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You Get Three Minutes – Then Sit Down and Shut Up

Democracy Perverted In Chris Christie’s NJ

Corporations Have Bought DEP, BPU, the Pinelands Commission, and Cops

Wolfe being threatened with arrest for exceeding the 3 minute limit! (Source: Sarah Watson, Press of Atlantic City

So, this is what its come down to:

Cops – with the threat of arrest – enforcing a 3 minute limit on public comment at a public hearing.

Follow this twisted path:

Beginning in April 2012, the Pinelands Commission meets behind closed doors for 18 months with the South Jersey Gas Company to negotiate the “terms of review” under the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) for their 22 mile, $100 million pipeline through the Pinelands.

After this is discovered, the public blasts the Commission for creating the appearance of “regulatory capture” and a corrupt review process.

(meanwhile, during the course of these closed door negotiations with the Commission, the DEP and BPU issue their approvals of the project, all of which is being quarterbacked by Gov. Christie’s Office. In fact, the BPU is so bold as to specifically incorporate the Pinelands Commission approval – via  a MOA – in their June 21, 2013 approval Order, 6 months before last night’s public hearing on the MOA!).

In response, I file a public records request to look into this 18 month review process. But, instead of being fully transparent in light of this reasonable public perception and responsive to valid criticism, the Commission hunkers down and denies the public records request. Strike One.

Meanwhile, the “terms of review” under the CMP morphs into an $8 million bribe to circumvent compliance with the CMP itself. The way to circumvent the CMP, which prohibits their project, is via a “Memorandum of Agreement” (MOA) which enables it. Strike Two.


Then, the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving, the Commission releases (dumps) a complex draft “Memorandum of Agreement” (MOA – (AKA as “the bribe”) with the Board of Public Utilities (BPU). Why BPU? Read on.

After the Thanksgiving weekend, the public is given just a week to review the draft MOA ( i.e. bribe) – and the entirety of the project that the Commission has been negotiating for 18 months – before a Monday Dec. 9 public hearing.

After expediting it, they hold the hearing way down south Jersey, in Galloway Township (is that below the Mason-Dixon line?).

The hearing is the ONLY hearing on the complex $100 million gas pipeline to fuel a $400 million power plant. That’s right – one hearing on both the MOA and the overall project. Written comments must be submitted just 4 days after the public hearing, by Friday Dec. 13, when the record is closed.

BPU is used to launder the $8 million bribe from South Jersey Gas Co. because the Pinelands MOA rules limit eligibility for a MOA to a “public development agency”, and South Jersey Gas is a private for profit corporation (and BPU isn’t even a “development agency”, they are a regulatory agency). Strike Three

Rubbing salt in the wound and adding insult to injury, south  jersey ratepayers will pay for the $8 million bribe in their monthly gas bills – while South Jersey Gas earns a 10% profit on it!! (an $800,000 profit off the bribe – not bad work, if you can get it!)

But, despite the strikeout, the batter refuses to step out of the batter’s box and the umpire has been paid off, so the at bat continues.

A week after dumping the draft MOA-Bribe (Wednesday December 4), the Pinelands Executive Director and Staff make a lengthy and highly misleading presentation of the MOA-Bribe.

Commission staff use that presentation not to respond to and address all the flaws the public has pointed out – the reasons why they should flat out kill the project – but instead, acting like a defense lawyer for South Jersey Gas, to justify the project and rebut every public criticism. Strike four.

Then, placing the cherry on the top of this corruption Sunday, Pinelands Executive Director Wittenberg imposes a 3 minute time limit on public comments at the single public hearing on the $8 million bribe (despite Pinelands public hearing rules which encourage broad and meaningful public participation and authorize her to schedule multiple additional public hearings when justified by significant public interest controversy, which is clearly the case here).

But, our little story is not yet over –

Wittenberg, whose job as Hearing Officer at the public hearing is to maintain Order, allows a loud group of union guys to heckle environmental speakers – repeatedly – despite being asked to do her job and maintain order.

At formal public hearings, heckling is strictly prohibited – violators are given a warning and then ejected.

But, Wittenberg actually encouraged the heckling.

So, when my chance came around to speak to the packed room, I took exception to the heckling and the 3 minute limit.

Hecklers can proceed.

And I was told to sit down or get arrested.

Remarkably, months ago, I predicted exactly this would happen as a result of a DEP deadline for the BL England plant to make a “go/no go decision on re-powering – and warned the Commission that if they went down this road that they would destroy the independence, integrity, and credibility of the Commission and themselves.

And they did it anyway!

As my Grandfather used to say: How do you like dem apples?

[Epilogue: I didn’t get arrested (my dog was in the car). I sat down – but I didn’t shut up.]

[Update:  Battle lines drawn on proposed Pinelands pipeline agreement

Bill Wolfe, the director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsbility (PEER), said the $8 million amounted to a bribe that private citizens would never get away with.

“You think you could write them a check and get to do what you want to do?” he asked.

over 200 people packed the hearing room - the lobby outside was jammed too.

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