also a proposal in Sussex Borough to realign Route 23 to eliminate traffic congestion. And funding is tight. "There is fierce competition for the scare dollars in Sussex County," said Eskilson. "We don't want this to be an either/or. We want all the projects to move forward. Each one is critical." Yet according to Griff, Byram's proposed changes to the Route 206 plan will help the state financially. "All we want to do is fix the intersection (at Waterloo Road), make some light improvements and make small changes," said Griff. "We would be saving a lot of money." According to Byram officials, the changes proposed by the municipality, are geared toward preserving its small-town character. "We want to have the look and feel of a downtown," said Griff. "We are not supposed to be a drive-thru community." Griff has also taken exception to the way Byram is being treated by the state and county. "We want to make it right for our children who will be effected by these discussions and the outcome for the rest of their lives. We are almost being treated as a ‘problem' child," she said. "It is not a matter of Byram being difficult. It is a matter of us being right. Shame on the county. They need to really listen." The state has yet to respond to Byram's request to put the plan on hold, which was sent June 7. The township plans is giving the state 30 days to respond and threatening further action if no answer is received by the dealine.