Home > Uncategorized > Sewers Create Sprawl That Will Not Save Downtown New Egypt or Improve Water Quality of Crosswicks Creek

Sewers Create Sprawl That Will Not Save Downtown New Egypt or Improve Water Quality of Crosswicks Creek

Excess Sewer Capacity Fuels Development That Destroys Rural Character & Water Quality

Full Costs of $18 Million System and Who Pays Are Not Disclosed

DEP Ban on Cesspools Does Not Prohibit Sale of Property

Gated Retirement Developments Undermine Downtown Merchants & Community Cohesion

severe stream bank erosion along tributary to Crosswicks Creek

severe stream bank erosion along tributary to Crosswicks Creek

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s DEP public hearing on the proposed new sewer plant discharge to Crosswicks Creek, a few of the project’s supporters, none of whom spoke publicly, accused me of scaring people and providing misinformation.

Others claimed that they could not sell their property due to a new DEP ban on cesspools and failing septic systems, and that sewers were necessary to revitalize the downtown.

Apparently in response to issues raised during the DEP public hearing, the Plumsted Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) –  who also did not speak or formally present the project to the public at the hearing – posted bullet points on their website to explain or justify the project (see this for the PMUA powerpoint).

So, I thought I’d mention a few things that PMUA ignored and respond briefly to some of the myths, flaws, and unintended consequences of the New Egypt Redevelopment Plan and the PMUA sewer project.

  • What they are not telling you or don’t want to discuss

1) Illegal discharges, cesspools, and failing septics

First of all, there are illegal pipes discharging septic and/or grey-water to Crosswicks Creek from homes and businesses. You don’t solve individual enforcement problems with a massive public sewer system – you take enforcement action, hold individual property owners accountable, force upgrade, and shut those discharges down if you have to. This is something that should have been done by the local health officer and DEP years ago.

Second, there is a lot of fear based on misinformation.

Downtown merchants and homeowners with cesspools and/or failing septics seem to think that: a) DEP’s 2012 regulations prohibit the sale of their property; b) it is impossible to manage wastewater on small lots; c) sewers are the only alternative; and d) massive new development is necessary and will pay for the sewer system (i.e. they will get bailed out).

All of this is completely false.

Here is a DEP fact sheet on the new rules, which were adopted in April of 2012.

DEP rules do not block sale of property. Replacement or upgrades to the cesspool or septic system are negotiated by the buyer and seller in the sale price of the property, just like any other condition, i.e. bad roof or antiquated heating unit etc. DEP rules do nothing to change that fact.

DEP had been working on those rules for over a decade, so all local health inspectors and local and County planners KNEW these new requirements were coming and had plenty of time to take steps to comply with them.

There were relatively cheap alternatives to failing cesspools located in densely developed areas on small lots that could not accommodate a septic field (e.g. install a septic tank in front of the cesspool). These alternatives could have been installed prior to April 2012 before the new rules took effect. The DEP rules since 1990 have required that any “correction” to a cesspool include the addition of a septic tank in front of the cesspool, effectively altering the cesspool to a seepage pit system.

Even if it was not possible to install a septic tank in front of the cesspool, the local health officer could allow a cesspool to continue to exist if he found that it was functioning and not adversely impacting public health or the environment.

With reference to smaller lots, the rules provide for a number of design considerations to deal with these situations. For example, the use of an advanced wastewater pretreatment device pursuant to N.J.A.C. 7:9A-8.3 provides opportunity to reduce the disposal field size in both the area required and the thickness in the zone of treatment. If a fully conforming design is not possible, N.J.A.C. 7:9A-3.16(a)1 provides the administrative authority with the ability to approve of nonconforming designs that are protective of human health and the environment.

Last, if all other options were impossible, a property owner with a failing cesspool or septic could install water conservation measures, no flush toilets, and use a holding tank.

Did your local officials tell you any of this?

No – they wanted a sewer system.

Cesspools are a Medieval technology. Construction of them was banned almost 40 years ago, in 1978. Regulations on proper construction of seepage pits have required at least two feet of unsaturated soil beneath those units since 1954. Here is DEP’s view:

These antiquated units provide no pretreatment of wastewater before discharge, allowing raw sewage to directly impact the environment. 

It is no longer reasonable, in a state as densely populated as New Jersey that has extensive natural resources that need to be protected from such discharges, to allow these obsolete units to continue to be utilized. 

Any business or homeowner that has been relying on a cesspool has absolutely no reasonable expectation that someone else will pay the cost of upgrading that system. None at all.

2) growth and community character

The DEP sewer permit is for a discharge to Crosswicks Creek of  600,000 gallons per day.

The homes and businesses in downtown New Egypt generate a small fraction of that 600,000 GPD.

Even with the proposed massive new 400 – 600 unit retirement development, less than 300,000 GPD would be required.

So why is the PMUA seeking a 600,000 GPD discharge permit?

The obvious answer is that this sewer plan is designed to promote massive new development.

Just as obvious is the fact that this plan has little to do with the publicly stated objectives to revitalize downtown New Egypt or improve water quality.

According to the 2010 United States Census, there were 2,512 people, 902 households in New Egypt (Wiki).

The extra 300,000 GPD capacity would provide enough capacity to serve 1,500 new homes – that would more than double the entire population of New Egypt – and that new growth does not include the massive new 400 – 600 unit retirement development!

3) costs, risks, and who pays

At the public hearing, I criticized the draft permit’s “anti degradation analysis” and “socio-economic analysis” for failure to disclose the full capital and operating costs of the sewer plant and distribution system and identify who would pay for them and how much they would pay.

In response, the PMUA posted these “facts” on the cost of the system, which raise far more questions. PMUA wrote:


So, let’s do a little math:

First, note that operating costs are not mentioned here. According to PMUA engineers, operating costs, for the sewage treatment plant alone (not considering all other costs of the system), will be well in excess of $1 million per year, and that’s just for O&M for the sewer plant, not the entire system. That is over $1,000 per household, according to PMUA engineers, and just for the sewer plant, not the entire system.

Second, note that legally mandatory connections fees for all homeowners and businesses in the sewer service area are not included. All property owners will be legally required to connect to the system, and connection costs could be additional thousands of dollars, depending on how far away from the sewer line the building is located.

Third, note that the risk and costs resulting from DEP fines and penalties  are not mentioned. The PMUA’s own engineers have stated that the facility’s treatment technology can not reliably meet the DEP’s proposed permit limits. Any violations of DEP permit effluent limits trigger automatic mandatory penalties – taxpayers will own the system and will have to pay for these, and they could be considerable and occur very frequently. This is a significant risk that the Town will not be able to get any developer to assume.

Fourth, if the full capital cost is $18 million – and I say “if”, because to is not clear exactly what costs that estimate includes, and whether it includes the conveyance system (pipes) – then the PMUA claims are very misleading and the math is flat out wrong.

An $18 million capital cost divided by 400 units in planned new retirement community is $45,000 per unit.

PMUA claims the retirement community will assume all costs and that they are $19,500 per unit.

For 100% of the $18 million capital cost to be assumed by the retirement development at $19,500 per unit would require a total of  923 units!

So either local taxpayers will pick up a huge tab for this sewer plant or else local officials are planning to build more than twice the number of new homes they have stated publicly.

PILOT payments are “in lieu of local property taxes”. Local property taxes should have nothing to do with sewer system costs, which are supposed to be paid by users of the system.

So, PMUA is misleading residents by blending those two very different issues in the same bullet point.

Finally, there is no legally binding agreement or financial document that can support the PMUA claims. They are assumptions, based on very rosy and unrealistic views of the ability of local officials to extract payments in a negotiated developers agreement.

It is my experience that developers always have more accurate information, more sophisticated financial capabilities, better lawyers, and more negotiating leverage than local governments.

Last, you need to consider how local authorities with the ability to raise revenues behave: they will expand their mission, staff up, buy lots of expensive unnecessary equipment, and become a political patronage hiring pit.

As a result, local taxpayers always get screwed by developers and things turn out badly. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

4) environmental impacts

There are a lot of negative environmental impacts that are not being disclosed by the PMUA or local officials.

The alleged positive water quality impacts claimed by the PMUA from elimination of cesspools and failing septic and the new sewer plant have not been supported by facts, and the PMUA’s own documents contradict some of those claims.

Let’s start with what they are not telling you:

Development of 1,900 new housing units for about 3,500 more people (400 retirement units plus 1,500 new units that could be built with the 300,000 GPD excess sewer capacity) would:

1) consume hundreds of acres of land, 2) destroy farms and forests, 3) create significant new storm water runoff, 4) exacerbate flooding and already severe erosion problems, 5) create non-point source pollution of Crosswicks Creek, 6) create traffic congestion, generate air pollution, and increased greenhouse gas emissions, 7) reduce aquifer recharge, 8) require pumping of at least 500,000 GPD from groundwater to provide water supply, 8) the combination of less recharge and more pumping will deplete groundwater and have adverse impacts on local wetlands, stream base flows, and plants, fish and wildlife, 10) the additional new development and land consumption will negatively impact wildlife habitat and populations, and 11) new development will severely alter the rural character and visual landscape.

More secondary development and infrastructure (gas lines? road improvements? sewer and water lines) will be needed to service all the new growth, and they will have environmental impacts too.

It is very likely – if not certain – that the new development will generate more pollution will offset any pollution reductions from failing cesspools and septics and make water quality worse in Crosswicks Creek.

PMUA claims that the sewer plant would “have no impact on stream flora and fauna”.

There is no evidence to support that statement and it is false.

First, see the above set of impacts the sewer plan will have.

Second, the sewer plant will discharge new pollution loads of nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), heavy metals (copper, lead, nickel, zink, mercury, et al), dissolved and suspended solids, and organic chemicals, including things like household hazardous chemicals, contraceptive, prescription drugs, and endocrine disrupting compounds from the metabolism of pharmaceuticals.

As I stated at the hearing, most of these pollutants are toxic to plants, fish and aquatic organisms and some of the organic chemicals are causing profound ecological damage, including recent studies that have shown “dual sexed” fish in the Delaware River.

To claim that the discharge of these pollutants to the Crosswick Creek  – in any amount – would have “no impact” is a ludicrous claim that has no basis in science and that claim is found nowhere in the applicants documents or DEP draft permit.

5) The Redevelopment Plan and downtown New Egypt – Lousy Planning and Loss of A Sense of Place

Downtown New Egypt is surviving but not thriving. The Redevelopment Plan won’t change that, it will make matters worse.

There are national and regional economic conditions that have a far larger impact on the economic wellbeing of downtown New Egypt than the lack of sewers. There are more cost effective other things planners, architects,  and merchants can do to promote downtown revitalization that don’t involve sewers.

Local officials are making false promises to residents and downtown merchants that lack of sewers is what explains their economic distress and that sewers and new development are some kind of magic bullet that will resolve these economic problems.

That is misguided policy, poor planning, and contradicted by the town’s own Redevelopment Plan.

First of all, a large gated senior development  located in a farm field almost a mile from downtown, along roads with no sidewalks, will not help create a “vibrant, diverse, pedestrian friendly, downtown”.

Senior communities are parasites on downtown merchants and communities.

They are sterile and isolated places with no stake in the community –

Their residents won’t attend your football or soccer games or Halloween Parade or graduation or civic ceremonies.

They will not shop downtown and support your local merchants – they will go to nearby regional and more upscale outlets. Sure, they tend to have lots of money to spend, but the don’t have kids, they won’t make neighborly friendships, and they won’t get politically engaged in your local issues except to make selfish demands, which they will enforce by voting in high numbers as a block.

They will not support your school system because they pay no school taxes and have no kids and no interest in educating your kids.

Seniors have higher rates of accidents and health events – like heart attacks, strokes and falls –  that require costly emergency services. They tend to demand more security and police protection. They demand that the sidewalks are smooth, the roads get paved and snow plowed immediately – and that fire Departments and other public services are at their special disposal.

They drive everywhere and create lots of traffic and the need for costly new road improvements, traffic lights, turning lanes, signs, etc. They are politically active and can force local government to meet their needs and impose costs on the rest of the community. These are significant costs to the community that no one is talking about.

Senior citizens don’t walk 1/2 mile along roads with no sidewalks to go downtown New Egypt for a quart of milk and to shop.

Senior citizens living in gated, professionally landscaped developments don’t go to the local Agway for lawn maintenance, supplies, and home repair stuff.

In sum, retirement communities are a disaster for the downtown business district and any ability to build community cohesion and what’s called “a sense of place”.

Last, the Redevelopment Plan includes condemnation of existing homes and the use of eminent domain – even if the Plan succeeds, there are gentrification issues that must be considered.

And this is what the people of Plumsted are tying their future to.

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  1. Marc Covitz
    December 30th, 2014 at 14:28 | #1

    Excellent comments. Couldn’t agree more with your assessment of senior communities. One has to look no further in Ocean County than Whiting and Barnegat for prime examples. There is absolutely no walking to shops there. Whiting has sidewalks ad nauseam. They even upgraded the little town center by the old railroad tracks but no one ever shops there. They all drive to the Shop Rites in Manchester and Toms River.

    Several years ago I had a conversation with Rick Brown from the DEP about this plan. At the time my main concern was the housing development portion. At the time Rick was involved with evaluating the placement of a new Middle School in Upper Freehold (which I was against as well) and he was also part of the discussions on the Plumsted plan back in 2007-2010 approximately. I remember him telling me that even the Ocean County Freeholders were against this plan because they have invested millions of preservation dollars in Plumsted and They “didn’t want Plumsted to turn into another Whiting.” DEP at the time was pushing the tie in with Fort Dix or connection with Cookstown OR connection with the small plant just up the road in North Hanover on Rte 528 that services a trailer park. If you recall the Ocean County Planning Director disputed my comment about this small plant on rte 528 but that was an option given by the DEP at the time. Their goal then was to kill 2 birds with one stone. Fix New Egypt’s problems and also fix another failing plant (or another town’s septic woes) in the process. Obviously the DEP was a bit more environmentally friendly under the McGreevy and Corrine administrations.

  1. December 29th, 2014 at 21:24 | #1
  2. May 6th, 2015 at 00:47 | #2
  3. May 11th, 2015 at 05:43 | #3
  4. May 23rd, 2015 at 04:23 | #4
  5. June 3rd, 2015 at 21:58 | #5
  6. January 31st, 2016 at 13:25 | #6
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