Home > Uncategorized > Wolff & Samson Lobbying of DEP Is Directly Related to The Port Authority Harrison PATH Project Redevelopment

Wolff & Samson Lobbying of DEP Is Directly Related to The Port Authority Harrison PATH Project Redevelopment

An “Immediate Environmental Concern”?  Not So Much

Contamination at levels that exceeded public health standards ignored

DEP’s role in the exploding list of corruption scandals must be probed

I just came across a very interesting and overlooked aspect of the controversial Port Authority $256 million PATH station renovation in Harrison, see: Questions on Port Authority Chairman David Samson’s PATH station vote 

The Bergen Record reported:

Port Authority Chairman David Samson voted for a $256 million reconstruction of the rundown PATH station in Harrison three months after a builder represented by his law firm proposed converting a nearby warehouse into hundreds of luxury apartments, according to records and interviews.

That story focused on Samson’s role at the Port Authority and whether he violated ethics laws.

It also did a great job of explaining how transit investments are related to real estate development opportunities and linking the Harrison redevelopment project to a similar situation in Hoboken, with respect to how NJ’s redevelopment laws can be politically manipulated to provide provide huge subsidies to developers:

When [developer] Berkenkamp first approached officials in Harrison, he asked that they deem the property, sandwiched between single-family homes and a strip mall, “in need of redevelopment.” That designation can ease regulatory hurdles and open the door to property tax exemptions and other financial incentives for builders.

Regulatory hurdles”? What might they be? Are “hurdles” anything like the “cones” the Gov. joked about on the GWB?

Can the Gov. raise and lower those hurdles? How might he do that?

Keep that in mind as we explore a very interesting environmental story buried in the details of the Harrison controversy – a story which is an example of what I recently wrote about the role of Wolff & Samson at DEP.

Follow me, as I focus on the environmental issues and how DEP plays a role in the corruption that is bursting out all over.

As we already saw in Hoboken, DEP was directly involved in using DEP regulatory jurisdiction to pressure the Mayor to support the Rockefeller project.

Now, there is another example of DEP abuse at the heart of the Harrison controversy.

The Record story only briefly mentions the fact that the warehouse site is highly contaminated and a significant health risk to nearby neighbors:

Lawyers at Wolff & Samson are also currently helping the developer before the state Department of Environmental Protection, the mayor said. The property is contaminated and is listed as an “immediate environmental concern,” meaning exposing people to contamination at levels that exceed public health standards, state records show.

Say what?

Why is a toxic site that currently poses an”immediate environmental concern” (IEC) not cleaned up by now?

Why is DEP not taking enforcement action to expedite cleanup and protect the people who live there?

What specific chemicals are the people who live nearby being exposed to? What are the health risks? Why doesn’t anyone seem to know about all this?

Why is residential development being allowed on such a highly contaminated site?

These are important questions that bring us to the specific work of our friends, Wolff & Samson.

W&S worked the inside track in ways that benefitted their Harrison developer client, while increasing health risks to the community without their knowledge or consent. Let me be specific:

Wolff & Samson lawyer Dennis Toft was a key member of Gov. Christie’s DEP Transition Team.

The DEP Transition Team produced a Report that contained recommendations that were targeted at exactly the issues raised by the Harrison warehouse IEC site. The Report directed that DEP:

  • Refrain from using overly conservative assumptions in standard setting and risk management strategies as required by law, and revise cleanup standards to be both achievable and protective of the environment.
  • Review and revise current requirements pertaining to vapor intrusion within building structures, including how and when to test, notification, and/or mitigate.
  • Revise the Interim Rule to limit its scope to SRRA required elements. For example, the provisions of the interim rule applying new requirements for vapor intrusion were not mandated by SRRA and should be subject to fuller pubic review and comment before adoption. Vapor intrusion occurs when contaminants in groundwater or soil emit vapors that enter structures and could have a potential impact on human health.

DEP immediately began implementing the recommendations of the Transition Report.

Mr. Toft even wrote a piece bragging to his business clients about how he helped delay and weaken DEP regulations and gut the DEP enforcement of toxic site cleanup requirements, see:  NJDEP Proposes More Lenient Mandatory Timeframes Under SRRA.

The NJDEP has proposed to extend all of the mandatory timeframes by one year so that the mandatory timeframes will be the later of March 1, 2012, or one year from the specified compliance event. The proposed rule changes are subject to a 60-day comment period that ends on December 3, 2010.

The NJDEP also has proposed to amend the definition of a vapor intrusion IEC from a vapor concentration that exceeds the Indoor Air Screening Level to a vapor concentration that exceeds the Rapid Action Levels. This change is anticipated to significantly reduce the number of sites that otherwise would have been categorized as having an Immediate Environmental Concern.

So, Wolff & Samson helped to inject delays in DEP mandatory cleanup schedules, and reduced the number of  high risk sites classified as an “immediate environmental concern”.

Those W&S recommendations resulted in changes to DEP regulations, oversight, cleanup deadlines, and enforcement.

Those changes directly impacted the Harrison project, to the benefit of the developers and the detriment of the public health of the community and the people living nearby.

A seamless web of corruption: from the DEP Transition Report, to weakening DEP regulations, to clients’ economically benefitting from them.

Connecting all the dots, the Harrison story is a perfect illustration of  exactly how Gov. Christie’s politics compromised protections of public health and the environment, while increasing the profits of inside lobbyists and developers.

That’s why DEP’s role in the currently exploding list of corruption scandals must be probed.

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