Pinelands Developments – Black Run Watershed, MOA Reform, New Sewer Plans, and More

April 25th, 2015 No comments

The Pinelands Commission’s Policy and Implementation Committee met on Friday to discuss several matters (agenda and packet).

After the meeting, the new Ad Hoc Committee to reform the MOA process met for the first time. Here’s a quick summary of what went on.

1. Black Run Watershed Plan

This plan is important well beyond the Black Run watershed because it will define and serve as the Commission’s model for sub-regional planning. The Commission is calling this a “pilot project”.

Conceptually, the plan is seriously flawed because it is a trading scheme and is not driven by the Pinelands Act mandate to preserve Pinelands resources and only allow “compatible development” based upon scientific criteria and resource protection standards.

Serious flaws in the plan include:

  • fails to apply environmental constraints and thereby greatly overestimates development potential of the lands targeted for preservation;
  • fails to consider environmental constraints on lands targeted for development;
  • waives T&E survey requirements and PDC’s for lands targeted for development;
  • fails to consider water supply and wastewater infrastructure capacity or impacts;
  • fails to consider impacts of development on Pinelands periphery – e.g. new growth area located adjacent to preserved forest.

Given the significance of this plan as a model and the serious flaws, I can’t understand why I am the only one who has even commented on it.

I wrote about the plan previously (see this for details).

It is a complicated plan, but it basically involves re-designation of about 4,000 acres of forest from rural development area to forest area, reducing allowable density and development potential, and creating a new 175 acre regional growth area to build some 325 units. The new growth area is designed to compensate landowners for the development potential that would be reduced by the forest area re-designation.

Last time, the plan was tabled and staff was asked to provide an additional briefing on the development of and elements of the plan.

Keep in mind that at the prior meeting, staff found that

  • the current rural development designation “does not reflect the ecological value of the area”
  • the current rural development designation ”continues to create unrealistic development expectations
  • a Forest Area resignation would reflect the current CMP standards for Forest Area

Yesterday, staff provided an historical overview of how the Evesham – Medford plan – which is the basis for the current plan proposed by staff – originated.

The 2006 Evesham-Medford plan was subsequently adopted by Evesham in its Master Plan and approved by the Commission via Resolution,  but it was never implemented in Evesham zoning ordinances or CMP changes. There was a brief discussion of the lack of progress in implementing the plan.

It was obvious that the Evesham- Medford plan was a response to development proposals at the time that threatened to fragment forests and degrade water quality.

Given that development pressure at the time (AKA “investment  backed expectations”), the Commission was forced to compromise and come up with a plan that allowed property owners to profit from the allowable development potential.

But that hot real estate market does not exist right now and there are no pending development applications before the Commission. The Commission is not under pressure to compromise and therefor should base any new plan on existing criteria and science, not development expectations that drove the 10 year old Evesham-Medford plan.

Commissioner Ashmum supported the plan. Commissioner Prickett noted the plan was funded by the ‘prestigious” Wm. Penn Foundation. Commissioner Galletta raised several concerns and opposed inclusion of the on-site wastewater system option to serve new development in the new designated growth area.

After a brief discussion and without public comment, the Committee approved staff’s recommended “Option 3″, but without the option for an on-site community wastewater system with about a 90,000 GPD capacity (according to Larry L, I could not find that number in the plan itself) (see staff’s presentation). That plan also would waive T&E survey requirements and Pinelands PDC credits in the new growth area.

The only wastewater option would be via a pipeline connection to Voorhees or Evesham sewer treatment plant – both not very likely and not cost effective.

Both wastewater options would be inconsistent with restrictions on wastewater infrastructure in Forest Areas. So the plan is inconsistent with the CMP! 

My sense is that the Commission thinks that there are so many barriers to development of 325 units in the newly designated growth area that it will not happen, meanwhile the forest re-designation will.

This is a dishonest game.

The plan is flawed and a lousy deal – I support option 2, which is to correct an historical error and re-designate the land as Forest area.

There is no need to “balance” this re-designation with new growth because the forested lands should never have been designated rural growth area to begin with. There is no need to “compensate” landowners because development expectations are not reasonable as a result of environmental and regulatory constraints on this land.

Those forested lands should never have originally been designated rural development area. Based on current Pinelands criteria, they meet Forest Preservation area standards.

The land development potential in the currently designated rural development area was overestimated as 325 units. However, environmental and regulatory constraints  - wetlands, stream buffers, and T&E habitat – would not allow anywhere near that amount of development. 

I criticized the plan “horse trading” not planning, because the primary objective is to create a development trading scheme to compensate landowners, not preserve Pinelands resources and allow compatible development based on existing scientific criteria of ecological value.

The next step appears to be a CMP amendment authorizing this plan as a pilot program. We’ll keep you posted.

2. Independent review of T & E surveys

There was a good discussion of flaws in existing T&S survey requirements with respect to the role of consultant’s for developers. Under current requirements, those surveys are prepared by consultants who work for the developers, raising conflict of interest and scientific bias concerns.

PPA and NJ Audubon and others are seeking to have independent experts, who report to the Commission not the developer, prepare or review T&E surveys, and have the applicant pay for those services, much like the current practice of local development reviews where developers pay into an escrow fund to support independent reviews.

Staff was criticized for working to find ways to block these reforms instead of working to make them happen. No decisions were made or commitments to future action.

3. MOA reforms – just don’t mention “South Jersey Gas pipeline”

The new Ad Hoc MOA reform Committee met for the first time.

The good news is that Chairwoman Ashmum reversed her prior prohibition on public comment.

The bad news is that Chairwoman Ashmum seems to think that these reforms can be accomplished without rule making. Here’s what transpired:

Staff provided a briefing on the origin and purpose of the MOA mechanisms. The MOA was included in a package of 1994 rule amendments. The objective was to make it easier to obtain approval for projects that conflicted with the CMP but served a public purpose. Historically, those kind of projects were not able to meet the waiver of strict compliance standards, which require demonstration of a “compelling public need” and that there be “no alternatives”.

Several members outlined their concerns and there seemed to be a consensus that the focus of reforms be on:

  • provide the Commission with early involvement
  • limit eligibility to public entities;
  • establish better definition and restriction of “public purpose” to the Pinelands;
  • extending the public comment period; and
  • developing science based standards to enforce the current “equivalent protection” standard.

There was no agreement on whether “public utilities” or State entities like BPU representing a private for profit like South Jersey Gas, could be eligible for a MOA.

Commissioner Avery objected to any rule making.

Commissioner Lloyd suggested that there may be legal problems in trying to implement any new MOA scheme without adopting them procedure as a regulation.

I spoke and supported the overall objectives, but added that

1) the Commission should impose a moratorium on any consideration of any MOA’s pending adoption of new rules to strengthen current MOA regulations, like the DRBC moratorium on review of fracking applications; and

2) strongly disagreed with Chairwoman Ashum’s intent to avoid regulations – the MOA is a regulatory review procedure, so new rules are required (as Lloyd suggested).

3) I objected to the Committee’s plan to meet in closed session with Pinelands Commission staff.

The Committee seems to be bending over backwards to avoid admitting that mistakes were made during the SJG MOA and to block the public from criticizing that process or ED Wittenberg & Counselor Roth’s actions – or opening Pandora’s Box by discussing interactions with the Governor’s Office.

4. DEP addition of 13,000 acres in new sewer service areas

Fred Akers spoke during the public comment period and raised concerns about DEP’s proposed approval of County Water Quality Management Plans that would add 13,000 acres of new sewer service areas (SSA) in the Pinelands (see the DEP public notice).

Fred said he had reviewed portions of the Atlantic County maps and found cases where the DEP would allow sewers in forest and other protected areas.

Staff immediately interjected and contradicted Fred’s claims – staff said they had done detailed reviews and that all new SSA are limited to designated growth areas that allow sewers under the CMP.

Fred disagreed and urged the Commission to loook closely at the SSA maps with respect to CMP requirements.

The DEP will hold a public hearing on May 13 at the Pinelands Commission building.

I was blown away by this and the fact that  Fred had to bring the issue to light during a public comment period.

The staff never, to my knowledge, discussed this or even mentioned it as a heads up to Commissioners.

Unreal.

I spoke briefly to say that I was blindsided by this and although did not have the opportunity to look at the SSSA maps, I raised concerns about the Christie DEP’s statewide policy to increase the size of sewer service areas to promote development, including revising SSA maps to include environmentally sensitive lands that previous DEP administration’s had eliminated from SSA’s.

More to follow.

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Did You Ever Think Life Would Turn Out Like This?

April 17th, 2015 No comments

 A Different Kind of Emergency Fundraising Appeal

life

[Update – 4/19/15 – I am absolutely blown away by the tremendous outpouring of support! Just over the weekend, my $1,000 goal has almost been met. THANK YOU!!! Check status or contribute here.

That goal was based upon an immediate need to generate cash to renew my blog server host, plus 1 year’s internet service. As I noted, I am in a financial hole and lacked the money to do that.

I discovered this fundraising tool on Friday from a group of University of Virginia students that were fundraising for an anti-fracking bike tour (see: Atlantic Coast Pipeline Resistance Ride), and after reading that appeal, in my financial desperation, I thought I’d try a Hail Mary.

So, given the incredible support, I am going to expand my fundraising objectives – until I find paid work, perhaps fundraising can help dig me out of the hole I’m in.

I filed 6 month extensions for my state and federal taxes, which I estimate at about $4,000 and I am about $11,000 in arrears on my mortgage, which my bank just began foreclosure on.

So, my next goal will be $15,000 over the next 6 months with the objective to pay my taxes and mortgage arrears.

This goal might be more realistic if I ask for smaller contributions from more people – perhaps just $5 – $10 instead of the big checks people are writing.

I can understand if people are not comfortable with this – because instead of Keep WolfeNotes alive, it’s turning into Keep Wolfe Alive.

But if this works out, perhaps it can be the means of replacing a salary and I can do Wolfenotes as a full time gig. ~~~ end update.]

Look, I’m not going to write some perky upbeat Foundation formulated bullshit about seeking support for an informed, highly credible, expert, and independent voice that holds the powerful accountable, supports grassroots activism, shapes media and policy narratives, and tells the truth as he sees it (while being effective and influential at the same time).

My experience suggests a darker perspective.

Regular readers here know what I try to do. Hopefully, I’ve provided something of value to you. I think its unique and something that no other source provides.

If so, I am now asking that you give back a little to help me over a rough spot. Given the traffic at this site, a small contribution from just 25% of readers could provide funding to support my efforts.

So, readers have three choices at this point: 1) hit the delete button now; 2) go directly to my fundraising site and make a contribution; or 3) read on and decide how to proceed.

My current situation reminds me of a crushing scene from the 1978 movie “Deer Hunter” – a film I both love and hate for reasons too complex to discuss here – between Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro where Streep’s character says (watch the whole scene):

Did you ever think life would turn out like this?

And, as he pulls off in his old Cadillac, De Niro tersely responds:

No

Well neither did I.

That’s about where I’m at right now.

I never  thought that at 58 years old, I’d be broke and on the verge of homelessness.

I never thought –  in what should be the height of my professional career –  that after an Ivy League graduate school education, followed by a 13 year career in State government and 17 years in the non-profit sector as an environmental advocate, that I’d be unemployed – perhaps unemployable – and facing foreclosure and homelessness.

Guess you could say that I’m at my George Bailey moment.

This is the precarious position of many men of my age, skill set, and ideological disposition. The news calls it long term unemployment.

I call it expendable.

After being a whistleblower and working for PEER for a decade and mashing everyone’s toes, there’s not exactly a huge demand for my professional services – in the private or public sectors.

Whether I’m a victim of the modern age, whether I’m just a total failure as a human being and professional, or whether this is an opportunity to experience what Allan Watts called “the wisdom of insecurity” – remains to be seen.

So, that’s all a round about way to begin a very awkward and humiliating form of internet begging.

For many years, I’ve kept this website free of advertising and fund raising.

Since 2005, in my capacity as NJ PEER Director and blogger here, I’ve focused on the work and freely gave my time and expertise to numerous citizen groups – never asking for or expecting anything in return.

But now I am desperate. Here’s whats going on.

PEER is in financial crisis and they laid me off back in October 2014. I was unknowingly reclassified as an independent contractor and was denied unemployment benefits, a decision I am currently appealing.

I’m flat out broke, have not paid the mortgage, and am facing foreclosure.

Those that are be interested in financially supporting my work can make a contribution at this fundraising site.

I would love to be financially secure enough to write what I’d like to, whatever the consequences,  as I have done on this blog.

But that kind of truth telling gets many people pissed off.

As my friend Scott Olson recently tweeted, speaking truth to power is not free.

I formed the NJ Chapter of PEER in 2005. Since then, I’ve tried to support citizens across the state in their efforts to promote public health and protection of the environment.

I think I’ve provided information and analysis that has assisted grass roots activists and the professionals in well funded environmental groups.

I wish I could say that those NJ groups and the NJ based environmental grant making foundations supported my work.

But, over time, that support has withered from little to none – all while totally ineffective groups and campaigns have been well funded.

So, if you appreciate a different point of view that tries to support arguments with facts and distributes relevant information widely, then share the love – make a contribution.

If I can make this work, I’ll expand the Wolfenotes efforts and do this full time, providing more information and reporting on more issues.

Sorry to have to humiliate myself and grovel like this. Believe me, I do this as a last resort.

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DEP Budget Hearing – Martin Bobs & Weaves; No Blows Landed By Dems

April 16th, 2015 No comments

Senator Barnes Blasts Commissioner Martin on Exxon Settlement

Martin Refuses to Answer Exxon Questions or Provide Details on NRD Program

Budget Restores Damaging Deep Cuts Created By Open Space Ballot Question

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin testifies to Senate Budget Committee - (Asst. Commissioner for Financial Mgmt on left) (4/16/15)

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin testifies to Senate Budget Committee – Adrian Kreke (ph?) Chief Financial Officer (on left) Can someone please tell Martin not to use the water bottles? (4/16/15)

[Update below]

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin presented Governor Christie’s proposed FY’16 DEP budget today to the Senate Budget Committee.

Before we discuss what went down, for those interested, here are the key documents:

Here are the key issues that were discussed today – I’ll be very brief because I’ve written about most of this stuff and folks that want a blow by blow they can listen to the tape (link above). Disappointed that very little press in attendance – only one!

  • Restoring Cuts Due to Open Space Ballot

For those who are either in denial about the chaos created by the Keep It Green (KIG) Open Space Ballot Question or legitimately still seem to not understand the dual problem effecting the DEP budget and the Open Space fund allocation, you no longer need to take my word for it, Commissioner Martin highlighted the problem at the outset of his testimony:

DEP FY'16

Get that? Is it sufficiently clear? If not, let me repeat:

… because the shift in CBT allocation as authorized by the voters, the Administration had to move money around to avoid damaging cuts to several environmental programs.

Martin’s oral testimony was even more stark, which I present in some detail:

Mr. Chairman, I want to address the challenges faced by DEP following the passage of the Constitutional amendment last year, which changed the dedication of the Corporate Business Tax (CBT) revenues.

As you know, the amendment shifted the allocation of a dedicated 4% CBT funding within the environmental categories.

It took money away from such vital programs as the publicly funded hazards waste site cleanups and from water resource management, shifting those funds to acquisition and stewardship of open space, farmland and historic preservation.

.. we do not want to lose money in these programs of water and publicly funded cleanups.

To prevent that from happening, the administration structured this budget proposal within the parameters of that [CBT] amendment. …

We accomplish this by using CBT funds designated for stewardship to fund the operation and management of our parks and wildlife management areas, as well as providing much needed resources for capital investments.

I believe that this is both fiscally responsible and consistent with  the language of the [CBT] amendment.

I’ve been saying this for many months, but if the Christie DEP – who seeks to downsize DEP – is complaining of “damaging cuts to environmental programs”, you can be damn sure those cuts are real.

Amazingly –  for those that still may not understand this – those “damaging cuts to environmental programs” – were caused by conservation and environmental groups, who never told the voters about any of that in their $1 million propaganda campaign in support of the open space ballot amendment.

Equally important is the fact that because DEP had to restore those cuts, that’s why there is significantly less money available for open space, historic preservation, and farmland preservation programs.

That is another fact and major strategic mistake that the KIG coalition refuses to own up to and take responsibility for. The public still knows very little about this and the press continues to fail to report it.

  • Climate Change Denial

Senator Greenstein chastised Martin for abolishing the DEP Office of Climate Change, abandoning work by prior Administrations on climate emission mitigation planning and adaptation, and noted that NJ was the only state on the Atlantic coast that does not have a Climate Adaptation Plan. She asked Martin point blank: what is the State doing to address sea level rise and climate change?

Martin immediately angrily shot back, in a totally inappropriate manner, attacking the questioner:

Well, can I guess who the question came from?

Yeah Bob, I’ve been writing about that for years now. So has the NJ and national press corps. It is a fact, dude.

But that did not stop Martin from spinning a response, that bordered on incoherent babble:

There is no Office closed around climate change, or whatever. We still have our Office of Sustainable Resources within DEP – part of that continues to look at and monitor everything from carbon emissions and everything that’s around that, so, we continue to do those activities.

Not really. The rest of his response was lame.

  • EXXON NRD Settlement
Senator Barnes blasts martin

Senator Barnes blasts Martin

Chairman Sarlo gently questioned Martin’s comparison of Exxon to other NRD cases and his claim that Exxon was the largest NRD settlement ever. He asked about why all the gas stations were included. And opposed diversion of the Passaic settlement.

Senator Barnes was much more aggressive and focused in his questioning and he absolutely blasted Martin (see Politicker NJ story: Barnes blisters Martin on Senate Budget Committee

Barnes gets an A for effort, but he really didn’t land a good punch on the merits.

Senator Greenstein noted the difference between restoration and remediation and pressed Martin about the work that will not get done because of receiving just $225 million of $8.9 billion in NR damage. She questioned Martin’s inclusion of the 860 gas stations.

Martin gets an F – he was highly evasive and got testy.

Martin used the excuse of pending litigation to avoid answering questions – that is pure bullshit, because he and the Attorney General issued a press release praising the deal and, as Senator Barnes noted, the Settlement is now open for public comment.

  • Regulatory Relief – 200 Cases Settled by DEP Office of Dispute Resolution
Senator Oroho (R-ALEC)

Senator Oroho (R-ALEC)

Senator Oroho (R-ALEC) asked Martin the typical red meat regulatory question.

Martin gave the administration’s stock spin on bureaucratic streamlining and cutting “job killing red tape” (Martin was able to steer clear of these slogans that have been used to support his policies).

But he did note something new of significance: Martin said 200 cases had been settled by his Alternate Dispute Resolution program.  That Office cuts deals on disputes involving DEP permit conditions and enforcement actions.

It is a back door for polluters to negotiate behind closed doors and cut sweetheart deals with DEP political appointees that they can’t get with DEP regulators and professionals.

We previously tried to find out what was going on in that Office, but DEP denied out OPRA request, see: DEP Dispute Resolution – Deals Done in the Dark

Perhaps an intrepid reporter might want to file and OPRA and see what those 200 deals look like – we’re sure there’s not another Exxon.

  • Van Drew Promotes Pinelands Pipeline & South Jersey Economic Development

Senator Greenstein asked Martin about his views on the Pinelands pipeline by South Jersey Gas.

Martin replied that he supported the pipeline and that he submitted a DEP letter in support of the pipeline.

I didn’t know this and find it very inappropriate for an Agency head to be lobbying on behalf of a regulated entity’s project before another regulatory agency.

Martin’s view is that the pipeline would be good for the environment – i.e. that the route was along existing ROW, only a handful of trees would be taken, re-powering BL England would provide air quality improvements, and there is a need for new energy source in South Jersey.  He sounded like the lobbyists for SJG!

He then supported fracking too.

Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May)

Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May)

Later, Senator Van Drew was smoking the crack pipe. He was pushing the SJG Pinelands pipeline, defending the Millville Durand tract deal, and supported all sorts of south jersey development and fisheries concerns. To his credit, he did seek more DEP resources and help on Delaware Bay.

DEP Commissioner Martin was very friendly in response. Martin knew more details about fishing pots and reefs than the Exxon deal.

  • Liberty State Park

 

Senator Cunningham

Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson)

Senator Cunningham presssed Martin on DEP’s Liberty State Park plans, and specifically asked when DEP would release the $120,000 consultant’s Report on privatization and commercialization of the park.

Martin refused to make a commitment about when he would release the Report, defended the Governor’s “Sustainable Parks Strategy”, and downplayed privatization concerns.

But Cunningham made it very clear that this was an important issue for her and her constituents.

  • Millville – Durand Tract

Senator Barnes asked a good question from Emile DeVito of NJCF about the Millville Durand tract Green Acres deal.

For details on that, see: Christie DEP Blasted For Open Space Land Diversion “Perversion”

Martin was unfamiliar with it and spoke in broad strokes about a “deal”.

Senator Van Drew jumped in to defend the deal and promote economic development.

Conclusion

Other than a few sparks from Senators Barnes and Greenstein, the hearing was just a song and dance, with little likely to come from it.

I got no sense that the Democrats would fight for any of the policy or budgetary issues they tepidly raised.

Other than Barnes, there was no umbrage taken by Martin’s multiple manipulations and spin – and very few followup questions to challenge him.

The OLS analysis and questions to DEP were not focused on the policy or performance of the DEP, so legislators were poorly prepared.

Environmentalists were present, but appeared to have little influence on the Democrats (other than Greenstein) and the Republicans were just AWOL (with the exception of Bucco, who jumped in to defend Martin on Exxon).

There was only one state press corps present, Phil Gregory, so I guess the DEP is just not on the political or policy radar of NJ media.

Sad.

(and it appears that KIG has had a bad influence on Barnes and Greenstein, in particular regarding the definition of “stewardship” and denial about the DEP program cuts caused by the ballot question).

[PS – a legislative insider told me this:

When Phil Gregory is the only press guy here, you know that you’re fucked ]

[Update: 4/17/15 –  NJ Spotlight drank the KIG Kool-aid. Or is it the Foundation grant money?

Spotlight used the DEP Senate budget hearing – where at least a dozen controversial and newsworthy issues were discussed – to write about just one issue: open space (read the story here).

They spun that issue as a “diversion” of open space funds, and framed the story exclusively from the perspective of the Keep It Green Coalition, providing no conflicting facts about how the open space ballot diverted existing CBT revenues for core DEP programs: State Parks; water resources; and toxic site cleanup.

Here is Scott Olson’s comment on the Spotlight story, which says it better than I have:

Tom Gilbert’s statement “If the will is there, they could find it in another way’’ is completely disingenuous. The same could have been said about the open space funding…if there was a will, there was a way it could (and SHOULD) have been done without screwing over State Parks funding, historic preservation funding, or the numerous DEP clean water & public health programs that were robbed by a million-dollar disinformation campaign waged by ‘Keep It Green’ on the November ballot question. Well meaning people who are now finding out that when they voted ‘Yes’ on Open Space, they also voted to defund these programs are now enraged – while Gilbert and his merry band of thieve continue their attempts to raid the fund for ‘stewardship’ dollars for their own elitist organizations. Shame on them.

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Tax Day Note: Longstanding Efforts To Squelch The Commoners

April 15th, 2015 No comments

From The Magna Carta to Occupy Wall Street, Power Crushes Democracy

paine13

Today is Tax Day.

Just as I was having my coffee this morning to stimulate the juices for filing my taxes on time, I was thinking about a topic to write about, perhaps a variant of my prior “Tax Day Essay: On Civil Disobedience” or the themes outlined in “Taming Democracy”  – these are the kind of notes I like to post on big days.

Then along came today’s NJ Spotlight Daily Number to prompt a topic.

Spotlight’s Daily Number summarizes findings of a Stockton University report that polls show an abysmal lack of knowledge of the US Constitution and the Supreme Court. This one in particular caught my eye:

10 percent of adults could not name any of the rights of the first Amendment (speech, religion, assembly, and press).

Say what? No mention of the right to petition government for redress of grievances? (something I’ve done many times over many years!)

Shockingly, in a story complaining about the lack of knowledge of the US Constitution, the Spotlight story – and the Stockton University Report it was based on – left out a big piece of the First Amendment: the right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances”.

But then I realized that I was shallow on knowledge of the history of that Right, so I did a quick Google to get a thumbnail  glimpse of the history and came across this gem, much of which I was not aware:

“The right of petition recognized by the First Amendment first came into prominence in the early 1830’s, when petitions against slavery in the District of Columbia began flowing into Congress in a constantly increasing stream, which reached its climax in the winter of 1835. Finally on January 28, 1840, the House adopted as a standing rule: “That no petition, memorial, resolution, or other paper praying the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, or any State or Territories of the United States in which it now exists, shall be received by this House, or entertained in any way whatever.” Because of efforts of John Quincy Adams, this rule was repealed five years later.213  For many years now the rules of the House of Representatives have provided that members having petitions to present may deliver them to the Clerk and the petitions, except such as in the judgment of the Speaker are of an obscene or insulting character, shall be entered on the Journal and the Clerk shall furnish a transcript of such record to the official reporters of debates for publication in the Record.214 Even so, petitions for the repeal of the espionage and sedition laws and against military measures for recruiting resulted, in World War I, in imprisonment.215 Processions for the presentation of petitions in the United States have not been particularly successful. In 1894 General Coxey of Ohio organized armies of unemployed to march on Washington and present petitions, only to see their leaders arrested for unlawfully walking on the grass of the Capitol. The march of the veterans on Washington in 1932 demanding bonus legislation was defended as an exercise of the right of petition. The Administration, however, regarded it as a threat against the Constitution and called out the army to expel the bonus marchers and burn their camps. Marches and encampments have become more common since, but the results have been mixed.

The powers that be have long sought to stifle the organizing and squelch the voices of the commoners and tame democracy.

The dissenters and commoners have struggled to resist. As this recent US Supreme Court case demonstrates, these are not stale historical matters, but lively raging current debates (see this for the Court’s decision which just so happens to deal with a public employee’s rights with respect to government’s retaliation for exercising those rights, something we have direct first hand experience with!)

So read the history here - it’s a far better investment of time than doing your taxes!

Then organize and petition your government!

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An Open Letter to the NJ Legal Community

April 14th, 2015 2 comments

People Are Harmed By Government’s Failure to Hold Powerful Corporations Accountable

Dear NJ Lawyers:

The Bergen Record reported today about a man who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident and won a $2.5 million lawsuit because the State Department of Transportation knew about the unsafe conditions for years and failed to act or warn the public about the problems, see:

Route 23 long known as a dangerous road

Smetana’s lawsuit proved what people in northern Passaic and Bergen counties have guessed for years: The northbound section of Route 23 in West Milford is dangerous. The S-curves there, just under two miles long, were the site of 470 accidents between 2004 and 2014, according to the West Milford police.

What’s more, internal documents and emails uncovered by Smetana’s lawsuit show that transportation department officials knew about the danger since at least 2001, but did nothing to address it until after his accident. Since then, the agency has installed dozens of signs warning motorists to slow down through the curves. …

In depositions and internal documents, DOT officials including William Day, who in 2011 was acting manager of the DOT’s Bureau of Safety Programs, and Frank Basek, a maintenance crew supervisor, said they knew about dangerous conditions along the road. The department did little to fix those conditions due to its limited budget, Day said. …

The improvements did not change the fact that officials appeared to have known about Route 23’s problems years before Smetana’s accident, but did little to address them, court records show. Smetana sued on those grounds, and won.

“When hundreds and hundreds of people are getting hurt and they don’t fix it for years, it’s outrageous,” said Jack Hoyt, the attorney in Morristown who represented Smetana.

Yes, that certainly is outrageous and I am pleased that Mr. Smetana was compensated for some of the harm he suffered as a result of government’s failure to act or warn the public about known risks that were causing accidents for many years.

But Mr. Smetana’s case is hardly unique.

There are similar conditions and far worse risks present in hundreds of communities across New Jersey, where scientists and EPA/DEP regulators are aware of known risks and injuries due to the presence of toxic chemicals.

And the more troubling failures are when government failures involve the regulation of private corporations, as opposed to the far simpler case where government owns and is responsible for transportation infrastructure.

One case in particular is Pompton Lakes, where residents of approximately 450 homes have been poisoned by chemicals seeping into their basements and homes from the Dupont site.

See this timeline prepared by NJ DEP regarding who knew what and when they knew it.

The timeline was obtained by Edison Wetlands Association staff during a file review at DEP under OPRA.

I am baffled by the fact that there are no lawsuits for that assault and government’s failure to warn the residents of those homes for many years, just like the NJ DoT failed to act.

There also is potential fraud and deception involved, see: F is for Fraud

Here is an LTE to the Record that makes the point which I post here in the event that Record editors do not publish it:

Dear Editor:

Reporter Chris Maag did a fine job on your Rt. 23 story – an excellent example of real journalism

One thing I was struck by was the fact that government (DoT) knew about the problem and failed to act or warn the public about it.

Your reporters might want to talk to residents of Pompton Lakes, who are outraged by the fact that US EPA and NJ DEP knew, since 2001, of “vapor intrusion” toxic pollution migrating into their basements and not only failed to warn them about it, but actively worked with Dupont to keep the problem below the public’s radar. I have an EPA email that reveals that.

It gets worse: the residents only found out about the vapor intrusion risks AFTER they signed a settlement agreement with Dupont that surrendered their legal rights to sue Dupont.

A few months after the ink was dry on that settlement agreement, Dupont, EPA and DEP disclosed the existence of the vapor intrusion problems to residents – about 450 homes are impacted.

I guess it’s a lot easier to see the harm from an amputated leg than to observe the various cancers and other illnesses the people of Pompton Lakes have suffered due to their exposure to cancer causing chemicals seeping into their homes for decades from the Dupont site.

Where is the justice in that? Where is the lawsuit? Where is the investigative journalism?

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