Judge Says He'll 'Butt Out' of Hockey Rink Decision
Basking Ridge resident Doug Wicks fails to convince a judge to order Bernards Township to further study plans for local roller hockey rink.
A state Superior Court judge in Somerville on Friday said he will "butt out" of the Bernards Township Committee's decision to seek bids for an asphalt, rather than a tile, surface of a closed roller hockey rink.
Specifically, Judge John Coyle denied resident Doug Wicks' motion asking that the township's engineer, Tom Timko, be required to do futher study into whether there is a drainage problem at the rink at Harry Dunham park that could prevent plastic tiles from being placed on the surface now.
Wicks and his attorney, Jonathan Burnham of Glen Gardner, had argued that the township's taxpayers could save up to $100,000 if the township followed the manufacturer's directions properly for installing a plastic rink surface instead.
But, taking a larger view, Coyle said that from a legal viewpoint, "This court has no business telling the township what it's supposed to do." He said the Township Committee members, elected by the public, made a decision to resurface the rink with asphalt after hearing the recommendation of its licensed professional engineer.
Coyle also said it was a "moot" point to try to halt the acceptance of a bid submitted in mid-July, since that bid was rejected earlier this month. John Belardo, attorney for the township, said there has been no decision by the Township Committee whether another proposal will be sought.
Coyle said that Wicks failed to meet the legal requirement that Bernards Township's elected officials had acted in an arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable matter in selecting how to proceed with plans for fixing up the cracked hockey rink.
Attorneys for both sides sparred on the issue of Township Engineer Tom Timko's basis for recommending to the township that an underlying drainage problem must be addressed first before the rink could be resurfaced.
Burnham, arguing Wicks' motion, said that Timko's recommendation had been based on observation and that further study, such as conducting soil borings, should be required prior to spending taxpayer money on addressing drainage at the rink.
Belardo disputed Burnham's assertion, and he said that affidavits had been submitted with court documents showing how Timko had investigated conditions at the rink. Following the decision, he said the engineer had spent 18 months working on plans for the rink, closed for the past two years.
Belardo also said that Wicks had been given an opportunity at a public meeting to state his case for the tiles, and the engineer had fully researched installing tiles as an option. In 2011, one of two sets of bids that the Township Committee rejected last year for the project included an alternate bid for tiles, which came in at a higher cost than for the asphalt surface. That bid was rejected because even the lower bid came in at more than the $125,000 budgeted at that time.
He called Wicks' conclusions about the tiles the "conjecture" of a layman, and said that the resident should have hired his own professional engineer if he wanted to dispute the township's engineer's conclusions.
Wicks has steadfastly maintained that the township has not followed the manufacturer's specifications writing bid proposals for resurfacing with tile. After decision, he said he will consider his options.
This past Tuesday night, Township Administrator Bruce McArthur said that other than a mistake in the bid bond, the $115,000 bid received in mid-July was a legitimate proposal from a legitimate company.
This latest bid also was the first bid to fall within the township's budget, which has been changed over the past two years. The proposed limit on the project was set a $125,000 last year, then increased to $175,000 after initial bids in 2011 came in too high.
In order to bring costs down, the most recent bid advertisement called for the township's public works department assisting with a plan to resurface a cracked asphalt topping, address drainage and replace moldy sideboards, officials said earlier.