Corporate Office Parks Trump Clean Water
DEP Caves to Bristol-Myers Squibb, IntraWest Mountain Creek Resort, & other developments – abandons Pequest, Wallkill and Stony Brook
“Also noteworthy, is the fact that Governor Jon Corzine personally visited Mountain Creek and expressed his belief that the proposed redevelopment project is a definitive example of smart, environmentally sensitive, economic development.”
Schoor-DePalma engineers – comment that killed Black Creek in Vernon to allow destruction of threatened Bog Turtle habitat (see: http://www.peer.org/docs/nj/08_27_5_intrawest_black_creek_comments.pdf
Trenton – A long awaited decision on protecting New Jersey rivers and lakes from pollution and development is disappointingly modest and pockmarked with exceptions and loopholes, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As adopted this past week, many key water-bodies will not be safeguarded and any added protections are unnecessarily vulnerable to legal challenge.
The May 20, 2008 decision by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) applies the “Category One” (C1) designation, effectively the state’s highest level of water-quality protection which limits development impacts and discharges of pollutants, to streams, rivers and lakes that either support critical wildlife or feed into a major drinking-water source.
According to DEP, it adopted C1 status for 686 of the 910 stream miles proposed back in 2007. DEP’s Earth Day press release boasted that the proposal was “unprecedented” and “the largest ever” – both factually false claims, as the McGreevey DEP designated over 3,000 miles of C1 buffers. Ironically, the DEP press release was titled “DEP Delivers on Commitment to Protect Water Quality” – a commitment clearly contradicted by major concessions to powerful interests.
Even the DEP claim on 686 new stream miles protected is an overstatement, because approximately half of these new C1 waters (between 250-400 miles) are located within the Highlands Preservation Area and thus were already protected by the Highlands Act. That Act legislatively established 300 buffers on all waters in the Preservation Area, designated all Preservation Area waters C1, and strictly prohibited water quality degradation. Further drawbacks which undermine the DEP claim of a major water quality achievement include the following serious flaws:
â€¢ DEP eliminated the backlogged C1 “candidate waters” list of 1,600 streams that DEP scientists determined met the C1 criteria. This backhanded repeal opens more than 1,000 stream miles to development; and
â€¢ DEP adopted a new, less protective C1 designation methodology. DEP embraced this revised C1 criteria despite virtually unanimous opposition from the environmental community. These method revisions create two problems by -
1) Erecting arbitrary, non-scientific barriers against safeguarding a wide variety of water-bodies, such as those providing drinking water for less than 100,000 people, important for recreation, and saline waters (estuaries and coastal bays); and
2) Exposing the entire plan to new legal challenges. Just last year, the prior C1 criteria had been upheld by the Appellate Division as scientifically sound and legally valid against a lawsuit by the Builders Association. Thus there was no reason to change the method and invite new legal challenge.
“DEP seems determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by giving industry opponents a second bite at crippling lawsuits,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP official and architect of the C1 program initiative from 2002-2004. “A new round of litigation could tie things up for some time and, if successful, force DEP back to the drawing board, undoing years of work.”
DEP eliminated a portion of the Stony Brook (Hopewell), portions of the Wallkill River, including tributary Black Creek (Vernon), and portions of the Pequest – one of NJ’s most renowned trout streams – from the C1 final list due to corporate pressure. DEP dropped protection for a specific stretch of the Stony Brook to accommodate 1.6 million square feet of proposed corporate office park expansion and expansion of the Pennington sewer plant. Similarly, it abandoned high quality waters on the Wallkill to satisfy InraWest’s massive 1.6 million ski resort in Vernon.
“Loopholes in this decision read like they were written by their corporate beneficiaries,” Wolfe added, noting that specific DEP stream deletions match public comments filed by developer opponents and surgically accommodate their developments. “DEP did not even protect the portion of Stony Brook where it held its Earth Day photo-op press conference announcing its plan.”
Opponents who filed comments against the original C1 plan include the state Builders Association, Business and Industry Association, Chamber of Commerce, Bristol Myers Squibb (Hopewell Campus expansion), Intra-West Mountain Creek Resort, BPG (former Lucent Technologies Hopewell site), Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, Heritage Minerals, and the Departments of the Army (Picatinny Arsenal) and Air Force. Significantly, the DEP plan was also opposed by both Governor Corzine’s Office of Smart Growth and the state Department of Transportation.
(comments provided upon request)
Prior to the proposal, the environmental community met with and tried to warn Jackson not to go forward with gutting the C1 method. This strongly worded January 24, 2007 letter was ignored – later comments on the proposal restated these objections: http://www.peer.org/docs/nj/c1_letter.pdf
Read the2007 Earth Day release ballyhooing the original C1 proposal
View the C1 decision document with revisions noted
Compare the full original proposal
Review how DEP weakened C1 stream buffers earlier in 2008
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability