UPPER TOWNSHIP — Since its closure in May, the B.L. England Generating Station on the shores of Beesleys Point has sat dormant, towering high above the Great Egg Harbor Bay.
Inside the fenced-off site, clean up and remediation is finished, said Russell Arlotta, senior vice president of R.C. Cape May Holdings, which owns the land.
Now, inspectors are busy ensuring the buildings and land meet current environmental standards and are ready for the location’s next life, Arlotta said. What comes next is up in the air, but the township and prospective players have a few ideas.
The company has been cleaning up the site since the purchase from Atlantic City Electric in 2007, Arlotta said. The final stage — including “technical assessments” and sending samples for testing — has no immediately clear end point. One of the aspects is testing for pesticides from the attached nine-hole golf course, which closed around 2009, Arlotta said.
“It just takes time, unfortunately. It’s just the nature of the work,” Arlotta said. “The work is done in a very structured, systematic way to meet or exceed standards. ... It’s gonna be done, I think, very timely. But it’s hard to put a specific date on it depending on what comes out of the assessments.”
All parties involved seem to be in a holding pattern of sorts.
But a number of possibilities are at play for the 368-acre site, which was built in 1962 and until last year was the oldest operating coal-fired power plant in New Jersey. There are still coal-burning plants in Carney’s Point, Salem County, and Swedesboro, Gloucester County.
Energy, albeit clean, might still play a role.
Ørsted, a Danish energy company, was given the go-ahead by the state Board of Public Utilities in June to develop a 1,100-megawatt wind farm 15 miles off the coast of Atlantic City. To connect to the grid, Ørsted will need two substations onshore, and has already selected the decommissioned Oyster Creek nuclear plant in Forked River, Lacey Township, to build the first.
The company is currently deciding between the Beesleys Point location and the Higbee/Ontario substation in Atlantic City for the second substation, according to Ørsted representatives.
“Ørsted is in the process of exploring interconnection options at Oyster Creek, Higbee and BL England, but no decision has been made,” said Liz Thomas, a spokeswoman for the company. “We remain excited about New Jersey and Ocean Wind, a project that will generate power for half a million New Jersey homes and create 3,000 jobs in the state.”
The township, too, is awaiting their choice.
“We’re hoping it’s Upper Township,” Mayor Richard Palombo said of Ørsted’s pending decision.
Residents living in close proximity to the plant, generally, would like development that could beautify the land and “bring it back to its natural aesthetic environment,” Palombo said. The township is looking at revising its master plan to determine the possibilities, including a marina or “vacation district,” which could include a hotel, condos or other amenities, Palombo said. But the final say is up to the holding company.
“It is a priority of the township to ascertain exactly what will happen presently, and certainly what’s gonna happen in the future for the better of Upper Township,” he said.
The tax hit to the township’s $1.86 billion ratable base and how it will impact residents has also been a topic of concern.
State law requires that the township continue to receive $6 million a year in energy receipts payments it has been getting in exchange for hosting the plant.
Palombo did not return a call for clarification on how long the township will receive those receipts.
The property is assessed at $2.36 million in land and $14.63 million in improvements, for which the company paid the township $313,853.32 in property taxes in 2018.
The holding company has filed a tax appeal in state court. The office of the township tax assessor did not immediately return a request for comment on the outcome of the appeal.
The township expects an increase in the average taxpayer’s bill following a reassessment of the plant site. The township’s Chief Financial Officer did not respond to a request for comment. The municipal budget is expected to be introduced at a Township Committee meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 9.
“(A tax increase is) still being assessed. ... It’s a priority of ours to look at present needs and future needs as to what impact the closing of B.L. England plant will have on the township,” Palombo said.
The plant’s closure has also had a negative impact on nearby businesses, like the Tuckahoe Inn around the corner. The plant once employed upward of 100 people, but had about 70 people working there before it closed last year.
Employees would often visit the restaurant for a quick lunch, an after-work happy hour or dinner before heading home.
They had a Christmas party there every year and the occasional employee lunch. It wasn’t overwhelming business, but it was steady, said Matt DiNardo, who has been manager at the restaurant since 2001.
“You notice it more in the offseason when people are not visiting,” DiNardo said, “that 10 people who used to come all the time are not here.”