Ship Bottom — Two Island business owners are leading the drive to get borough officials to reconsider their stance on not allowing the mainland shuttle, which they termed the employee shuttle, to stop in Ship Bottom on the way through town.
John Brennan and Bill Hutson made their case at the council’s meeting last month, less than a week after the shuttle’s inaugural run began. Brennan was the first to address officials during the public comment portion of the regular meeting, asking why the shuttle doesn’t stop in Ship Bottom.
“I am what happened,” Mayor William Huelsenbeck said before launching into an explanation in which he said there was never any discussion about what the impact of the shuttle stopping in the borough would be to the community. Noise control and overuse of the borough hall facilities were all items he wanted to discuss prior to an agreement. “I made it known I wanted to be part of a discussion.”
When a conversation didn’t happen, Huelsenbeck said, he told Long Beach Township officials, most of whom he considers friends, the bus wouldn’t be stopping in Ship Bottom.
“There was no courtesy afforded to us,” he said. “There was so much confusion surrounding it.”
Initially, according to the mayor, the shuttle from Stafford Township, which runs on a continuous loop from the DMV on East Bay Avenue to the Island, was scheduled to stop at the municipal building. It was unclear whether the drop-off area was to be in the front of the building, facing the Boulevard, and where parking is limited for both borough business and the U.S. Post Office, or at the back of the building, where police and town employees, as well as the public, park.
The last shuttle from Manahawkin leaves the DMV parking lot at 11:30 p.m. each day, according to the 2019 schedule, stopping at the 39th Street cutout in Brant Beach and at How You Brewin? in Surf City. Huelsenbeck said he was concerned about noise control at borough hall that late at night. The area to the west of the building, located on the Boulevard between 16th and 17th streets, is mostly residential. The area to the east of the Boulevard is a mix of residential and commercial.
Brennan, whose businesses include gas stations as far north as Barnegat Light and as far south as Beach Haven, said his concern is for local employees who can’t afford to live on the Island.
“It’s a life saver for those not living on Long Beach Island. I just thought you didn’t want it here. There has to be somewhere for it (to stop),” Brennan said, acknowledging “It’s my problem, not yours.”
Hutson, who owns Lorry’s Island End Motel in Holgate, the southern-most community on the Island, said the issue is as much about the shuttle as it is the overall employee crisis that he labeled “the worst” the Island has ever seen.
“We don’t have enough (employees). That’s two years in a row, and that’s not good for the tourist and not good for the schools. If the businesses can’t make money, they’re going to sell and become more houses,” he said. “This is real serious. We have to find a way to bring the shuttle (to town).”
Hutson suggested bringing Christopher Vernon, whose Mercer Management company owns and developed the Hotel LBI site at the entrance to the Island, into the conversation. He said Vernon, who wasn’t at the meeting, has a shuttle service for his employees from the mainland to the 102-room luxury hotel between Eighth and Ninth streets in Ship Bottom.
“Going to daddy O’s (in Brant Beach) isn’t going to make it easy on younger people (working in Ship Bottom),” he said. “… They’re not such hard workers and don’t want to work so much.”
Making it easy for them to get to work is an added incentive, Hutson said. He added many local business owners are footing the $125 season pass for employees so they’re not paying for the use of the shuttle.
“I’ve been here for 30 years,” Hutson said, “and I’ve never had this problem (retaining and getting employees). We used to have 147 trailers at the trailer park in Holgate. That was 147 teenagers who were working, maybe more. The $1 million homes aren’t bringing in working teenagers.”
— Gina G. Scala