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Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Saturday, July 25, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)


Local
breaking top story
Area's airports win big grants, Atlantic City gets $11.2 million for runway

Atlantic City International Airport will receive the nation’s fourth-largest airport improvement grant in a funding round that also includes millions for two other area airports, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Tuesday.

ACY will receive $11.2 million for runway improvements. Cape May Airport will get $2.7 million for runway and lighting upgrades. And $1.5 million has been designated for apron expansion at Millville Municipal Airport, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said.

The grants were part of a $273 million package for 184 airports nationwide.

ACY received the fourth largest grant of the 184 airports, behind only North Carolina’s Wilmington International at $21.1 million, Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport at $15.2 million and Chicago O’Hare International Airport at $14 million.

“This reimbursement grant allows the South Jersey Transportation Authority to completely repave the entire 10,000-foot length of Runway 13-31 and covers a little more than 96% of the total project cost of $11,685,179,” said Mark Amorosi, spokesman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, the agency that owns and operates the airport.

The SJTA board awarded a contract to A.E. Stone of Egg Harbor Township on June 17, contingent on the grant funding, Amorosi said.

While the SJTA owns and operates ACY, for more than a year, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has said it was studying the idea of buying it.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney said in May the COVID-19 pandemic had slowed the process of selling ACY to the Port Authority but would not stop it, and predicted then the sale would soon be finalized.

Sweeney began advocating for the sale last year, saying the Port Authority would better utilize ACY for maintenance, cargo and passenger service since it could redirect some air traffic there.

In October, the Port Authority said it had hired a consultant to study its options for buying another area airport, including ACY.

The total in Tuesday’s grants includes just over $242 million from the Airport Improvement Program and $31 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act grants to equal a 100% federal share, the department said in a news release.

“These funds are another big win for South Jersey and our community,” said U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd. “I will always advocate for smart expenditures in our infrastructure, and these are much-needed investments.”

U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, both D-N.J., also celebrated the grants.

The total going to all New Jersey airports is $28,919,131, they said.

“Our airports are hubs for commerce and travel, both domestic and international, and play a major role in our state’s economy,” Menendez said. “The economic crisis hit our airports hard, but this funding will allow the airports to make the necessary upgrades and repairs they need to keep their workers and air travelers safe.”

The Airport Improvement Program grants are in addition to $10 billion in grants the department awarded to airports to help them stay afloat during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

In April, New Jersey airports received $160 million in CARES Act funding to support them through the pandemic.


Stockton University staff load up hand sanitizer dispensers Tuesday at the Galloway Township campus. The university has more than 400 new hand sanitizing stations, bringing the total to 600, and more than 50,000 canisters of sanitizing wipes for classrooms and other common areas.


Darnley Rosius puts up posters reminding students and staff to practice social distancing Tuesday. For more photos showing how the college is preparing for the fall semester amid the COVID-19 pandemic, visit PressofAC.com.


Local
top story
Stockton, Rowan and New Jersey Athletic Conference cancel all fall sports

Salena LeDonne assumed the decision was inevitable, given the difficult circumstances and recent events.

The rising senior soccer player at Stockton University tried to stay positive.

But the unavoidable announcement came Tuesday afternoon.

The New Jersey Athletic Conference has canceled its fall sports season due to ongoing health and safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement comes one month after The College of New Jersey, which competes in the NJAC, decided to independently cancel its varsity and club sports for the fall semester.

“For me, it’s frustrating to come to terms with the fact that, after sports have been my life for so long, this is how it ends,” said LeDonne, 21, a 2017 Parsippany High School graduate. “But in a lot of ways, the sadness aligns with the life lessons that sports has taught me along the way, like the importance of being prepared and you can’t change circumstances.”

Many Press-area athletes attend Stockton and other NJAC schools, including Rowan, William Paterson, TCNJ, Montclair State and Rutgers-Camden. The NJAC also includes Kean, Ramapo, New Jersey City and Rutgers-Newark. The conference competes in the NCAA Division III.

“Athletes know life isn’t fair sometimes,” LeDonne said. “As someone who has been an athlete my entire life, I will be able to cope with it knowing it’s out of my control and I still have all the things sports has taught me, even though I won’t get my last season.”

The NJAC canceled the remainder of its spring season in March when the coronavirus pandemic was picking up steam in New Jersey.

But this news was harder to take because both school and conference officials have been working to ensure a safe return to fall sports, Stockton athletic director Kevin McHugh said.

“My first thought is for the student-athletes,” McHugh said, noting about 400 Division III schools in the nation have canceled the fall season. “I just feel terrible.”

“We put in all that time and effort. … Obviously you feel bad for the kids and the coaches. But now we can look at making the next best situation out of this and what we can do to provide some type of opportunities to get together as a team in the fall to practice.”

Despite the cancellation, Stockton teams can tentatively start practicing together Sept. 14. Athletes are encouraged to practice social distancing, wear facial coverings when not working out and to not share personal items such as towels and protective equipment.

Each sport and its coaches will develop specific plans to be released at a later date. Coaches can begin in-person work Monday.

“Our hope is to provide a reasonable opportunity to allow practice,” said McHugh, who added there may be a possibility these fall athletes compete in the spring, but there is still much to figure out before that happens.

“We are just taking the competitiveness out of it,” McHugh said. “And, to be honest, what made the competitive part so problematic was that it’s one thing to control your own environment and campus, but when you have to travel and other people come to you … I think that’s where everybody came to the same decision. It was just too tough to pull off.”

LeDonne said she would be excited to practice with the team, even if there is no season. For now, she had a message for the underclassmen.

“I hope they see this setback as a setup for them to rise to the occasion next season,” she said. “Coming from someone who will never get to play the sport again, potentially, I definitely challenge them to not give up and keep training and remember why sports are so valuable and the importance of camaraderie through it all.”

McHugh encouraged athletes to reach out to their coaches with questions and concerns, and to support each other in this “uncharted journey.”

“I know we are in a really, really difficult time,” he said. “But that’s what our job is. To try and figure those things out and try to make the best out of it for our kids and for our coaches and staff. And that’s what we will continue to do.”

GALLERY: Stockton campus goes quiet amid COVID-19 crisis

Education
breaking topical featured
What does it take to create a COVID-safe campus?

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — “It’s the things that you take for granted, that you don’t think about,” said Cyndi Gove, Stockton University’s project manager of facilities and operations, as she walked around the nearly vacant Campus Center on Tuesday.

For staff and students returning to college for the fall 2020 semester, nearly every aspect of campus, from occupancy levels in classrooms to availability of water fountains to spacing of chairs in common areas, is being adjusted as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Gove is leading Stockton’s effort to prepare its facilities to welcome students and staff members back to campus next month. It’s a snapshot of what is happening across the state and the country as institutions of higher education that shut down in the spring prepare to reopen.

“We’ve been meeting for months to try and address every possible thought,” Gove said. “Essentially, we want everybody safe, but at the same time, we want the students to have a college experience.”

Gove and her colleagues did the first risk assessment walk-through in May.

“We had to go in and measure every single classroom” to find out just how many students could safely be accommodated, she said.

Then, once the chairs came out, the next question was what to do with all the extras. Gove said they have decided to create classrooms out of open spaces throughout the campuses — like in place of the bookstore at the Atlantic City campus.

She has ordered 2,000 signs to remind those in campus facilities to keep 6 feet apart.

“But I know I need more,” she said.

She also ordered more than 400 new hand sanitizing stations, bringing the total to 600, and “well over 50,000” canisters of sanitizing wipes for common areas and classrooms. Large, red circle stickers mark off distance for standing in line at the financial office, or to indicate in which direction to walk the halls. Where chairs could not be removed, a neon yellow piece of tape is stretched across the seat. More than $100,000 in Plexiglas partitions are being installed in labs, offices and between employees’ work areas.

Gove said one company quoted her a five-week wait time for the Plexiglas, so they had to pivot and find a vendor that could deliver sooner. There is also a delay in getting locks for the water fountains (the bottle filling stations will remain open). And then there is the learning curve in the new products, like that certain floor stickers are made only for carpet and others for vinyl, and they are not interchangeable.

In addition to the regular custodial staff, the college has hired a third-party cleaner to address harder-to-sanitize areas.

Gove said she is proudest of the resourcefulness and teamwork displayed by her colleagues during the pandemic.

“We just kind of hit the ground running,” she said.

All the precautionary measures are a huge expense for the college, Gove said, and no exact figure was immediately available. But at least some portion of the costs will be covered by the $10 million the college received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which was signed into law this spring to provide emergency funding for entities dealing with the impact of the pandemic.

Stockton spokeswoman Diane D’Amico said the college is using a lot of what it learned from the transition to remote learning in the spring, including scheduling times to speak with advisers or other campus offices like the registrar or financial aid. AtlantiCare and the Atlantic County Health Department have also been involved in Stockton’s reopening process.

D’Amico said students will be taking a pledge to follow safety protocols and will be given a health questionnaire each time they sign on to the university system for classes.

“The success of anything we do is really going to rely on everyone cooperating and doing it. The more everyone cooperates and follows the precautions, the more we’re going to be able to do,” D’Amico said.

GALLERY: Stockton University prepares Galloway campus for fall 2020 reopening

Crime
breaking top story
TROPICANA STABBINGS
4 men charged in Tropicana stabbings, robbery detained until trial

MAYS LANDING — Four New York men charged in a “melee” last week on the Tropicana Atlantic City casino floor that ended with three men stabbed and a robbery were ordered detained until trial Tuesday.

Jabari Cummings, 30, and Tyevon Walker, 22, both of Brooklyn; Delroy McNeil, 32, of Queens; and Shaun Laney, 25, of Bronx, appeared separately during four hearings held virtually before Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Donna M. Taylor. 

Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Fipp successfully argued for all the men to be detained, even as defense attorneys questioned the reliability of witnesses who admitted they were intoxicated at the time of the early morning July 20 incident, and contended at least two of the men were victims as well, with one punched and another stabbed.

Fipp asserted the men would be a danger to the community, a flight risk and could undermine the court process if released.

“This involved two groups who did not know each other until that evening, it appears,” Fipp said during Cummings’ hearing. “And whatever the dispute was — whether it was over girls, or whatever the dispute was — it escalated so much that knives were used and Mr. Cummings stabbed another individual. So it’s an extreme escalation from something that could have just been a verbal dispute but ended up with multiple people injured, and Mr. Cummings was observed with the knife.”

Cummings has been charged with unlawful possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes, aggravated assault, possession of crack/cocaine, tampering with evidence and criminal attempted homicide.

McNeil was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes, aggravated assault and criminal attempted homicide.

Laney and Walker were both charged with robbery.

Fipp contends a large fight, which she referred to several times as a melee, broke out on the casino floor, as well as a stabbing in a nearby bathroom, just before 3 a.m. Three men, including McNeil, were left with stab wounds, while another victim was robbed of a cellphone, identification and about $218 dollars.

Then, while parked at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus, prosecutors allege, Cummings threw two knives, as well as vials of suspected crack cocaine, from the car all four men were in. Police also found blood and the victim’s bank card, among other evidence.

The four defense attorneys painted a very different picture from the state’s arguments.

Nicole Wise, who represents McNeil, argued he was also a victim — as he also sustained a stab wound — and that he was “fearing for his own life in that bathroom” after he heard people say they intended to kill someone that night.

She also asserted the victim admitted he was “drunk like a skunk” during the incident.

“So, ultimately, we have some sort of scuffle in a bathroom, and I think we’re going to have to get down to some serious issues as to credibility and who it is that ultimately was the aggressor here, who was defending himself,” Wise said.

Michael Schreiber, Laney’s attorney, said Laney was punched in the face on the casino floor and dropped his cellphone. When Laney was seen on surveillance footage following the state’s victim, it was to get the phone back, Schreiber argued.

“You can see that the contact between my client and the alleged victim — there’s no force used whatsoever, and it takes place in a matter of seconds,” Schreiber said. “So my client says it wasn’t a robbery, it wasn’t even a theft. ... My client says he was just asking for his cellphone back.”

The state “does not believe whatsoever that the robbery victim took the phone,” Fipp countered, asserting force was used.

Similarly, Walker’s attorney, Joseph Swift, argued that Walker was just helping a friend and wasn’t involved in the stabbing.

“He was a bystander to that,” Swift said. “What happened afterward was not a robbery in the sense that they were trying to steal or hurt anyone. It was something to look at the video footage to see exactly what happened.”

Cummings was wearing totally different clothing than described by a victim to police, said his attorney, Laura C. Sutnick.

“So the reason my client’s not on surveillance video stabbing somebody is because he’s not the stabber,” she said, arguing Cummings was holding a knife because he was helping his friend who had just been stabbed. “That’s why the victim contradicts what the police are suggesting happened.”

An attempted murder charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison upon conviction, while the robbery charge carries a decade, both subject to the No Early Release Act, which mandates a defendant serve 85% of their sentence before eligible for parole.

All four men are in the Atlantic County jail, and their next appearance is scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 10 before Judge Rodney Cunningham.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story listed Shaun Laney's hometown as Machias, New York. During court proceedings Tuesday, his address was updated to Bronx, New York.