Debate Question: Are the actions of the East Windsor Township's leaders ethical?
Signs of discontent: Detour posts ditched
By EVA LOAYZA
Thursday, April 25, 2002
HIGHTSTOWN - The ``battle of the signs'' between this tiny borough and the sprawling township that surrounds it has moved into Round 2.
In the first go-round almost two years ago, it was signs for the Hightstown bypass that sparked a dispute between officials here and in neighboring East Windsor.
The borough wanted signs on Routes 130 and 33 to redirect all traffic bound for the New Jersey Turnpike away from its downtown and onto the new bypass. The township, however, argued that the bypass was not designed for that purpose.
This time, officials from the two municipalities are feuding over signs detouring motorists in the township away from the borough's main street.
Borough officials are fuming that East Windsor's Public Works Department sawed off and unbolted several detour signs posted along Routes 130 and 33 and turned off and pushed aside some of the flashing board messages spread along the routes.
The signs, approved by the state Department of Transportation, were erected in anticipation of the borough's long-awaited downtown revitalization project - which includes installing lamps, crosswalks and benches and narrowing the roads.
The first phase of that project was expected to begin yesterday but now must be postponed because of the sign removal, according to borough Mayor Amy Aughenbaugh. She has asked for a police investigation and said the borough will consider legal action.
The more recent detour signs - telling motorists Route 33 (Main Street in Hightstown) is under construction and to use Route 133 as an alternate - were required by the DOT to aid the revitalization project.
Their location was chosen on the basis of the DOT's advice, according to borough officials.
Though installation of the signs began earlier this month, it wasn't until Sunday that the township cut them down - without first calling the borough or the DOT.
``I cannot believe that the township of East Windsor would resort to physically damaging signs that we received approval for from the DOT,'' said Aughenbaugh.
She said directing traffic without an alternate route compromises the safety of the construction site, and not having the proper signs for motorists ``will cause an extreme inconvenience to the public.''
Between the signs and the rental and maintenance of the message boards, the borough spent close to $40,000, but the DOT has offered to work with the borough's public works department in replacing the signs.
``If the township had any kind of issue regarding the signs, this was absolutely the inappropriate way to deal with it,'' added Councilman Dan Buriak. ``We've certainly tried to work closely and keep peace with our neighbors. If there is any ill will, it falls exclusively on the shoulders of East Windsor.''
However, East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov yesterday said she asked township Public Works Director William Askenstedt to remove the signs because the township was never notified about any project or any signs that needed to be erected. She said she thought they were placed in error.
Mironov acknowledged that township, borough and DOT officials met last summer to discuss the borough's revitalization plans and the township agreed to the signs as long as the borough placed the signs for ``a limited and identified period of time.''
Mironov said she received a letter from Aughenbaugh consenting to the terms but never received further notification of when the signs would go up, she said.
``It's a very strange protocol to think any governing body would go and erect signs in another township detouring traffic in that township,'' said the mayor.
Asked if she knew the signs were for the borough's downtown project when she saw them earlier this month, she said she didn't know and said the public works director contacted the contractor because its name was on the sign.
DOT spokesman Micah Rasmussen said the township never contacted the DOT about removing the signs. `
`No one has the authority to remove signs that are critical for the safety of workers and motorists,'' said Rasmussen. ``Signs are not frivolous, they prevent accidents.''
Furthermore, Rasmussen said the borough followed all the necessary procedures to get the signs and credited Aughenbaugh for being inclusive in involving the township in the discussions of the project.
Nick Chaffer, who owns the ``Step Back In Time'' antique shop in the borough but is an East Windsor resident, said he was outraged by the township's actions.
Noting there are many township residents who own businesses in the borough, Chaffer questioned why the township would try to impede a project he said benefits both communities.
Last modified: Wed Sep 13 14:57:24 EDT 2000