Friday, April 19, 2024

Township Committee Split on Walnut Valley Field Septic and Restroom Renovations

Walnut Valley Field concession stand. Photo by Alexa Tironi, 2/2024

From July 15 to the last weekend of November, the Walnut Valley football and baseball fields can host up to 2,000 people on any given game night. Players, parents and siblings pile into the stands to enjoy back-to-back games; however, according to Geraldine Kolb, the president of North Warren Midget Football, comradery and competition aren’t the only things hanging in the air— so is the smell of feces. 

The restrooms attached to the concession stand. Photo by Alexa Tironi, 2/2024

At the Blairstown Township Committee (BTC) meeting held on February 28, Kolb came to discuss two things with the committee: a new septic system for the athletic portion of the property and renovated restrooms. 

“We currently use up to three porta-johns in addition to attempting to use the bathrooms in the stand and the smell is absolutely atrocious,” stated Kolb. 

“We typically start the day with the bathrooms open, by the end of the second game we need to close them due to the bathroom issues. This can be not flushing, constant flushing, backing up, nonstop running urinals or toilets.” 

From that point on, porta-johns are the only onsite restroom option. For anyone, but especially a mother with a small child or even an infant, Kolb explains this is less than ideal. Lights have been installed inside the porta-johns to help during evening games, but they are constantly stolen or thrown into the porta-john’s tank. The porta-johns have been vandalized, rocked and even tipped over. 

Inside the concession stand, the plumbing backs up into the sink making it unusable. Any water used to cook or clean comes from bottled water brought from home by those running the stand. 

“We tried to make do, but these issues aren’t going away. The remedy is extremely overdue,” stated Kolb. 

Committee member Karen Lance responded with a potential solution— the Local Recreation Improvement Grant. Originally, working with director of the Department of Public Works (DPW) Eric Usinowicz, Lance had proposed to use grant funds to construct a perimeter path at Sycamore Park. But, after hearing about the septic issues at Walnut Valley, she changed gears. 

“It needs to be addressed. It’s time to take the opportunity to fix that longstanding problem, for that many people, it just didn’t make sense to ignore it.” 

The New Jersey grant currently offers beneficiaries $100,000 but additional aid could be given. According to Lance, if the soil at Walnut Valley has a positive perc test, a septic field could be installed for under $100,000. If the soil is not in good condition, it could be much more. 

“I have every expectation that we would be in a good circumstance to have a nice outcome, but everything is unknown at this point.”

When it came time for the committee to discuss this grant proposal, Mayor Robert Moorhead and Deputy Mayor Walter Orcutt shared their disagreement with a plan to install a new septic and renovated bathrooms. 

According to Orcutt, a project this size would actually cost up to $230,000. He first suggested a 2,000-gallon holding tank installation that would cost $600 to pump. The other alternative would be portable restrooms trailers featuring ADA-compliant stalls, urinals and sinks. 

As suggested, these portable bathrooms have become quite popular. Stock photo.

“What I like about it also is that when we have special events, they can be brought wherever. If there’s a major crime scene or disaster going on, we also have this that we can bring to another site,” explained Orcutt. 

A portable bathroom used at Shirley Chisolm State Park. Stock photo.

He added, “I think it’s a lot better to put our money into something like this than putting a quarter-million dollars into a septic system for one concession stand at Walnut Valley which is a bit undersized no matter how you slice it.”

Orcutt says some mobile bathrooms can support a maximum of 2,000 flushes and that the township can gauge the gallon amount required based on the current porta-john usage.  

At this point, Kolb cut in to explain that those numbers would be insufficient as those porta-johns quickly become unusable, forcing attendees to leave the game in order to find a functioning restroom. 

The availability issue would be further exacerbated if there were to be an event or issue in town that required the use of the mobile porta john.

“Are you going to take them away from us down at the field?” asked Kolb. 

The field manager for North Warren Midget Football, Gerrit Tosh, joined Kolb in the opinion that a free-standing mobile bathroom would be severely misused and vandalized. 

“I can tell you that I’ve caught people in the porta-johns vandalizing it, I’ve caught people doing drugs in there. I’ve kicked drifters out. Hopefully we can find some way to lock this [mobile bathroom] so they’re not vandalized from the inside but if somebody breaks it before our game, what are we supposed to do?” 

Tosh explained that this mobile trailer could be an acceptable solution, however, something needs to be done about the actual septic and bathrooms attached to the concession stand. 

Committee member Charlie Makatura gave his support for a holding tank. He stated a mobile bathroom may be a great secondary option but it’s a short-term fix. A holding tank would take some of the stress off the current septic tank and reduce the need for porta-johns. 

Since the deadline for the Local Recreation Improvement Grant proposals has been extended, the BTC has time to deliberate. Orcutt stated that a potential solution would be announced at March’s meeting on the 27th. 

Alex Tironi Headshot
Alex Tironi, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

A recent graduate of George Mason University in Virginia, Alex pursued a degree in journalism with a double minor in American Sign Language and nonprofit studies. She worked as assistant news editor to the Fourth Estate, the university newspaper where she reported on many things but mostly focused on campus crime and PD activity. While working for a nonprofit called the Borgen Project, she wrote about global health and poverty in third-world nations. Alex recently finished an internship writing and editing for a business consulting company in NY. Growing up in the area, she has always been active in her community and brings the same intention as a contributing writer for the Ridge View Echo.