Stone Harbor seeks funding for 9/11 memorial park

By Braden Campbell The Press of Atlantic City

Stone Harbor Park Dale Gerhard, Press of Atlantic City

Stone Harbor Park Dale Gerhard, Press of Atlantic City

Two years after it received a piece of World Trade Center steel from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Stone Harbor is one step closer to building its memorial to those killed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Officials and residents requested a grant of nearly $100,000 from the Cape May County Open Space Board on Tuesday. They expect this grant and about $34,000 in existing donations will fund the creation of the planned Stone Harbor Freedom Park. “We’re looking forward to finally having this come to fruition,” said Joan Kramar, borough councilwoman and chairwoman of the memorial committee.

Stone Harbor was given one of the last of more than 1,000 pieces of steel salvaged at ground zero by the Port Authority in 2011. Avalon, Absecon and other area communities also received steel from the World Trade Center through the program.

Once it received the piece, Stone Harbor formed a 12-member committee of officials, fire and police personnel and residents affected by the tragedy to plan its site.

The committee initially planned to place the piece in a park at the south end of the island but scrapped the idea after some residents came out in opposition. A new site was chosen between 96th Street and Seng Place near Borough Hall, and these plans were unanimously approved by Borough Council on Dec. 3.

The park will feature small tables and benches, and its centerpiece will be a free-standing stone wall on which the 22-by-30 inch piece of steel will be mounted. There will be a walkway leading to the wall, which will be ornamented by a trellis. A small light pole will spotlight the artifact after dark.

Mayor Suzanne Walters said not only will the park serve as a fitting memorial for those who died in the attack, but it will offer an amenity unlike others in the borough’s downtown.

“It just provides a nice focal point in the downtown area where people can just sit and read the paper, have a cup of coffee, read a book, whatever,” she said.

Planning committee member Charles Boylan has been a part-time resident of Stone Harbor since he was a teenager. He was in a meeting in his midtown Manhattan office when the first plane struck and watched as the second hit. As a first-hand witness to the attack, Boylan said the memorial is an important tribute.

“I just hope we keep not only the memory of the people that are lost, but also the necessity for vigilance,” he said. “It’s a new world and there are new threats, and I just think we need to remember (the victims.)”

Stone Harbor was one of several municipalities that spoke before the Open Space board on Tuesday. The board will give a recommendation on funding to the freeholder board, which will allocate funds accordingly.

While the approval process usually takes several months, Kramar said the board has expedited the request and she expects to hear back within the next two months. She said Stone Harbor has contributed nearly $5 million to the Open Space fund since its creation 27 years ago. This is its first request, so the committee is optimistic it will be granted.

If the borough receives the grant, it will break ground on the project in March and should have the park completed in time for a dedication ceremony on September 11, 2014.

Kramar said she’s glad the group’s two years of work are close to bearing fruit.

“We’re really excited,” Kramar said. “Never has our energy waned or our excitement for the project, because it’s about the artifact and the Americans that perished that day.”

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