Home > Uncategorized > DEP Keeps Sandy Prep Plans Secret – Denies Public Records Request

DEP Keeps Sandy Prep Plans Secret – Denies Public Records Request

DEP’s Lack of Transparency Is Worse than NJ Transit’s

NJ Transit Climate Prep Plan - 3 1/2 pages, all redacted (Source: MSNBC)

I am intrigued by the play on one angle of the story in national media coverage of Gov. Christie’s climate denial – stories all based on the Bergen Record and WNYC investigative reporting on the NJ Transit fiasco (i.e. see this and this).

The intriguing  angle is the NJ Transit’s totally redacted 3 1/2 page “Climate Change Prep Plan” (see above screen shot). WNYC filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the plan, and this is what they got (see above).

I am intrigued, because I too filed an OPRA request – but I asked DEP for their Climate Prep Plans.

I requested the Plans described by DEP Commissioner Martin in his December 3, 2012 testimony to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, during the 3rd of their Sandy oversight hearings (you can view the hearing video here).

Martin testified extensively about DEP plans and spoke highly of the effectiveness of the DEP’s plans: (starts at time 1:47:40)

First off, the state operates in emergencies based on planning, significant planning that occurs at the state level.

Each department operates with its own plan, and ties into an overall unified command.

All the major critical decisions are made by the Governor. …

We do not operate in silos as an organization. We operate clearly together as a team.  … Cabinet members sit with the Governor, helping to inform on those decisions. …

The scope of responsibilities DEP has deals with several different categories. The first major category is flooding. ..We provide the science, data, and analysis for the state to manage flood impacts. …

We also work with coastal planning and areas of floodplains across the state.

We are also responsible for handling water supply and wastewater treatment plants, and overall water quality.

Nuclear safety … DEP is responsible for monitoring those plants in coordination with the NRC.

We are responsible for shore protection

I briefly would like to talk about 3 different categories. The first is before the storm, all the activities we were involved in; during the storm; then after the storm.

First off, the number one thing we have, we all have a plan. Those plans have been in place. We’ve worked through different table tops, talks through those things, before in the past. So we’ve walked through, stepped through those things numerous times before this event.

Each of my Assistant Commissioners has responsibilities and puts a plan together about what we are going to do before, during and after. So we break out those plans.

A week ahead of time, we started putting these plans into operation. ….

During the storm, we primarily provided technical expertise … on flood maps, where we expected flooding to occur,  what those flood maps look like. 

Well, so it looks like Commissioner Martin was responsible for advising the Gov. on things like whether NJ Transit rail yards would flood.

So, after listening to Martin’s testimony at that hearing, I filed an OPRA requesting copies of DEP’s plans that Martin claimed were in place and worked so well.

DEP responded to that OPRA request thusly:

This request has been denied pursuant to N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1. See Addendum Disposition Notes below for further information.

The subject plans have not been finalized, are consider deliberative and confidential pursuant to N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1. In addition, some components of the plans are confidential pursuant to N.J.S.A. 47:1A-9, EO 47, N.J.A.C. 7:1D-3.2(b)1.

Not been finalized? Martin testified that that they had long been inlace and DEP had conducted numerous dry runs.

We didn’t even get the NJ Transit redacted 3 page version – but a flat out denial.

We doubt the plans exist, and if they do exist, are probably a lot like the NJ Transit plans in terms of quality.

For example, NJ sewage treatment and drinking water plants were knocked out because they lacked back up power, had inoperable diesel generators, or not enough fuel to run the generators. As result, many communities across NJ lost drinking water supply – NJ was on the verge of an even worse catastrophe.

What kind of planning is THAT?

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  1. Bill Neil
    May 31st, 2013 at 09:40 | #1

    Good tight digging on what was said and when, and comparing the responses. That’s the way I.F. Stone used to work during the Vietnam era: comparing different versions of different officials…

    I would hope some of the statehouse reporters would pick this up and make a major story out of it. Then again, I guess their major story was the Obama-Christie picture fest.

  2. May 31st, 2013 at 09:49 | #2

    @Bill Neil
    Ziggy is one of my heroes!

    Always abide by 2 of his gems:

    1) all governments lie

    2) read government documents from back to front – the good stuff is buried in the attachments!

  3. May 31st, 2013 at 09:55 | #3

    @Bill Neil

    Yup, Bill, anything deeper than a boardwalk photo op or Snooki video is too heavy lifting for our NJ “press corps”.

    They simply are incapable of doing investigative reporting or writing a policy story.

  4. May 31st, 2013 at 10:24 | #4

    @Bill Neil
    Bill – one more quick point:

    Catching Martin and his DEP crew in errors, exaggerations, spin, and even flat out lies is like shooting fish in a barrel – it’s a target rich environment.

    Which makes the media’s failure to call any of the BS out completely inexcusable.

  5. Bill Neil
    May 31st, 2013 at 10:26 | #5

    Bill, this is the type of thing – the redacting and conflicting statements by Commissioner Martin – that really used to get the NJ Environmental “community” riled up; in the old days, they’d be racing to set up the press conference. What are they doing in reaction to this? These are not small matters, they’re the main course.

    After a couple of years into my environmental career, I felt I wasn’t doing my job if the gov’s press secretary and policy folks still spoke to me. I remember criticizing Governor Florio in a NY Times piece – saying he had done nothing on land-use. Jon Shure (sp?) never spoke to me again; gave me that hard cold stare that said I could show up starving on the statehouse steps and they would call the State Police. Governor Whitman – the only NJ Governor whom I never had a close policy meeting with – had Michael Topley, I think it was as her chief enforcer, and we would get into staring contests – hard looks, you know – glares – at thirty paces whenever there was some public event. I don’t think I ever exchanged a word with him. So come on you NJ enviro’s, get over it, it’s not Mr. Roger’s neighborhood and it hasn’t been for a long time. Based on ideology, you’ll get nothing major, only “scraps,” so don’t fool yourselves.

  6. May 31st, 2013 at 10:39 | #6

    @Bill Neil

    Bill – don’t get me started on the dysfunctional enviro “community”.

    They are doing absolutely nothing with this. Or with anything else sandy related. Off line, I’ll tell you a recent story about the meeting with Asemblyman Barnes on his Coastal Commission bill. I happened to wander by the meeting (was not invited) and walked in and was appalled by what I heard.

    I spoke out harshly – details off line, but I think you can imagine who the weenies were but I don’t think you can imagine what they were saying, that’s how absurd it was.

    Later that day, towards the conclusion of the Committee hearing on the bill, Barnes left the committee and walked to the back of the room where i was standing, took me quietly into the adjoining room and warmly thanked me “for saving his ass” because “they were going south on me until you came in an spoke – thanks so much!” (those are quotes).

    If recent history is prologue, Jeff Tittel will make a few calls to reporters, issue a press release, or write an Op-Ed, based on my work – all without any citation to it or recognition of it. And Jeff is my friend, so you can imagine how bad the rest of the “relationships” are at this point.

    Seems like the ENGO leaders have as large an ego and as thin or thinner skins than the public officials.

  7. Ed Meakem
    May 31st, 2013 at 11:36 | #7

    Great work again Bill Wolfe your a Real Fighter.. Someone should send this info to the Buono Camp….

  8. May 31st, 2013 at 11:48 | #8

    @Ed Meakem

    Ed – good idea – have at it!

  9. Bill Neil
    May 31st, 2013 at 17:28 | #9


    You reminded me:

    What was B. Buono thinking, doing while the President was bi-partisaning it up “at the shore” with the Gov?

    I mean he didn’t do a tour with Democratic candidate Buono, which might have pointed out everything Bill’s been writing about for the ten months and do her no harm in the campaign. It’s not a bad illustration of the point Jeff Faux is making here on the RealNews Network at http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=767&Itemid=74&jumival=10206

    Jeff Faux is saying the Democrats are not terribly dissatisfied with the way things are going in the economy and overall, they can live with a slow painful recovery…as long as the key indicators are pointing in the right direction, they don’t care if the pace is tortoise like…I guess that’s their environmental angle…labor was roadkill a long time ago…and nothing’s changed there through three Democratic Presidents and five terms.

  10. Harry Schwartz
    June 1st, 2013 at 19:51 | #10

    Great article Bill. I would love to see what plans NJDEP supposedly prepared to prepare the state for Sandy.

    I’m curious where you got the info to make these statements: “NJ sewage treatment and drinking water plants were knocked out because they lacked back up power, had inoperable diesel generators, or not enough fuel to run the generators. As result, many communities across NJ lost drinking water supply.”

    Maybe I’m being nitpicky, but most of the sewer and water treatment plants were not knocked out – they continued to provide treatment of the sewage and water, even on the backup generators that all treatment plants have. What was mostly affected were the systems that carry sewage to the treatment plants and systems that distribute water to customers. Sewage lift stations are typically located in low-lying areas b/c gravity carries sewage downhill in pipes (thus the need to lift or pump sewage to a treatment plant), so they can often be affected by flooding. Many of these places didn’t stop running beacuse they had no backup power, but because electrical systems (pumps, motors, etc) were destroyed by water and wouldn’t operate regardless of the power source. Also, much of the water system damage was to distribution mains that were damaged or missing after breaches in roadways – like in Mantoloking.

    I agree that the issue with getting fuel to generators was a real problem. Most utilities do not have fuel capacity for such a long time period as Sandy required – especially at smaller units like pumping stations. Thus, finding a deliverer with fuel available and having it actually reach its destination became like a Mad Max movie. Remember the issues with getting gas for cars following Sandy? It was similar for getting fuel to generators.

    To be honest, I think many of the water and sewer plant crews deserve some credit for not allowing the potential water and sewer disaster from Sandy be any worse than it really could have been. But I also think that MUCH more needs to be done statewide to improve and update utilities and it’s a problem that has been ignored and underfunded for much too long. And if a storm like Sandy doesn’t wake up the govt to put the needed $$ into that problem, what will??

  11. June 2nd, 2013 at 08:25 | #11

    @Harry Schwartz

    Harry – I got the info to make the statements you cited from the plowing sources:

    1) Martin’s December 3 testimony (link above, watch it). He not only confirms the problems associated with lack of back up power, but he cites a number of plants. Perhaps “knocked out” is not the correct engineering term, but water quality issues arose.
    2) Martin’s testimony to the Senate and Assembly on DEP’s FY’13 budget, link here: Martin states that 90 sewage treatment plants and 400 water treatment plants reported power problems with their operations:


    3) NJ SPotlight and other media coverage – do the google for links to media coverage

    I agree that plant managers and works deserve credit for doing a great job in REACTION to Sandy, but a lousy job PREPARING, emergency planning (required under DEP permits), and adapting to Sandy, as a form of climate change impact and vulnerability that’s been known about for a long time.

    These are the issues – please don’t pull a Christie and try to hide behind the heroism and good works of the first responders.

    Alos agree about need to wake up. But that will take leadership, and Christie will never fill that role.

  12. Harry Schwartz
    June 6th, 2013 at 14:31 | #12

    “…but a lousy job PREPARING, emergency planning (required under DEP permits), and adapting to Sandy, as a form of climate change impact and vulnerability that’s been known about for a long time.”

    Once again, it all comes down to leadership and money. All of the sandbags, extra pumps, and fuel tanks in the world can’t eliminate future problems which will be caused by climate change and sea level rise. Many utilities desire to elevate and/or relocate vulnerable portions of their infrastructure (which is the only permanent way to prevent future problems), but these are VERY expensive projects that rate-payers and tax-payers are not willing to pay for. And who honestly wants a sewage pumping station relocated from its location down there by the river to a spot up the hill next to their house??

    There is no leadership currently inplace at the highest levels to grab the bull by the horns and say these projects MUST be done. (Unfortunately we’re being lead by leaders that believe climate change is esoteric and sees no problem parking $$ trains in vulnerable locations.)

    I’m afraid that the lessons from Hurricane Sandy are going to be as short-lived as every drought – once the rains come, turn all the sprinklers back on full-blast and say “what drought?” as you lay in your lush green lawn! We’re missing a very important chance to use the hurricane as a way to show $ needs to be invested in infrastructure, not boardwalks and “engineered” beaches. Thanks Bill for continuing to fight the good (and smart) fight.

  1. May 25th, 2015 at 00:45 | #1
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