Lawsuit Filed To Force Christie DEP To Release Development Plans For Liberty State Park

August 31st, 2015 No comments

Privatization of Planning for Public Parks

NJ Future Conducts Covert Privatization Planning With Christie DEP

Now it’s getting interesting.

In the latest development in the controversy over the Christie Administration’s scheme to privatize and commercialize Liberty State Park, on Friday, a Jersey City resident filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit to compel DEP to release public records on Park development plans.

Scott Fallon of the Bergen Record first reported that the Christie DEP paid NJ Future, a private planning group, $120,000 to develop plans for privatizing the park.

On July 14, 2015, NJDEP denied an OPRA request for the NJ Future report to DEP made by plaintiff, William P. Bednarz, of Jersey City.

What could the Christie DEP and NJ Future have to hide?

Mr. Bednarz is represented by attorney Howard Moskowitz, who wrote: (boldface emphases mine)

As set forth in the June 2, 2014 $120,000 Grant Agreement, also attached, the NJF report was to “detail[] findings and recommendations for Liberty State Park” in pursuit of “NJDEP’s goal to have LSP increase revenue and become financially sustainable,” including, among other matters, “[r]evenue projections for any suggested” development, a “list of potential developers/contractors,” and a discussion of “[p]otential issues and risks of recommendations.” The contract provides that NJDEP “facilitate” meetings between NJF’s consultant and undefined “LSP stakeholders.” Attachment A, at 1, 2.

The report was necessary, according to the grant agreement, in light of NJDEP’s “realiz[ation] that the State lacks the entrepreneurial expertise to design and effect[uate] those changes.” Id. at 1.

In short, the New Jersey Future report is a manual on how to monetize and commercialize Liberty State Park in implementation of Governor Christie’s plan to “save” New Jersey’s state parks, announced in November 2011, entitled “Sustainable Funding Strategy for New Jersey State Parks.”

The report is a government record “subject to public access” under OPRA as a “document that has been received in the course of the State’s official business.”

I got a real kick out of this DEP “realization”:

“realiz[ation] that the State lacks the entrepreneurial expertise to design and effect[uate] those changes.” Id. at 1.

Of course DEP Parks lacks entrepreneurial expertise to privatize – their job is to manage parks in the public interest for the enjoyment of visitors, not to make profits!

Once again, Christie’s privatization policy and DEP Commissioner Bob Martin’s “transformation” initiative to radically change DEP’s mission to “promote economic development” are shown to be absurd.

Based on my own successful litigation experience with OPRA, they have a strong case and are very likely to win.

Public release of the NJ Future Report to DEP is critical, because NJ Future was obviously acting on behalf of the Christie DEP in privately planning for private park development. DEP used NJF to avoid public scrutiny.

Now DEP is compounding that abuse by trying to cover the whole thing up by denying access to public records.

NJ Future should be ashamed of themselves for conducting covert planning for NJ’s most popular State Park.

According to the DEP’s contract with NJ Future, NJF was required to submit a Report that:

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So, what were NJ Future’s “recommended activities that can produce revenue”?

What aspects of the Park were “attractive” “to revenue producing developers, contractors and concessionaires”?

What “developers/contractors” did NJ Future identify?

What areas and buildings at LSP did NJ Future recommend developing?

What “revenue projections” did NJ Future generate?

What “stakeholders” did NJ Future interview and consult?

The public demands answers!

Shame on both NJ Future and the Christie DEP for a covert strategy to avoid public involvement in park planning and for their craven revenue driven privatization scheme.

Mr Moskowitz was kind enough to provide the contract documents – sorry I have no links, but they are available upon request.

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Christie Subaru Subsidy Creates Camden Corporate Compound

August 30th, 2015 No comments

“Gateway District” Is Segregation By Design

An Archipelago of Harsh Private Spaces

Clueless Conservationists Provide Political Cover: “Beg For Rain Garden”

The Philadelphia Inquirer story about the Christie Administration’s most recent corporate subsidy to relocate Subaru from nearby Cherry Hill to Camden prompted me to take the challenge laid down by architectural critic Inga Saffron: (Changing Skyline: It’s What Makes Subaru A Tax Dodge):

Should any employees be adventurous enough to commute by PATCO, the River Line, or NJ Transit bus to the Walter Rand Transportation Center in downtown Camden, they will face almost a mile’s walk along the mini-highway of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Only 65 percent of Camden adults have access to cars, so the lack of transit hits them hard. Bike paths and new transit stations have been promised, but in some vague, far-off future.

So, being an adventurous cyclist and semi-trained dabbler in urbanism, I hopped on the Riverline with my bike and headed down to Camden to see the new Subaru site. Here’s what I found.

Urban Design Fail

The Inquirer critic was harsh, but actually understated the conditions I saw:

To hear state and city officials tell it, Subaru’s decision to take up residence in Camden is the first step in establishing a vibrant new urban district on the edge of downtown. But what it really does is import sprawl into a city hungry for density. And New Jersey taxpayers will be the ones to pick up the tab for this wasteful, antiurban land deal.

When suburban companies make the move into cities, they typically bulk up in height to fit in with their urban compatriots. Not so here. Subaru will leave a relatively tall building (seven stories) in the suburbs for a shorter one (four stories) in the city. Subaru’s new home, sized for 600 employees, will be a lonely island in an asphalt sea containing 1,031 parking spaces. […]

The entire 13-acre Gateway District, which includes the Subaru project, is being developed by Brandywine Realty Trust, the company responsible for the cluster of glass towers at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. It’s pitching Gateway as Camden’s answer to the Navy Yard. If so, it’s a poor-man’s version, with no meaningful street grid, no inclusion of interesting older buildings, no aspiration for true urbanity.

The phrase “aspiration for true urbanity” got me thinking that over 50 years ago, in the classic 1961 self described “attack on city planning and rebuilding”, Jane Jacobs emphasized “the intimate and casual life of cities” in setting forth her own groundbreaking observations and principles of what makes cities work – observations obviously lost on the Christie Camden Crew:

One principle emerges so ubiquitously …. is the need of cities for a most intricate and close grained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support. … Cities are fantastically dynamic places, and this is strikingly true of their successful parts, which offer a fertile ground for the plans of thousands of people. ~~~ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”

I don’t think I could find anything further from Jacobs’ principles than what I saw in Camden’s “Gateway District”.

Instead, I found the nightmare James Kunstler wrote about 32 years later in his 1993 book “The Geography of Nowhere”:

Thirty years ago, Lewis Mumford said of post-World War II development, “the end product is an encapsulated life, spent more and more either in a motor car or within the cabin of darkness before a television set.” The whole wicked, sprawling, megalopolitan mess, he gloomily predicted, would completely demoralize mankind and lead to nuclear holocaust.

It hasn’t come to that, but what Mumford deplored was just the beginning of a process that, instead of blowing up the world, has nearly wrecked the human habitat in America… the everyday landscape becomes more nightmarish and unmanageable each year.

Most recently, Chris Hedges nails it in his 2012 book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt”. Chapter 2 “Days of Siege” focuses on Camden:

Camden sits on the edge of the Delaware River facing the Philadelphia Sky-line. A multi-lane highway, a savage concrete laceration, slices through the heart of the city. It allows commuters to pass overhead, in and out of Philadelphia, without seeing the human misery below. We keep those trapped in our internal colonies, our national sacrifice zones, invisible.

So, in light of that Jacobs – Kunstler – Mumford – Hedges context, let’s take a look at the Subaru “Gateway District” site – it’s obviously been selected as an easy in and out location for car commuters using I-676: camden2

But, as Hedges notes, the Subaru development is actually worse than car dependent sprawl being imported into the City.

It will create another gated private corporate compound –

Campbell’s Soup already is a secured, gated, artificially landscaped, and fenced compound for suburban commuters that virtually screams “urban gangsters get lost” – the guard at the gate even told me NOT to take photographs “from their sidewalk”:
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I might as well have been in the Green Zone in Baghdad.

But Campbell’s is not an anomaly – as I tried to make my way back to the Walter Rand Transportation Center, I came upon Cooper Hospital, the next compound, see:

And then I came upon Rutgers, another compound – an archipelago of restricted private space intentionally separate from the City of Camden and its people – note the appeal to “New Loft Offices” and on the building in the background to gentrifying “Lux Loft Living”: camden3

And this gated corporate world is driven by a racist logic.

Corporate Subsidies Bypass the Hood

While millions of dollars flow into corporate subsidies like the Subaru deal – Camden’s collapsing neighborhoods and the people who live there are left behind:

camden

Conservationists in the City 

In addition to the warped urban vision, the urban design fail, and the corporate subsides, the Inquirer story raised the important issue of the role of conservationists in the city.

During the open space debate, I criticized that role as opportunistic, manipulative, self serving, and basically racist.

Opportunistic photo-ops with black children in urban parks and political events with urban leaders in the run-up to a self serving Open Space ballot question is way over the top in my book.

But the Inquirer story reveals a whole other level of what could be described either – at best – as naive and ill informed co-optation, or perhaps more accurately as actively complicit in providing political cover for Gov. Christie’ corporate anti-urban agenda, while extracting the benefits of Foundation funded feel good tokenism:

As a company, Subaru has gotten a lot of mileage out its reputation for environmental responsibility. Yet here, it seems oblivious to those concerns. The New Jersey Conservation Foundation has been begging the company to include the same rain gardens Subaru has in Cherry Hill to help control flooding on Admiral Wilson. A request for a bike-trail connection to Gateway Park has also gotten little traction.

Oh boy. Where to start?

When rain gardens and bike-trail connections become the “public interest” “advocacy” benchmarks of revitalization of our cities – efforts funded by NJ’s largest Foundations – then something has gone horribly, horribly, wrong.

Which takes me to my parting shot.

Sustainable Shills

I have been critical of the “sustainability” crowd – the recent post on Woodbridge being the latest example of the fraud that parades under the “Sustainable NJ” banner, a fraud generously funded by NJ Foundations and NJ corporations, as well as the Christie Administration.

For those criticisms, I’ve gotten pushback and harsh criticism from a handful of SNJ fans, especially from a woman named Lori Braunstein. Well, well – I’ve been told that Lori’s husband is Brad A. Molotsky of Brandywine Trust.

Well, it looks like money talks and the Sustainable crowd – the folks that provide all that political cover for Christie – apparently doesn’t walk that walk:

The entire 13-acre Gateway District, which includes the Subaru project, is being developed by Brandywine Realty Trust, the company responsible for the cluster of glass towers at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. It’s pitching Gateway as Camden’s answer to the Navy Yard. If so, it’s a poor-man’s version, with no meaningful street grid, no inclusion of interesting older buildings, no aspiration for true urbanity.

Good God these folks are loathsome.

my Surly couldn't find the Greenway

my Surly couldn’t find the Greenway

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Take a Look At NJ’s #1 Ranked “Sustainable” Town

August 28th, 2015 No comments

What’s Wrong With Woodbridge?

Sewaren Sacrifice Zone

Mayor is “doing a heck of a job!”

PSEG Sewaren plant on Arthur Kill, Woodbridge NJ

Dead tree tellingly forms foreground of PSEG Sewaren plant on Arthur Kill, Woodbridge NJ

In reading the news coverage of the new PSEG gas power plant, I was stunned by Woodbridge Mayor McCormac’s remarks in support of the project, where he bragged about issuing local approvals for a project in just one hour of just one hearing: (mycentraljersey.com)

The approval process for the plant was simplified by the township’s Technical Review Committee, said Woodbridge Mayor John E. McCormac.

“We’ve really focused on economic development and companies know that they will save a lot of money and time dealing with Woodbridge government,” McCormac said. “There is typically  just one hearing before a board. You’re done in just over an hour.

“Woodbridge Township fully endorses PSE&G’s proposed project, and welcomes continued economic investment at the Sewaren site.”

McCormac’s love for PSEG is reciprocal:(from the NJ.com story)

It is a true win for Woodbridge and the state, not just adding to the reliability of the energy grid, but creating jobs, tax revenues and general economic activity to the region, “Rich Lopriore, president of PSEG Fossil, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Woodbridge Township to move this project forward.”

Coincidentally, I just was reading Steve Fraser’s book “The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power“. The book begins by reviewing how and why mass protest movements arose and waged a class war to challenge the abuses of the 19th Century Guilded Age robber barons and trusts, “envisioning a new world supplanting dog eat dog capitalism”.

But Fraser asks why today there is no such response to far worse abuses of corporate power and even deeper disparities in wealth and income.

Fraser argues that there was an across the board surrender by progressive forces in labor, politics, and government that betrayed the vision and values of the New Deal. Democrats betrayed labor and progressive values in favor of Wall Street finance and corporate money. Instead of seeking economic justice, progressives made peace with and affirmatively embraced capitalism, selfishly pursued individual careers over collective social interests, and worshipped corporate power and free market individualism.

Mayor McCormac, a McGreevey Democrat, sounded like a perfect example of the betrayals Fraser noted.

So, I took a ride up to Woodbridge on Tuesday to see for myself what kind of town would allow a Mayor with that kind of pro-corporate arrogant disregard for his community’s participation to remain in power for so long.

When I returned home, a reader must have read my mind because I got an email advising me of the fact that Woodbridge scored the highest of any NJ town in Sustainable NJ’s ranking – with 870 points! Yay! (read the full SNJ Report, it’s a hoot. And don’t miss the role of the politically connected consulting firm “Greener By Design”).

So, let’s take a look at NJ’s #1 sustainable town and see what kind of town they are:

The kind of town that puts an oil company advertisement on a rusty sign leaving town:

Motiva corporate logo

Motiva corporate logo

The kind of town that put a children’s playground in a “buffer” (the word “buffer” was on the park sign) between an oil tank farm and a residential neighborhood – I could smell the hydrocarbons, so I challenge Mayor McCormac to say this place is safe for kids:

thankfully, it appeared that parents and kids know enough to stay away from this park

thankfully, it appeared that parents and kids know enough to stay away from this park

The kind of town that allows young children and families to fish in waters where it is unsafe to eat fish and shellfish, but posts no warning signs or consumption advisories:

fishermen told me they eat bluefish and bass caught off this pier in a local park. No warning signs were posted.

fishermen told me they eat bluefish and bass caught off this pier in a local park. No warning signs were posted.

The kind of town that puts a park next to a power plant (I previously thought the NJ DOT’s “scenic rest stop” along I-295 was bad!)

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The kind of town that has power lines everywhere and zones land for residential “multifamily” housing development adjacent to power line ROW:

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multifamily housing in powerline EMF field

multifamily housing in powerline EMF field

The kind of town bisected by bomb trains, oil & gas pipelines, refineries, oil & gas tank farms, chemical plants, tanker truck depots, The NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway (is there another town with more VMT?), the massive “Port Reading Business Park” with housing built all along the “Industrial Highway” access road from the Turnpike, and countless other visual and chemical assaults:

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The kind of town that shoehorns an elementary school between the NJ Turnpike and a power plant:

that's the NJ Turnpike sound wall just a hundred feet away in background.

that’s the NJ Turnpike sound wall just a hundred feet away in background.

The kind of town that builds high density residential housing along a heavily truck trafficked “industrial highway” to it’s shiny new – and almost empty – corporate Port Reading distribution center. This is incredibly poor planning:

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millions of square feet vacant in new 2.75 MSF distribution center

millions of square feet vacant in new 2.75 MSF distribution center

How anyone can call any of this “sustainable” is absurd.

While traveling along the “Industrial Highway”, you’all stay “fit and well” now! It would be hilarious if it weren’t so monstrously corrupt.

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PSEG To Climate Concerns: Screw You!

August 24th, 2015 No comments

Another New Fossil Power Plant

Christie’s Energy Policy In Action

Today, the day that the public comment period closed on the Christie BPU Energy Master Plan (EMP) update, PSEG announced that a new fossil fueled power plant will be built in Woodbridge (the second one), see:

Those boys at PSEG have some sense of timing, eh?

So much for public planning – it was nothing more than a choreographed charade. PSEG made it absolutely clear about who calls the shots on energy policy. And announced on an ozone non-attainment day to boot!

[The fact that the announcement was made public in response to the project clearing the PJM Auction is proof positive that so called “free markets” rule – as a result of deregulation, government has no power in controlling energy production. Democracy is sacrificed completely to the greed of the private market.]

(to give you a sense of the corruption, this was the Star Ledger’s headline of the story announcing the first one:  Christie, Sweeney tout bipartisanship at groundbreaking of Woodbridge energy plant.)

Of course, the Star Ledger wrote the story entirely off the PSEG press release, and ignored the EMP, climate issues, or public health threats related to ozone non-attainment and ultra-fine particle emissions or fracking.

According to PSEG, it will be a 540 megawatt plant, fueled by natural gas (fracked) with back up oil fuel.

We’re sure, given the “diverse portfolio of clean in state generation” touted by PSEG – the rationale PSEG used to spend $1.3 BILLION of ratepayer money on dirty dinosaur coal plants in Mercer and Hudson Counties – that even if BPU had jurisdiction over the plant (which they don’t as a result of Whitman deregulation), they would make the same kind of finding they did in support of the BL England gas plant – both BPU and DEP are rubber stamping virtually any fossil infrastructure that the private sector would finance based on the Christie EMP policy:

EMP

The PSEG announcement today amounts to a huge FUCK YOU to citizens and climate advocates, who just turned out in droves to demand that BPU accelerate conversion to renewables and impose a moratorium on new fossil fueled pipeline infrastructure and power plants.

Here’s the note I wrote the reporter for his stenography – with a copy to editorial board chief Tom Moran, my homie who once left the Ledger to work for PSEG:

Hi Anthony – you should report the context of today’s announcement, which amounts to a huge middle finger to the public

1) the public comment period closes today on BPU’s Energy Master Plan revisions.

Hundreds of people attended and most all testimony demanded more renewables (wind & solar) and a moratorium on new fossil fuels.

PSEG’s announcement is either extremely arrogant and oblivious or an intentions slap in there face to the public and environmentalists.

2) New science suggests that natural gas is as much as a global warming fuel as coal is, when lifecycle emissions are considered.

3) NJ fails to meet the Clean Air Act’s health based ozone standard and EPA is about to lower it to 60 ppb.

This plant will make that problem WORSE. That means more asthma attacks for NJ kids, more deaths of NJ seniors, and far worse air quality in NJ cities.

4) the plant is designed to use OIL as a backup fuel.

Do a followup story, please!

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DEP Water Supply Plan Still Buried In Gov. Christie’s Office

August 24th, 2015 No comments

DEP Stonewalls the Water Supply Advisory Council – Again

DEP Managers Chastise Council For Their Public Criticism

New “Asset Management” Program Killed In Its Cradle

The NJ Water Supply Advisory Council (WSAC) held its regular monthly meeting at the DEP building on Friday. Here’s a quick note on what transpired:

Water Supply Plan Update Remains Stalled In Gov.’s Office

The WSAC recently embarrassed DEP Commissioner Martin and Governor Christie, by inadvertently publicly releasing a private letter to DEP Commissioner Martin expressing their frustration with long delays in public release of the Water Supply Master Plan Update and their inability to review the latest draft of the Plan.

That letter generated embarrassing new coverage, see:

That episode led to a discussion during the May 15, 2015 WSAC meeting, in which DEP Assistant Commissioner Kennedy admonished the WSAC – (following is verbatim from the minutes approved on Friday):

  • This letter was meant to be the Commissioner (sic) and never intended to be public… AC Kennedy does not know why the WSP has not come out yet.
  • Individual members, or other entities, could write letters to the Governor seeking action on the plan, but this should not come from the Council as a whole.
  • AC Kennedy informed the Council that parts of the WSP cannot be released to them at this time.

On Friday, the DEP staff to the WSAC reiterated that the WSP Update was still in the Governor’s Office for review and they were not authorized to talk about it.

Asset Management Initiative Stalled By Industry Opposition To DEP Regulation

With much fanfare, the DEP rolled out its new “asset management” initiative way back in 2010:

The proposal grew out of the Christie Administration’s infrastructure asset management and financing” initiative discussed at last October’s Clean Water Council annual public hearing at DEP.  BPU President Lee Solomon spoke at that hearing – see: Clean Water Council Considering Privatization

Since then, it’s been nothing but talk – and pushback by the private water companies and public water authorities who strongly oppose new DEP regulations mandating costly asset management requirements.

In response to a question from the WSAC Chairman, at Friday’s meeting, DEP staffers briefed the WSAC on the current status of the asset management initiative, basically signaling that industry opposition to a regulatory initiative had successfully killed it in its crib.

DEP refused to answer direct questions from industry representatives about whether the initiative – a staff strategy recommendation is now pending before Commissioner Martin – would be regulatory or rely on voluntary industry measures.

With passage of water infrastructure privatization, the last thing the industry wants are mandates from DEP telling them how to manage their “assets”.

“Resilience” Initiative Remains To Be Fleshed Out

The Christie DEP has talked a big game about new “resilience” requirements for water infrastructure, designed to respond to the devastation Sandy wrought on ill prepared water and sewer systems.

But the water supply industry and public utility members of the WSAC seem to be out of the loop of these conversations – either that, or like asset management, the resilience initiative is more hot air than substance.

After an extremely vague “briefing” on ongoing resilience efforts by DEP staff, WSAC members expressed concerns with the costs and feasibility of any new resilience efforts and opposed ant DEP regulatory mandates.

The Chairman concluded that resilience “is not a burning issue right now” (that is a direct quote).

How soon they forget.

Legislation on Gov.’s Desk to Mandate Drinking Water Quality Institute Develop Recommendation for TCP

DEP staffer Steve Doughty – a longtime DEP spinner who knows how to avoid a minefield, keeps his head low, and  stay on script –  briefed the WSAC on the passage of a bill that would require the DWQI to make recommendations on an MCL for 1,2,3 Tri-chlorpropane, a known carcinogen.

Doughty would not respond to my question about whether the Commissioner recommended that the Gov. sign the bill –

Seeming to appease the water purveyors, he highlighted the fact that DEP sought amendments (that gutted the bill) and also sought to downplay the significance of the bill, noting that DEP was still in charge of the MCL process. He also was not aware of the deadline in the bill for DEP action on the DWQI recommendation.

Pinelands Ecological Limits Discussed

During the public comment session, I advised the WSAC about the status of the Pinelands Commission’s regulatory initiative to develop ecologically based thresholds for water withdrawal.

I asked the USGS representative what the Pinelands contract to develop hybrid HUC’s was all about and its scientific rationale. The USGS rep was not familiar with this project and promised to report back next time.

The Pinelands Commission representative at the meeting los was not able to respond.

I asked DEP whether their approach in the WSP Update and the pending water allocation rules would consider ecological thresholds explicitly, as doe in the Pinelands initiative.

DEP staff replied that the DEP’s “Stream Low Flow Margin Method To Assess Water Availability in NJ’s Water-Table-Aquifer Systems” included surrogates for ecological stressor based withdrawal thresholds.

It will be very interesting to see how these technical methods are translated into policy in the WSP Update and the upcoming water allocation regulations.

This is a critical issue to keep on top of.

Dupont and DEP PFOA In National Media Spotlight

I advised the WSAC and DEP that 2 recent national media reports provided a critical focus on NJ DEP:

Both are must read stories I will be writing about, having worked on and written about both of them for years now.

[In fact, over 6 years ago, we broke a big part of the NJ PFOA story reported in the Intercept piece by disclosing DEP emails by Commissioner Jackson, see:

Our work was essentially stolen without attribution.

Cannonsville Dam – We Dodged a Bullet

DEP staff briefed the WSAC on the behind the scenes exciting story about the Cannonsville Dam (see NY Times coverage).

One thing I was surpassed by was that the original dam design and contraction did not anchor the dam in bedrock, apparently a mere 30 feet from the current bottom (I’m no engineer, but it sounded like this was a huge design error).

Although this story got virtually no play in NJ, we really dodged a bullet – a dam breach would have caused a massive flood, equivalent to a 500 year storm all the way down the Delaware to Trenton!

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