Floods, Snowstorms, an Earthquake! Big Stories From 2011

A month-by-month look back at a year that was perhaps most memorable for the weather. But it's also the year the Faloni lawsuit was settled, the Republicans asked for a recount and Dr. Gerardi announced his plans to retire and so much more.


After attending Caldwell College, living in the Caldwells for 22 years, and serving as a councilman for six years, Ann Dassing was sworn in this past January as the mayor of the town she has called "an ideal place to live and work." In her remarks, Dassing said,

North Caldwell for his first four-year term on New Year's Day with so many supporters present that they spilled out of the Council Chambers at Borough Hall.

Shortly after being sworn in for a fourth term on New Year's Day, said in his remarks that 2011 may be the toughest year in the township's more than 106-year history. "These are difficult times we live in. There's no question about it,” said Tempesta, speaking to approximately 300 family members, friends and supporters gathered at James Caldwell High School's Center for Performing Arts in West Caldwell.

A major snowstorm the day after Christmas followed by the left most the region covered in mounds of snow. The situation became so severe in downtown Caldwell that authorities were left with no choice but to ban parking and have snow hauled away from the business district.

Governor Chris Christie signed the "Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights" into law in January, which advocates say makes New Jersey the state with the strongest stance against school bullying in the nation. “The law will certainly place New Jersey in the forefront of strengthening the procedures for reporting, investigating and responding to incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB),” said Caldwell-West Caldwell Schools Superintendent Daniel Gerardi at the time. “More importantly, it will hopefully help to prevent this type of behavior from occurring.”


The most intense Caldwell Council meeting of the year: The Caldwell Council voted 4-2 in favor of an ordinance that would create a four-way stop at the intersection of Hatfield Street and Arlington Avenue. The vote came after a more than 90-minute public hearing during which residents spoke passionately both for and against the creation of a four-way stop in the residential neighborhood. More than a dozen residents spoke before the council in a standing-room only council chamber. While all agreed speeding is an issue on Hatfield Street, those who spoke were split on the ability of a four-way stop to fix the problem.

The most intense West Caldwell meeting of the year: West Caldwell’s governing body said it would consider a resolution to demote six of the township’s police officers if the Police Benevolent Association would not agree to cost-saving concessions by the March 1 council meeting. With less than a month to go until the March 11 deadline to present a preliminary budget to the state, the governing body was struggling with how to close a gap in the 2011 budget. A compromise would ultimately be reached and no officers would be demoted.

Caldwell Public Library Director Karen Kleppe Lembo announced her resignation in February after being a champion for the library since March 2001. Kleppe Lembo returned to her legal roots as an attorney for the state’s Division of Youth and Family Services. Her last day at the library was in early March. "I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anybody give more, work harder, or be more enthusiastic,” Caldwell Mayor Ann Dassing said.


The New Jersey State Office of Emergency (OEM) declared a State of Emergency in Fairfield in March in what would only be the beginning of the low-lying township's battle with flood waters from the Passaic River this year.


The West Caldwell Council voted unanimously in April to cut the township's two engineering positions. The township in turn outsourced engineering services to Omland Engineering Associates based in Cedar Knolls. West Caldwell Councilman and Finance Committee Chair Stanley Hladik said the move would help slash the remaining $150,000 budget gap in approximately half.

A ribbon-cutting was held at Caldwell College's Center for Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis on Friday, April 15, midway through a month which is dedicated to Autism Awareness. Approximately 80 guests, including community leaders, alumni, faculty, staff, supporters and the center’s first student—4-year-old Rowan—gathered to tour the 6,000-square-foot facility.

Work began on upgrades to intersections in the heart of downtown Caldwell designed to help improve the flow of traffic and make this busy section of town safer for drivers and pedestrians. The $399,219 project was funded by a transportation improvement grant from the State of New Jersey. The improvements included modern traffic signal equipment, pedestrian countdown crossing lights, roadway striping and other features to enhance pedestrian and traffic safety, minimize delay and improve the flow of traffic. .

West Essex Superintendent Dr. Thomas McMahon announced he would be going out on medical leave until his planned retirement on June 30. A "medical issue has arisen that requires my taking a leave of absence,” said the message, which was read by BOE President Phyliss Helmstetter at an April board meeting. West Essex Regional High School Principal Barbara Longo was appointed acting superintendent. Later in the year, Longo would be .


Newspaper bins at the in West Caldwell were quickly emptied on May 2 as area residents stopped in to snatch up papers with headlines many Americans had long hoped to read: Osama bin Laden Dead.

The 41st Midget Baseball League All-Star Game was played Sunday, May 22 at Francisco Park in West Caldwell. Before the game, players participated in the Col. John M. McHugh Home Run Derby. The derby was renamed this year after McHugh, who grew up in West Caldwell. McHugh was killed last May while serving in Afghanistan.

Calling it not old business nor new business, but “monkey business,” at a Caldwell Council meeting in May, Councilman Tom O’Donnell addressed a letter to the editor published in The Progress on May 19 which questioned Mayor Ann Dassing's decision to pay her brother for snow removal services for the borough this winter. O’Donnell said Dassing’s brother, James Bestys of North Creek Landscapes based in Caldwell, was indeed one of four contractors paid to remove three-foot mounds of snow from Bloomfield Avenue this past winter. “At times like this you do not pull a contractor from page 36 in the yellow pages,” O’Donnell said. “You reach out to those you trust and can depend on.” 


Residents of apartment buildings that back up to the baseball diamond at the in Caldwell stood before the council for a second time with bags of balls as well as tales of dents and near misses. Residents asked that the games be stopped until a solution was found. But the games went on. By the end of the year, the towns of Caldwell and West Caldwell, along with Caldwell College, would have finalized a plan to .

The West Essex coach that brought five state football championships to the high school decided not to return for the 2011 season. Dave Drozjock resigned from his post in June after his team went 6-4 last season. West Essex Athletic Director Damion Macioci confirmed the news of Drozjock's resignation saying, "He's been a dedicated coach for many years."

A man who allegedly grabbed $300 in cash from a gas station attendant in West Caldwell one June night walked into a nearby supermarket four hours later in drenched and muddy clothing and asked to use a bathroom and call a cab. An employee of the customer service desk at the ShopRite directed the man to the employee bathrooms to wash up and contacted the police. For several hours, the suspect evaded area police and a New Jersey State Police helicopter, which was called in to help with the search.


Dana Strus did a doubletake when she looked out her window this past July and saw a black bear in her yard splashing around in her pool. “Nobody’s going to believe me,” thought Strus. So before reaching for the phone to call police, the North Caldwell resident grabbed her camera and stepped out onto her patio to video and photograph the wading bear so that people would know she's telling the truth. “We have urged the residents just to call us and not to feed it,” said North Caldwell Police Chief Mark Deuer. “There’s not really much we could do about it. It’s not doing anything dangerous.”

The parish priest of St. Philomena Church in Livingston stepped down temporarily to defend clergy abuse allegations filed against him and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark. “I tell you today that I have never abused a child,” The Rev. John J. Laferrera said in a letter read to parishioners during services. The men who claim the abuse more than 30 years ago protested on several Sundays outside St. Philomena as well as in Caldwell, where he previously served for 13 years.

After serving as principal for one year, and previously as vice principal at , James Bigsby resigned from the Caldwell-West Caldwell School District. Bigsby accepted a position as principal of Mendham Middle School. He was replaced later in the summer by West Caldwell resident

Calling the renovation a "team effort" and "something that needed to be done", Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced the completion of a project to repair the banks, spillway and weirs of Pine Brook as it passes through .

Caldwell’s adoption of the 2011 municipal budget with a zero percent increase to the tax levy was met with a round of applause. "That's it with a big fat zero," Council President and Finance Committee Member Peter Murray said. "I don't know if any other municipality has been able to put up a zero like this group has done," Councilman and Finance Committee Chairperson Thomas O'Donnell commented.

At the same July council meeting, the governing body announced Caldwell , avoiding plans for the area, known as the "gully", to be subdivided into three, single-family homes. As part of the agreement, the Falonis dropped a lawsuit against the borough. The town made the purchase using funds from Green Acres and the Caldwell Open Space Trust fund.


Private First Class Derek T. McConnell, a 2008 graduate of , sustained life-altering injuries as a result of a roadside bomb in Afghanistan July. In early August, the Friends of Derek McConnell Fund was established to help the wounded soldier and his family. He is being treated at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where his mother, Siobhan Fuller, is at his side.

Caldwell Police arrested a man who they say lived just around the block in connection with the Aug. 2 armed robbery of Fingerprints found at the pizzeria led police to a man who lived on Central Avenue, around the corner from the popular eatery. The investigation began on Aug. 2 after two employees working at Papa John's were robbed at gunpoint. The employees, a delivery person and a counter worker, were preparing an order with their backs to the entrance shortly after the restaurant opened at 11 a.m. when they heard a male voice say repeatedly "get on the ground, get on the ground."

The aftermath following Tropical Storm Irene was like nothing many residents in low-lying areas of Fairfield along the Passaic River basin had ever seen. Mayor James Gasparini encouraged affected residents to evacuate. Those with no place to go were directed to the at West Essex High School. Months later the community is still recovering.

The tremors of a 5.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Virginia on Aug. 23 could be felt around the Caldwells where bewildered residents exchanged phone calls to ask, did you feel that? The earthquake was reported to have occurred outside of Washington, D.C. shortly before 2 p.m., according to the U.S. Geological Survey. More than 380 miles from the epicenter, the quake locally measured 2.2 on the Richter Scale, according to the USGS. The USGS classified the quake in the New York metro area as a category IV which has "light shaking" and "no damage".


With more than 200 parishioners and members of the Parish Council in attendance, His Eminence Metropolitan Evangelos presided over a Church Blessing Ceremony at Ss. Nicholas, Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Roseland in September. The opening of the church marks the final step in the unification of Saint Nicholas of Newark, the oldest Greek Orthodox congregation in New Jersey, and Ss. Constantine and Helen of Orange. The churches merged in 2005 when both were faced with diminishing attendance. The church complex in Roseland was created to serve parishioners who moved out of cities and into suburbs in Essex, Morris and Passaic counties.

Caldwell-West Caldwell Schools Superintendent Daniel Gerardi announced at a September Board of Education meeting that he will say goodbye in June after 27 years with the district. Gerardi, who has served as superintendent since 1984, said his sixth contract will expire at the end of the 2011-2012 school year and he will not seek a seventh contract.

West Essex Regional High School marked the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 by dedicating a memorial garden to two former students who died in the attacks: John P. Salamone, Class of 1982, and Norman Rossinow, Class of 1980. 

In view of the New York City skyline, two 208-foot long walls designed to resemble the Twin Towers lying on their sides create a space for reflection at Empty Sky, New Jersey's monument to those lost in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. James “Rick” Cahill, of West Caldwell, Chairman of the New Jersey 9/11 Memorial Commission, who lost his son, Scott, addressed those gathered at Empty Sky's dedication. “It is a simple, powerful design,” Cahill told Patch.

President Barack Obama waved to a crowd along Passaic Avenue in Fairfield from the back of his black motorcade car as he sped toward Paterson to tour the flood-ravaged city in early September. Crowds of local residents lined parking lots and grassy lawns of businesses along Passaic Avenue to get a glimpse of the president who was accompanied by Gov. Chris Christie, and U.S. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez. "It's a once in a lifetime event for these guys," said Jonathan Pryor of Essex Fells.


Alan Mendez, 16, of Wayne, and Nicholas Sabina, 17, of Fairfield, were killed in early October when officials said they were struck by a train on a Wayne trestle near Route 46. Sabina, a former student of West Essex who was an avid biker, was remembered by grieving students with a before a Knights football game.

After 28 years with the department, Caldwell Police Chief Kurt Dombrowski announced his intent to retire in October. His last day was in November, but he would remain on the payroll through Jan. 1, 2012. After conducting an internal search, the borough appointed as Dombrowski's successor.

After West Caldwell Councilman William "Bill" Payne died late last year, West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta Jr. said Payne would be honored "at the right place, at the right time and in an appropriate manner." That place, time and manner came together on an October night when dozens of friends, family members and local officials gathered in West Caldwell to dedicate a monument to Payne. Payne died last November; he was 76.

After 40 years and countless "happy ending" sundaes, Friendly's in West Caldwell served its final meal this October. The family-style restaurant was loved by area residents for many generations, and served as a gathering place for the young and young at heart.

Trick-or-treating would be tricky this Halloween with power still out around the Caldwells and properties littered with snow and branches, trees and wires downed by an historic snowstorm on Oct. 29. West Caldwell Police Chief Michael Bramhall said he had never seen anything quite like the damage experienced from this unseasonable nor’easter that dumped up to a foot of snow in the Caldwell area. “This is the most amount of damage I have seen from any storm in my 23 years here,” Bramhall said. Schools were closed for days and some residents lost power for as long as a week.


Democrats Frank Rodgers squeaked by their Republican opponents by only a handful of votes to win two open seats on the Caldwell Council. Councilmen Dominick Aiello and Richard Otterbein, both Republicans, ran unopposed in the West Caldwell municipal race. Councilman John Chiaia and Councilwoman Cynthia Santomauro, both Republicans, ran uncontested in North Caldwell.

After multiple unsuccessful runs for a spot on the West Caldwell Council, Leonard Luciano, a Democrat and Acting District 4 Freeholder, narrowly squeaked by Cedar Grove deputy mayor Joseph Chiusolo in a hotly-contested race for a three-year seat on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

The Caldwell municipal race wasn't over on Election night. Republican Councilmen Douglas Piazza and Joseph Norton requested a recount on Nov. 17 after finishing just a handful of votes behind their Democratic challengers, Frank Rodgers and John Kelley, in the Nov. 8 election. The recount would result in the same vote count and the Republicans would not go forward with a challenge.

President Barack Obama approved a major disaster declaration for New Jersey in late November, paving the way for Essex County towns, among others in the state, affected by the late October snowstorm to secure federal funds for costs associated with emergency work and repairs resulting from the unexpected storm. 


A fast-moving fire destroyed the home of an Essex Fells councilman on Dec. 11. About 100 firefighters from several West Essex towns worked through the night in subfreezing temperatures to put out a fire at Councilman John King’s home at 145 Devon Road. The King family escaped the home safely, as did family and friends who were at the house for a surprise birthday party. The fire was ruled accidental.


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