TRENTON — The state will use $10 million in American Rescue Plan funds to help small businesses hire and train workers as the state recovers from effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy said at a Monday news conference.
The program, called “Return and Earn,” will pay up to $10,000 toward the salary of each newly hired worker for a six-month, on-the-job training period, up to a maximum of $40,000 per business, and will pay each returning worker a $500 bonus, Murphy said.
“There are lots of job openings. I haven’t been in a restaurant, bar or small business — not one — where folks said they could hire who they want to hire,” Murphy said. “We think cash on the barrel alone is interesting, even more so when we put a workforce development upskill component to it.”
The pandemic began about 19 months ago, Murphy said, and “we have always recognized on the other side of the pandemic we must have a state economy that is stronger, fairer more equitable and inclusive than before.”
He said the new program “will assist unemployed workers in their return to work, and it will help small businesses fill positions they need.”
Employers with 100 or fewer current employees who pay at least $15 per hour qualify, Murphy said.
For more information and to fill out a form to become a participating employer, or to sign up as an interested job seeker, visit nj.gov/labor/returnandearn. More details will be forthcoming from the state Department of Labor and the program is expected to get underway soon.
The state received a total of $6.24 billion in American Rescue Plan funds from the federal government for use in recovery from the pandemic.
In addressing the latest regarding booster shots, Murphy and Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said about 1.2 million New Jerseyans received the Pfizer COVID vaccine six months ago, back to April 1. A large subset of that number are now eligible for a booster shot under federal rules.
A total of 5.83 million people in the state have now been fully vaccinated, Murphy said.
But only those who received the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago and meet other criteria set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are eligible.
Those eligible and who the CDC says should receive a booster shot are those 65 years of age and older, those who live in long term care settings, and those ages 50 to 65 with certain health conditions, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
The CDC also says those ages 18 to 64 with certain pre-existing conditions and those 18 to 64 who work in high-risk occupations, such as health care, are also eligible.
Murphy said guidelines will come soon from federal health authorities on booster shots for those who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
The state has now administered 106,502 third shots and boosters, with 14,592 of those administered this past weekend. Persichilli did not break out how many were boosters and how many third shots, but booster shots only began Sept. 24 so the majority are likely third shots.
Third shots are given to those with compromised immune systems, such as organ donors on drugs to prevent organ rejection, and were started weeks before the boosters were approved.
There is no proof of medical condition needed to get a booster shot, Persichilli said.
There are more than 1,600 vaccine sites in New Jersey, and more than 1,000 of those offer the Pfizer vaccine.
To find a vaccine site, visit covid19.nj.gov/finder or call 855-568-0545.
ATLANTIC CITY — A request for dredging Gardner’s Basin two years ago has grown into a proposal for an innovative coastal research and resiliency center that would position Stockton University and the city as leaders in the study of climate change.
It would also serve as an incubator for jobs and education in the growing “blue economy,” from commercial fishing to offshore wind and even the city’s staple, tourism and travel.
Stockton University announced its plans Monday to pursue a Coastal Resiliency Institute and Marine Field Station at Gardner’s Basin based on a feasibility study the college commissioned this summer on the project.
University President Harvey Kesselman said the study, which he commissioned in July, is being reviewed by stakeholders and that next steps, including the formation of task forces, are progressing.
No financing has been secured yet, and there is no exact timeline for the proposal, although Kesselman said Monday he wants to see a presence on the site no later than fall 2024.
He also is actively talking with lawmakers, who are receptive to the project, as well as prospective partners. He wants Stockton to lead a broad coalition of stakeholders among government, industry and other universities.
“It would be our project, but not ours alone,” Kesselman said. And it’s not just public and private institutions. “This is a global issue and no one entity can approach this by itself.”
Among some of the prospective university partners, Kesselman included nearby Atlantic Cape Community College, Rutgers University and Louisiana’s Tulane University, which has worked closely with New Orleans on coastal resiliency since Hurricane Katrina, and could be a model, he said.
Located on the northern edge of Absecon Island, Gardner’s Basin has often been described as an undiscovered jewel of the city, with its waterfront restaurants, skyline views and waterways, next to one of the state’s largest commercial fishing ports, all buffered by residential housing.
In an interview Monday, Kesselman described the project as one that would benefit many of the city’s industries, from commercial fishing, to tourism to wind energy, while also advancing the study of sea level rise.
A linchpin in the project would be the need to dredge the inlet and nearby waterways to allow for larger vessels. A $1 million Green Acres grant announced in November 2019 that included some dredging focused on clearing stormwater lines, not deepening channels.
“Nothing happens until they dredge Gardner’s Basin,” said Kesselman, who sees the dredging as an opportunity also to attract ferry service from New York.
That’s a project that would have to be undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was also an impetus that first gave the project momentum in 2019, said former state Sen. William Gormley.
That’s when local fishermen were introduced to Gormley and asked for help getting the waterways dredged.
Atlantic City is one of the largest commercial fishing ports in the state; some 24 million pounds of fish were landed in 2019, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But the lack of deep water was keeping the city’s commercial port from expanding and adding local jobs, the fishermen said.
Gormley, whose reputation as a dealmaker is still well-earned, introduced the fishermen to Kesselman, who was already eyeing the concept of establishing a coastal research center out of Atlantic City.
Gormley said “stacking” the fishing industry with the university, and adding a growing offshore wind presence in the city can only strengthen the case to dredge deeper channels in the basin.
He also made other introductions or suggestions, including the inclusion of ACDEVCO, the nonprofit redevelopment company that developed the first phase of Stockton’s Atlantic City campus.
ACDEVCO’s President and CEO Chris Paladino was a participant in the feasibility study, as were other potential partners, from the county to the Atlantic County Utilities Authority.
Gormley and Kesselman say collaboration is essential.
“For years, everyone has had a dream about Gardner’s Basin, but it’s never been fulfilled,” Gormley said. “Is it going to take a lot of work? Absolutely. But this is a port on the coast of New Jersey that would be dedicated to resiliency. It seems to have an upside if it all comes together.”
An early study funded by the state’s economic development authority looked at developing the research center and field station on Bader Field, but that project was not viable because the city’s plans for Bader Field do not include educational or research uses.
Gormley and fellow Atlantic City attorney Lee Levine put up $10,000 each for Stockton to study the Gardner’s Basin site.
ACUA President Rick Dovey said the idea for a coastal institute has been around for some time, as well as the idea that Gardner’s Basin’s untapped potential could be maximized.
And the proposed center is being touted at the right time, as increasingly governments are focused on addressing climate change.
“There will be a significant amount of federal funded program and budget deals over the next couple of months,” Dovey said.
For a precedent on the level of interest, one would have to go back to the 1960s and 1970s when the Clean Water Act was passed.
“There’s going to be federal funding or indirect funding through states. Foundations like the William Penn Foundation are all interested in working toward resiliency, climate change mitigation, preparation,” Dovey said.
While costs for the project have not been established, the feasibility study does outline the scope of the proposed center and field station, which would include two 35-seat classrooms, laboratories, office space, a kitchen and catering area as well as docks for research vessels. The facility would be large enough to handle 25 graduate students and 100-200 undergrads.
TRENTON — Construction of a nearly 120-mile-long proposed natural gas pipeline from northeastern Pennsylvania to central New Jersey will not go forward, the group behind the project said Monday.
PennEast Pipeline Company, which won a recent legal battle against New Jersey at the Supreme Court, nonetheless said the state has failed to provide certain permits and is putting the project on ice.
“PennEast partners, following extensive evaluation and discussion, recently determined further development of the Project no longer is supported. Accordingly, PennEast has ceased all further development of the Project,” spokesperson Pat Kornick said in an email.
The decision is the latest swing in a long-running effort to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania. It’s also a major win for environmental groups who opposed the project, arguing it would cut a scar across the landscape, threaten wildlife and contribute the use of fossil fuels.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, facing reelection this year, said Monday he was gratified that the project wasn’t going forward. He’s long opposed the project.
“This one was bad. It would have wrecked our state, and as long as I’m here that’s not gonna happen,” Murphy said.
Pipeline opponents held a remote video conference to take a victory lap of sorts. The pipeline company’s decision was emotional for some.
“It’s relief,” said Terese Buchanan, a resident along the proposed route and long-time opponent.
Jacqueline Evans, whose property in Hunterdon County, stands along the proposed pathway, described a draining process of opposing the pipeline. She said she found surveyors on her land without permission and watched as her children struggled with worry over what would happen to wildlife and the land.
“All of a sudden a place that is supposed to feel safe to you feels threatened,” she said. “The stress has been unbelievable,” she said.
It’s unclear whether PennEast will pursue the project again if circumstances change.
Groups backing the project lamented its apparent demise, saying it would have provided affordable energy to residents.
“If we cannot get that gas to where it is needed because of regulatory and legal challenges by those who are content to impose higher energy bills on working families, we are effectively abandoning this strategic American asset,” said Amy Andryszak, president and chief executive officer of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, which backed the pipeline.
In Pennsylvania, trade associations, labor unions and the huge natural gas industry have pushed hard for pipeline projects to help get gas from the vast Marcellus Shale formation to new markets. They say that such avenues will help boost wellhead prices that are artificially low because of such constraints.
Canceling the project will mean ratepayers pay more for gas and electricity, the economy will lose thousands of construction jobs and the Northeast or mid-Atlantic states will be forced to rely on imported fuels, said Gene Barr, the president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
Regulated utilities in New Jersey have told the state’s public service commission that they may not have enough gas to meet winter demand, while natural gas is an important fuel for the manufacturing sector, Barr said.
PennEast, a company made up of five different energy firms, won federal and Pennsylvania permitting approvals including a key Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certificate that could allow the firm to use eminent domain to acquire land.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court said that companies building interstate pipelines can obtain the land they need even in the face of state opposition, once their projects have been given the greenlight by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Both the Trump and Biden administrations had supported PennEast. Nineteen states had urged the Supreme Court to rule the other way and side with New Jersey.
New Jersey had failed to issue a water quality certification and other wetlands permits under the Clean Water Act for that state’s portion of the project, according to PennEast.
PennEast’s application with federal regulators goes back to 2015, though it began pushing for the project in 2014. The company argued the project would bring jobs and lower-cost natural gas to the region,
MAYS LANDING — An Egg Harbor City man, charged with two sexual assaults of young girls, including a 1996 cold case that authorities used DNA to solve, is also a suspect in multiple other cases, an Atlantic County prosecutor said Monday.
The man, Brian Lee Avis, 59, was ordered held without bail Monday after Superior Court Judge Donna M. Taylor found he was a danger to society and should be held pending the outcome of the two existing cases.
Avis is facing charges for a 1996 sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl in Brigantine and a 2003 sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl in Galloway Township.
Avis, who is married with a 10-year-old son, was charged earlier this month in the 1996 Brigantine assault of a girl after authorities identified the DNA left at the scene.
On Monday at his detention hearing in Atlantic County Superior Court, Chief Assistant Prosecutor John Flammer said Avis is a suspect in multiple other cases, but did not elaborate.
John Zarych, Avis’s attorney, however, argued that the only evidence against his client was scientific.
Authorities say that in 1996, a man, who they allege is Avis, snuck into the victim’s room through a window and assaulted her. The victim’s mother woke up after hearing the commotion in her daughter’s room, and then saw a man running from the house, authorities say.
Avis is charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child under 13, sexual assault of a child under 13, burglary and endangering the welfare of a child, police said.
Fingerprints found at the scene of the Brigantine assault were used to charge Avis with the Galloway attack.
In that case, authorities allege Avis broke into the room of a 5-year-old girl, pulled her pants down and began rubbing her hips and buttocks before he fled. In the Galloway case, Avis is charged with sexual assault of a juvenile, endangering the welfare of a child and burglary.
Both victims are now adults and have not been identified.
In January of this year, the State Police Cold Case Unit and Brigantine police reopened the 1996 assault case. Working with the State Police Office of Forensic Sciences and a private company specializing in investigative genetic genealogy, authorities were able to re-examine a more robust DNA sample for the suspect.
The DNA was then submitted July 26 to a private lab, which conducted a microarray single nucleotide polymorphisms test in an attempt to identify genetic relatives of the suspect based on the DNA sample from the scene.
Through various investigative means, police said, detectives were able to identify Avis as the suspect.