“Let Us Go – Doubly Open – Into The Sea of Cortez”

September 2nd, 2014 No comments

The man with the pickled fish

One of the highlights of my California tour was a visit to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas.

Initially disturbed by confronting the ghastly modernist architecture totally out of place with the region and the author’s writing, I was pleased to enter into the exhibits and immerse in Steinbeck’s works.

After spending the morning, I toured the Valley, then drove out to Monterey.

Since returning, I’ve gone back and started re-reading, beginning with Cannery Row.

Last night I opened The Log From The Sea Of Cortez and, after the homage to Ed Ricketts, was just blown away by the superb Introduction, one of the finest summaries on the scientific method and ways of seeing the world, thinking, travel, and living I’ve come across. Here’s an extended excerpt of that:

The Design of a book is the pattern of a reality controlled and shaped by the mind of the writer. This is completely understood about poetry or fiction, but it is too seldom realized about books of fact. And yet the impulse which drives a man to poetry will send another man into the tide pools and force him to try to report what he finds there. Why is an expedition to Tibet undertaken, or a sea bottom dredged? [...]

We have a book to write about the Gulf of California. We could do one of several things about its design. But we have decided to let it form itself: its boundaries a boat and the sea; its duration a six weeks’ charter time; its subject everything we could see and think and even imagine; its limits – our own without reservation.

We made a trip into the Gulf; sometimes we dignified it by calling it an expedition. Once it was called the Sea of Cortez, and that’s a better sounding and more exciting name. We stopped in many little harbors and near barren coasts to collect and preserve the marine invertebrates of the littoral. One of the reasons we gave ourselves for this trip – and when we used this reason, we called the trip an expedition – was to observe the distribution of invertebrates, to see and record their kinds and numbers, how they lived together, what they ate, and how they reproduced. That plan was simple, straightforward, and only a part of the truth. But we did tell the truth to ourselves. We were curious. Our curiosity was not limited, but was as wide and horizonless as that of Darwin or Agassiz or Linnaeus or Pliny. We wanted to see everything our eyes would accommodate, to think what we could, and, out of our seeing and thinking, to build some kind of structure in modeled imitation of the observed reality. We knew that what we would see and record and construct would be warped, as all knowledge patterns are warped, first, by the collective pressure and stream of our time and race, second by the thrust of our individual personalities. But knowing this, we might not fall into too many holes – we might maintain some balance between our warp and the separate thing, the external reality.The oneness of these two might take its contribution from both. For example, the Mexican sierra has “XVII – 15 – IX” spines in the dorsal fin. These can easily be counted. But if the sierra strikes hard on the line so that our hands are burned, if the fish sounds and nearly escapes and finally comes in over the rail, his colors pulsing and his tail beating the air, a whole new relational externality has come into being – an entity which is more than the sum of the fish plus the fisherman. The only way to count the spines of the sierra unaffected this second relational reality is to sit in the laboratory, open an evil smelling jar, remove a stiff colorless fish from formalin solution, count the spines, and write the truth “D. XVII – 15-IX.” There you have recorded a reality which cannot be assailed – probably the least important reality concerning either the fish or yourself.

It is good to know what you are doing. The man with the pickled fish has set down one truth and has recorded in his experience many lies. The fish is not that color, that texture, that dead, nor does he smell that way.

Such things we had considered in the months of planning our expedition and we were determined not to let a passion for unassailable little truths draw in the horizons and crowd the sky down on us. We knew that what seemed to us true could be only relatively true anyway. There is no other kind of observation. The man with his pickled fish has sacrificed a great observation about himself, the fish, and the focal point, which is his thoughts on both the sierra and himself.

We suppose this was the mental provisioning of our expedition. We said, “Let’s go wide open. Let’s see what we see, record what we find, and not fool ourselves with conventional scientific strictures. We could not observe a completely objective Sea of Cortex anyway, for in that lonely and uninhabited Gulf our boat and ourselves would change the moment we entered. By going there, we would bring a new factor to the Gulf. Let us consider that factor and not be betrayed by this myth of permanent objective reality. If it exists at all, it is only available in pickled tatters or in distorted flashes. “Let us go” we said “into the Sea of Cortez, realizing that we become forever a part of it; that our rubber boots slogging through a flat of eel grass, that the rocks we turn over in a tide pool, make us truly and permanently a factor in the ecology of the region. We shall take something away from it, but we shall leave something too.” [...]

We determined to go doubly open so that in the end we could, if we wished, describe the sierra thus: “D. XVII-15-IX.” but also we could see the fish alive and swimming, feel it plunge against the lines, drag it threshing over the rail, and finally eat it. And there is no reason why either approach should be inaccurate. Spine-count description need not suffer because another approach is also used. Perhaps out of the two approaches, we thought, there might emerge a picture more complete and even more accurate than either alone could produce. And so we went.

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Not Too Bright In Sea Bright NJ – Christie Attempt to Hold Back The Sea A Costly Exercise in Futility

August 29th, 2014 No comments
Sea Bright, NJ

Sea Bright, NJ

New Jersey was really a giant science experiment,” he’d told me.  “New Jersey was the home of some of the first vacation spots and one of the first places to arm their beaches. Thanks to New Jersey we learned that any sort of hard stabilization—sea walls, groins, and jetties—was very damaging to the beach.  We learned that the damage occurs just by building something fixed by the beach—could be a highway, for instance. The problem of beaches is that they are eroding and always moving.  The beach tends to move toward that fixed thing and get narrower and narrower and narrower until it disappears altogether.” [...] Duke University emeritus Professor Pilkey, quoted in “Hurricane Sandy: Rebuilding Is Madness”

 

Many areas also suffered devastating flooding with recorded stages in the tidal rivers as high as +13ft NAVD88. In the downtown portion of Sea Bright alone there are over 150 structures (125 residential and 25 non-residential) with elevations of +5 ft NA VD88 or below that were subject to flood depths of 8 ft or more from the Shrewsbury River. Low lying areas along the Shark River and Manasquan River were also subject to extensive flooding through the inlets.  [...]

It is important to note all of the projects addressed in this section are located on barrier islands except for one, Ocean Gate, NJ, which is on the mainland bay shoreline in Barnegat Bay. The barrier island projects were also subject to flooding from the unprotected back side of the island. None of these projects were designed to reduce back-bay flooding.    US Army Corps of Engineers – Sandy Damage Assessment

The Army Corps of Engineers reports that Sea Bright suffered major flooding to low lying structures from tidal rivers and back bays and that sea walls are not designed to protect back bay areas on barrier islands.

What does the Christie administration do with that analysis?

Gov. Christie announced construction of another sea wall, this time along a 1,000 foot stretch of highly vulnerable beach in Sea Bright, (see DEP press release).

Historically, the existing sea wall routinely has suffered damage from coastal storms and it was severely damaged, overtopped, and breached by Superstorm Sandy.

You can read the local boosterism that politically persuaded the Christie Administration to build the project here - notably absent from that local boosterism is any recognition of the reality of climate change or sea level rise vulnerabilities.

That’s why it is boosterism and not planning.

Real planning is based on science and data, not political theater and economic development interests.

I could cite dozens, but here’s just one example – here is Gov. Christie on the question of future storms: (Star Ledger, 8/29/14)

“What we’re doing here is something that’s planning for incidents like Sandy, although I suspect we’ll never see anything quite like that again,” the governor added.

Here’s how a Rutgers planning study that looks at Sea Bright: Adapting to Climate Change in Coastal Monmouth County (2012)

  • Due to climate change, there is an increasing probability of recurring storm events in the future. 
  • Sea Bright’s barrier island geography presents significant development limitations
  • Sea Bright is subject to frequent flooding (especially during spring high tide)

At a cost of $8.5 million of State funds, the project is a huge waste of taxpayer money.

As another example of denial of climate change and an accommodation to local boosterism, politics, and economic development, it is an abdication of governing and rational public policy.

We’ve previously written about why sea walls don’t work and how they displace and make coastal erosion and flooding problem worse in other places, see:

We’ve quoted Rutgers scientists and flood management experts regarding why sea walls fail to prevent back bay flooding, a problem they call NJ Shore’s “achilles heel”.

We’ve illustrated other states’ coastal management programs that discourage sea wall construction.

Sea Bright is particularly vulnerable to back bay and river flooding, as the Google maps photo above reveals.

I was unable to find an online document of the design of the proposed sea bright sea wall, but I can almost guarantee that the design basis is the 100 year storm and that it does NOT consider climate change and sea level rise. Accordingly, the project is under designed and surely will be over-topped by storm surge waves, damaged, or breached by future storms.

Engineered structures are designed based upon an event, e.g. the 100 year or 500 year storm. But scientists have observed that historical storm frequency and intensity statistics are no longer valid as a result of climate change, which will increase the severity and the track (or wind and wave/surge patterns) of coastal storms and the storm surge elevations and locations.

Climate change is also driving sea level rise, which has a significant impact of storm surge elevations and intensity.

A US Army Corps of Engineers performance evaluation found:

Hurricane Sandy was an extraordinary storm, particularly in the coastal areas extending from Cape May, NJ to Montauk Point, NY. Peak water levels indicate that Hurricane Sandy was at least greater than a 200 year event (1 in 200 annual exceedance probability), greatly exceeding project design levels. 

[Actually, at the Sea Bright location, Table 8 shows that Sandy 16.5 foot elevation was a ">500 year" storm.]

Even USACE recognizes that sea walls merely “reduce damage“, they do not prevent it and that sea walls do nothing to even reduce back bay flooding:

In many locations, heavily developed areas on the bayside of many projects (and non- project areas) were subject to back-bay flooding and wide-spread inundation damage. Projects in these areas were not authorized or formulated to comprehensively manage flood risks from the back-bay. These bayside areas remain vulnerable to future flooding and sea level rise. 

Let’s repeat that: “bayside areas remain vulnerable to future flooding and sea level rise.”

The USACE concludes that a broader strategy is required:

Delivery of more comprehensive protection to affected coastal areas requires a broader approach to the investigation and planning of flood and coastal storm damage reduction projects that includes consideration of potential flooding of back-bay reaches of barrier islands among other concerns. Provision of increased levels of flood risk reduction may increase the cost of projects, so evaluation of such projects will be based on economic benefits, as well as other factors such as reduced risk of mortality and capacity for a resilient recovery.

More see walls do not make the NJ shore more resilient.

They just create a false sense of security and lock taxpayers into a costly losing game of pumping sand on the beach and repairing storm damage.

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NTSB Issues Scathing Final Report on Paulsboro Toxic Train Derailment

August 28th, 2014 No comments

NJ State & Local Officials Harshly Criticized for Lack of Preparation & Poor Response

DEP Responders Look Out For Their Own, While Misleading Public on Health Risks

DEP “will not be responding until the area is secure”
page83image59960

From day one, we strongly criticized the emergency response, the limited evacuation, and especially the false and misleading information provided by government officials to the media and the community about the health effects and risks of the chemicals involved.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued their Final Report on the Paulsboro toxic train derailment (I strongly recommend that you read the full Report here).

There is particularly important information buried in the chronology presented in Appendix B, which I will focus on today.

As we previously outlined, the Report presents a devastating critique of multiple failures by Conrail as well as federal, state, and local regulators and first responders. However, the Report ignores or superficially presents some important issues, and the recommendations fall short on the needed strong statutory and regulatory reforms.

The NTSB Report also vindicates our multiple criticisms – which went unreported by the media in real time – with one exception.

We knew that emergency responders were providing incomplete and at times false information about the chemicals and health risks involved and had failed to evacuate the exposed community as required by federal guidelines.

But, because some of this false information appeared to have come from incident Command, we (mistakenly) assumed that those mistakes were made by the CTEH, a consultant to the incident Commander (The US Coast Guard), or the US EPA.

The NTSB suggests that that was not the case, that the early errors came mainly from local fire and police emergency responders, and the Department of Environmental Protection. We apologize to CTEH and EPA for our mistaken assumptions.

So, I thought I’d focus on a few of the more egregious failings and issues, most of which are being misrepresented or ignored in press coverage – via excerpts of the NTSB Report. In some cases, media coverage is so bad, it is making heroes out of those that should be villains, pilloried, and held accountable.

  • Initial false reports needlessly exposed community  - compounded by DEP errors that downplayed risks

The NTSB found:

About 7:30 a.m., police radio transmissions suggested that the vapor cloud was “nontoxic.”  The police then changed the evacuation orders from mandatory evacuation to shelter-in-place. The police department did not become aware that vinyl chloride had been released until 8:30 a.m., just before the first incident command briefing. The situation was further confused when, at 10:30 a.m., the NJDEP publically (sic) announced that the hazard had dissipated. Therefore, the community protective measures were based on incorrect information about the released material.

…  The NTSB concludes that the dissemination of inaccurate public information about the release of vinyl chloride revealed the lack of an effective system for communicating to the public accurate information about the current situation following the accident.  (@ page 41)

Let’s be very clear about what went on here.

1) The local police made a huge mistake. On the basis of that mistake, they reversed an evacuation order and failed to evacuate the community. This error resulted in emergency responders and the public being exposed to high and unsafe levels of extremely toxic vinyl chloride gas that could lead to irreversible and permanent health effects, including cancer.

2) The DEP – unlike the local police, who are supposed to be experts – made a erroneous public announcement that had no scientific basis and contradicted their own experts and available data (more on that when I discuss the chronology from Appendix B).

[Note: Because the NTSB Report chronology was limited to the first 24 hours, it fails to report additional false and misleading information distributed to the public and the press by DEP.]

  • NJ State government has abdicated to incompetent local government

The NTSB analysis of State oversight of local efforts, State Hazard Planning, and State government’s emergency response delicately dances around the responsibilities and role of State government and existing State government programs and resources.

They compound this weakness by ignoring the policy of the Christie administration with respect to regulatory oversight, enforcement, and delegation to local government.

NJ has important and relevant State laws, programs, and resources to manage chemical safety and emergency response that are far broader and stringent than federal laws, including NJ’s Right to Know Act, Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act, and Spill Compensation & Control Act.

DEP cut its teeth and established nationally recognized expertise, credibility, and a leadership reputation in emergency response, risk communication, risk assessment, risk management, and chemical safety – from the Chemical Control fire to the Napp Technologies explosion.

These State laws, programs, and resources are completely ignored in the NTSB Report.

Worse, NTSB misleading portrays NJ’s “home rule” tradition as an inflexible function of State law instead of a voluntary choice of policy, a practice of State abdication that is exacerbated by Gov. Christie’s anti-regulatory, antigovernment, and hand off local delegation policy expressed by Executive Orders #2 (“regulatory relief”), #3 (“red tape”), and #4 (no State government imposed “unfunded local mandates”).

NTSB was highly critical of the NJ State Office of Emergency Management, including their failure to oversee local emergency management plans, which is something we have written about several times, in the context of Sandy, Bakken crude oil shipments, and the Paulsboro derailment.

NTSB found:

These statistics indicate that many communities in the state still do not have NJSP-OEM-approved EOPs and that these communities are likely unprepared for emergencies that could occur in their jurisdictions, as was the Paulsboro community. This problem is  amplified by New Jersey home rule laws that keep authority for managing an incident at the lowest local government level, thus discouraging regional and state authorities from intervening in an incident, even when faced with obvious response deficiencies.

… The NTSB concludes that had the borough of Paulsboro [or NJ OEM] performed an assessment of the emergency response needs and capabilities for the hazardous materials that are present and transiting through its community, it would have been apparent that the emergency response capabilities and plans were inadequate for the types of high consequence incidents that can occur in the jurisdiction. (@ p.51-52)

The NTSB fails to note that is Christie policy that “amplified” NJ’s “home rule” tradition.

This NTSB finding on State oversight should drive changes to strengthen NJ State law to put OEM firmly in charge and to better define emergency preparedness, planning, and response requirements.

  • EPA and DEP failed miserably

Despite the fact that both US EPA and NJ DEP were on scene for several hours and were fully aware of the hazards posed by the vinyl chloride gas plume, the NTSB Report found:

Fact-based decisions regarding the community exposure did not occur until the unified command was established at 1:00 p.m., when the federal on-scene coordinator directed more information to be gathered about community exposures. (@ p.42)

EPA and DEP were on scene before 9 am and fully aware of hazardous conditions (see chronology in Appendix B).

Yet they sat back and failed to over-ride serious local errors – other than to make things worse by DEP’s providing false information – as local officials made mistakes, misled the public and the press, and allowed emergency responders and the community to be needlessly exposed.

  • DEP failures were the result of a “protect our own” first – the hell with the public mentality

I was sickened by reading these excerpts in the response chronology provided in Appendix B. They show that DEP knew about risks but cared more for their own staff than the community.

According to the chronology, DEP first learned of the accident at 7:40 am – why did it take 40 minutes to notify DEP?

DEP then responds as follows, showing utter disregard for public safety and a selfish disposition to “protect their own”:

courage2

courage3

page83image59960

page83image60120Too bad the public and the press and local emergency responders didn’t have the info that DEP had.

So much for the hero myth about running into the burning building. DEP “will not be responding until the area is secure”.

  • Despite major flaws in voluntary & local programs, NTSB fails to recommend strong regulatory measures

In a section of the report about private industry “voluntary” programs, NTSB recognized the huge risks in Paulsboro and expected that officials would recognize these risks, but failed to do so:

Like many small fire departments throughout the country, the Paulsboro Fire Department was unprepared for large-scale hazardous material emergency responses. The frequency of hazardous materials train traffic through the borough would have suggested a higher level of awareness and preparedness. The firefighters need to understand how to respond to incidents involving such hazards and advise the community on whether to evacuate or shelter in place if a release does occur. (@p.47)

But NTSB did not address state responsibilities or recommend that these voluntary programs be made mandatory via regulation, despite this finding:

In addition to TRANSCAER, many railroads have their own voluntary outreach and assistance programs for emergency response organizations in the communities along their routes. However, these programs are usually limited to emergency responders, not the public. Furthermore, the voluntary programs seldom include requirements for evaluating the efficacy of these programs. (@p.48)

Despite recognizing effective mandatory federal risk management and emergency planning requirements (e.g. EPCRA), the NTSB regulatory recommendations did not consider expansion of these program, but instead relied on far weaker pipeline safety programs:

The NTSB recommends that PHMSA require railroads transporting hazardous materials to develop, implement, and periodically evaluate a public education program similar to that required for pipeline operators under 49 CFR Parts 192.616 and 195.440 for the communities along railroad hazardous materials routes. 

Despite these incredibly strong findings, NTSB failed to recommend that this massive loophole be closed:

Unlike stationary or fixed facilities, railroads transporting hazardous materials are not required to work with communities to develop emergency plans. A fixed facility with a threshold quantity of a material designated as an extremely hazardous substance, as defined under 40 CFR 355, has significant obligations to the LEPC for both emergency planning and release notification.43 The facility emergency planning responsibilities include providing emergency planning notification to the LEPC and SERC, providing an emergency coordinator who will participate in the local emergency planning process, providing notice of any changes occurring at the facility that may be relevant to emergency planning, and, most importantly, providing any information necessary to develop and implement the emergency plan. This information typically includes the type and quantity of the hazardous materials as well as other relevant data.

Although EPCRA defines “facility” to include railroad rolling stock, Congress provided the following exemption (U.S.C. 2009):

Except as provided in section 11004 [Emergency Notification] of this title, this chapter does not apply to the transportation, including the storage incident to such transportation, of any substance or chemical subject to the requirements of this chapter, including the transportation and distribution of natural gas.

Therefore, railroads are exempt from the EPCRA requirements to work with local emergency responders and the LEPCs or SERCs for emergency planning. 

The absence of any federal requirements for railroads to assist with local emergency planning leaves communities unprepared for hazardous materials releases. The issue is even more significant when the threshold quantities that trigger the EPCRA emergency planning regulations are examined. The threshold planning quantities for hazardous chemicals used at a fixed facility are often several orders of magnitude less than quantities that are routinely transported through these same communities, frequently to or from the regulated facility. For example, the fixed-facility threshold planning quantity for chlorine is 100 pounds. The train that derailed in Paulsboro was transporting four tank-car loads of chlorine (each with approximately 180,000 pounds of chlorine), more than 700,000 pounds. Although chlorine was not released in this accident, it could have been since it was in a tank car only 14 cars behind the last derailed tank car.

NTSB largely confined their analysis to hazards from “train traffic”, thereby inexplicably ignoring larger risks from the massive chemical industrial complex in the region.

  • Local emergency response officials were not only poorly trained and equipped, the REFUSED training

NTSB found that local officials were poorly trained and state oversight was ineffective:

The NTSB concludes that the New Jersey firefighter certification and training requirements were not effective as demonstrated by the failure of emergency responders to conduct operations in accordance with established health and safety protocols and OSHA HAZWOPER standards, and their lack of familiarity with available tools to evaluate toxic exposure threats.  (@p.46)

But this is even worse – totally incomprehensible to me – and heads should roll for this irresponsible negligence:

Railroads, including Conrail, express frustration with local emergency responders for a lack of participation in railroad- or TRANSCAER-organized training events. Prior to the accident, TRANSCAER of New Jersey held several free tank car training sessions in and around GloucesterCounty. Training was held at Woodbury RailYard in GloucesterCounty on April 20–21, 2012, 7 months before the accident. This training was sponsored by the Dow Chemical Company, which teamed with Norfolk Southern Railroad, Conrail, the Firefighters Education and Training Foundation, the Chemical Transportation Emergency Center, and many other local supporting agencies to make this educational opportunity available to local responders. However, no members of the Paulsboro Fire Department attended that training.

Someone needs to be held accountable for refusing free training. 

  • Continuing Failure of Political Leadership

Worse, this negligence was essentially rewarded by local Assemblyman Burzichelli, who shamelessly attacked NTSB and even after the Final Report was released, again attacked NTSB and defended incompetent local officials:

“The NTSB should be a shamed of themselves for ascribing their names to that report,” said Burzichelli, a Paulsboro native and the borough’s former mayor.

It’s Burzichelli who should be ashamed – for selling out his own people and cowering to chemical corporations.

  •  Regulatory and liability reforms ignored

There are risk management and community hazard planning reforms that can be implemented without legislative change in existing DEP regulatory programs (e.g. TCPA, RTK, EPCRA, Spill Act)  - including those similar to the grave to grace approach to the off site transportation scheme required for shipments of hazardous wastes. OEM can beef up local and county requirements as well.

Other reforms, like eliminating the liability cap on accidents require legislation.

All of these were ignored by NTSB.

More to follow on this set of issues.

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DEP Press Office: Run By Twisted Freaks

August 27th, 2014 No comments

Attempt To Divert From Hurricane Risks Is Deeply Offensive

[Update below - Gov. Christie's PR team also tried to change the subject]

Hurricane Cristobal is moving up the Atlantic Coast, and experts are warning the public about dangerous rip tides, which killed a man in nearby Ocean City, Maryland.

A teenaged swimmer is drown right here in NJ, at Sandy Hook.

Tragically, it just so happens that the youth was swimming in an area not guarded by lifeguards.

[Update 8/28/14 - I just read that he wasn't swimming he was knocked down by a wave. So, DEP's implied blaming of the victim is even worse]

So, just hours later, fully aware of the situation and the risks to the NJ shore, what does the DEP press office do?

They issue a self serving press release LIFEGUARDED BATHING AREA TO BE OPEN AT ISLAND BEACH STATE PARKtouting extended openings of Island Beach State Park, with a backhanded allusion to the dangers of swimming in areas unprotected by lifeguards:

The weather and the water are still warm and our attendance remains high in September,” said Richard Boornazian, DEP Assistant Commissioner for Natural and Historic Resources. “By having our skilled lifeguard team at Island Beach State Park for long weekends throughout the month, visitors can more safely enjoy the water and experience an extended summer on our beautiful beaches.”

As is the case throughout the summer, swimming in unguarded beaches at any location at Island Beach State Park is strictly prohibited.

That is beyond oblivious and insensitive – its just flat out twisted.

We understand that a press office’s role is to divert media from bad news and vulnerabilities.

We realize that Gov. Christie’s Sandy stagecoach has turned back into a pumpkin, and that the press and the public now realize that NJ is highly vulnerable to hurricanes – and that Gov. Christie has done nothing to reduce those risks and vulnerabilities.

We know that another hurricane brings back the trauma of Sandy.

We know that DEP is being harshly criticized for proposing a major new coastal management rule that fails to address sea level rise and climate change, and actually promotes new development in hazardous locations.

So, of course, the DEP press office is desperate to deflect media and public attention away from all this bad news.

But, to do so at the expense of the loss of human life is truly warped.

Update:

Gov. Christie’s press office is equally twisted -

Yesterday, again fully aware of Hurricane Cristobal’s existence and ability to highlight unresolved risks and issues for the NJ shore, the Gov.’s press office issued this release obviously designed to change the subject of hurricane risks to the Shore, touting Sandy buyouts.

Of course, the lapdog Star Ledger State House reporter uncritically transcribed it in this story.

At this point, when the situation is so obvious, for the media to do that amounts to journalistic malpractice. – end update.]

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DEP Illegal Disposal Enforcement “Crackdown”: Self Serving Hypocrisy

August 26th, 2014 No comments

 DEP Cares More About Press PR Than Park Conditions

garbage illegally dumped along D&R Canal State Park path on Duck Island (8/26/14)

garbage illegally dumped along D&R Canal State Park path on Duck Island (8/26/14)

[Updates below]

You’d think DEP would at least clean up the mess BEFORE they issue the self serving press release about the mess.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Earlier today, the screaming headline of DEP’s press release immediately caught my eye: SIX MORE CHARGED IN DEP CRACKDOWN TO COMBAT ILLEGAL DUMPING ON STATE LANDS.

For the first time I can recall, DEP actually bragged that one of the alleged violators (or are they evil doers?) had already been deported to Guatemala and another was facing jail time for failure to appear in court to answer the DEP summons (this was for a minor littering violation, not illegal disposal).

Wow. Imagine that. Jail time and deportation for littering in NJ state parks. That Christie DEP must have an enforcement hard-on, right?

Wrong.

You mean the Christie Administration, who has surrendered the enforcement stick and has the worst enforcement record in the history of DEP – with enforcement fines, inspections, and violations down by as much as 90% - is actually enforcing environmental laws?

The DEP that just indefinitely extended the enforcement shut down order for the BL England coal power plant?

The administration that took no enforcement action for a toxic spill that hospitalized scores of people and forced evacuation of a town?

The Administration that wants to rehabilitate the State’s unrepentant worst wetlands violator and ideological foe of environmental regulation and enforcement to sit on the Pinelands Commission?

The DEP that paid convicted felons to haul Sandy debris and issued DEP permits to a convicted felon to create the Fenimore landfill fiasco?

The DEP that itself illegally dumped waste on Bulls Island State Park – and then lied to the press and then even lied to the US Army Corps of Engineers about it – sees no hypocrisy in cracking down on illegal dumping on State Lands?

You mean the DEP with this kind of enforcement record is OK with people being deported and serving jail time for merely littering?

Wow – I gotta see that.

Since I live just 5-6 miles south of the Duck Island portion of the D&R Canal State Park where some of these these major crimes occurred, I immediately hopped on my bike, camera in tow, to visit the scene of the crime and check it out.

I quite reasonably figured if DEP were cracking down on illegal disposal in State Parks, perhaps they also might be interested in using that enforcement power to improve the conditions of the park for the people and wildlife that use it.

What I saw might surprise you. Put simply, I was wrong.

The segment of the D&R Canal Park from Trenton to Bordentown is neglected by DEP.

It runs parallel to I-295, adjacent to the Trenton-Hamilton marsh, past the PSEG Duck Island power plant, the City of Trenton’s sewage treatment plant, oil depots, landfills, and toxic waste sites. The canal path also provides an easement for a major pipeline to fuel the PSEG plant.

Portions of the canal are so sedimented and overgrown that the canal no longer flows. The water is stagnant and covered by bright green algae scum.

I saw dozens of tires and a boat dumped in the Canal. A tree was down, totally blocking the path.

dozens of tires illegally dumped in D&R Canal remain for years.

dozens of tires illegally dumped in D&R Canal remain for years. (8/26/14)

It is a mess.

These horrible conditions would never be tolerated in the Hunterdon and Somerset County portions of the D&R canal path.

So, since DEP apparently lacks the resources and or will to remedy these conditions, PSEG should adopt the D&R Canal segment that runs past their Duck Island power plant, from Trenton to the Bordentown marina.

That is a roughly 5 mile neglected portion of the D&R Canal Park. (additional photos in next post).

PSEG should do that as a good corporate neighbor, but especially in light of the huge subsidies and multi-million dollar sweetheart deals they have enjoyed from DEP park land easements (take a look at PSEG easements in just D&R Canal State Park).

PEER blew the whistle multiple times on financial audits of DEP that showed below market leases and easements across state lands for highly profitable industrial uses like oil and gas pipelines. (see this and this and this).

I wrote about this set of issues numerous times:

The legislature responded by passing a law mandating that DEP leases reflect full market value:

4. a. The Department of Environmental Protection shall conduct, within six months after the effective date of this act, a study of the facilities, services, resources, activities, and amenities provided, or which reasonably could be provided, at each State park or forest as defined in subsection e. of section 3 of P.L.1983, c.324 (C.13:1L-3).  As part of the study, the department shall:

(2)   conduct a re-appraisal of the rents and fees charged for all residences and other buildings and structures, and for utility easements and right-of-ways, located on State park or forest lands to ensure they reflect current fair market values and will continue to do so;

But DEP has ignored that law, still has not renegotiated existing leases, and their policy on new leases also fails to recoup full market value.

So, here’s what PSEG should agree to do for the segment of the Canal path that runs by their facility and provides an easement for a pipeline to their facility:

  • provide a new trail surface
  • dredge and cleanup the Canal, enabling it (and canoes and kayaks) to flow freely to the Delaware River and Hamilton marsh
  • restore damage to stream banks that are tributaries to Crosswicks Creek & Trenton Marsh
  • fund a routine maintenance program
  • fund or install interpretive signs and benches every 1/2 mile

We will be petitioning PSEG and DEP to implement this kind of restoration program – more to follow on that.

[Update - 8/30/14: Took a ride out D&R Canal path to check status -

A few months ago, I sent the D&R Canal Park Superintendent a note about the need for maintenance, and within a few days, a DEP parks crew responded. So, after this post, I honestly expected that at least the garbage would be gone and maybe the downed tree blocking the path removed.

Nope - all the mess still there. Trail users had managed to cut a path under the tree.

I'll reach out again to the Park Superintendent.

I have many DEP readers, so guess Wolfenotes lacks the firepower these days - or maybe the DEP management, after I rubbed their noses in the Bulls Island mess, is spiteful and doesn't want to give me another win - or else DEP is just shameless.

[Update #2 - 8/30/14 - Here's an email I just fired off to D&R Canal Commission and Park Superintendent. I am sure it will get a response, because Marlen and Pat are fine professionals and public servants:

Dear Superintendent & Executive Director:

Hi Marlen & Pat:

I am writing to request a response to the following problems:

1) there is a fresh illegal garbage disposal site just south of the Lamberton Road trailhead. Can you send a crew out to clean that up?

2) a couple of hundred feet south of the garbage, a tree is down blocking the trail. Can you send a crew out to remove?

3) as you know, the stretch of the canal along Duck Island badly needs dredging. Is that possible that DEP could do that?

4) as you know, there are scores of illegally disposed tires and other garbage, including a boat in the Canal.

When can DEP send a crew out to remove all that?

5) Have leases and easements across the Park been renegotiated and updated to reflect current full market value as directed by 2008 legislation?

6) Would it be possible to get PSEG to partner voluntarily in maintaining and improving this stretch of the Canal?

I am particularly interested in getting this work done, given DEP enforcement crackdown on illegal disposal on state lands and state parks.

Hopefully, that initiative has freed up management attention and resources.

You can see some photos and analysis here (glad to provide other photos):

http://www.wolfenotes.com/2014/08/dep-illegal-disposal-enforcement-crackdown-self-serving-hypocrisy/

Appreciate your timely and favorable consideration and response.

Bill Wolfe, NJ PEER

609-397-4861
downed tree blocks D&R Canal, just south of Lamberton Street trailhead on Duck Island

downed tree blocks D&R Canal, just south of Lamberton Street trailhead on Duck Island (8/26/14)

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