Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes gave his annual state of the county address to the freeholders on Jan. 23, highlighting goals for 2020 that include a new airport terminal, the consolidation of the county correction center, the purchase of secure voting machines, open space purchases, and the creation of two new parks.
Hughes said the Environmental Assessment for the proposed new passenger terminal at Trenton-Mercer Airport is still under review by the Federal Aviation Administration. “We believe we have met their requirements thus far, and their response is overdue,” he said. “I am eager to see this project move forward, but until we hear from the FAA, we are in a holding pattern.”
He said he and the and the freeholders want to see their plans for the county correction center realized this year, though he did not mention the legal battle over the plan in his speech. On Christmas Eve, a Mercer County Superior Court judge temporarily blocked the controversial long-distance incarceration plan that would have transferred Mercer County inmates 60 miles north to Hudson County. The plan, approved by the board in October, would save an estimated $12 million a year, according to county officials.
The county has approved the purchase of the development rights for the Kerr Farm in Hopewell, which is almost 400 acres. The Mercer County Open Space Board has also approved grants to preserve six more properties in Hopewell, Princeton, Robbinsville and East Windsor this year, Hughes said.
The Mercer at Play program approved grant agreements in 2019 for recreation projects in Ewing, Lawrence, Princeton, Trenton, and West Windsor, plus a joint effort by East Windsor and Hightstown. A bike-share program, overnight camping at Mercer County Park, and a trail horseback program were new offerings for the park system in 2019. Hughes said for 2020, the Mercer County Park Commission is developing a new passive recreation park at the junction of Hamilton, Robbinsville, and West Windsor. The draft master plan calls for the creation of 64 acres of native meadows and 34 acres of reforested land within the 279-acre property.
“We are excited about a potential future park facility that is a little farther off,” Hughes said. Anyone who has encountered the dump trucks on Route 29 is aware of the Moores Station Quarry site at Pleasantville Road in Hopewell Township, adjacent to the Baldpate Mountain Preserve. In anticipation of its future management of the site, when the current lease to Trap Rock Industries concludes in 2023, the park commission and county planning department are beginning a process to retain a qualified landscape architect consultant to aid in developing a master plan for the site.”
He said the master plan would identify potential options for the restoration and redevelopment of the property as a park, while considering the site’s engineering constraints, sensitive environmental areas, township regulations, and the county’s goals and budget. “It is the county’s goal to eventually integrate the quarry property into our Baldpate Mountain Management Plan,” he said. “This is a project you will be hearing more about as it progresses.”
Hughes said he recognizes the need to have secure and reliable voting machines that have a voter-verified paper trail. “This continues to be a top priority for this administration, and with the freeholder board’s support, we will make the necessary investment to have new machines in place as soon as possible,” he said.
He also added that the county has been working to prepare for the upcoming 2020 census. The county has received a $164,000 state grant to be used to reach hard-to-count populations such as non-native English speakers, homeless people, college students, and veterans, he said.