Hundreds of Pipeline Opponents Force DEP To Cancel Public Hearing On Controversial Compressor Station Wetlands Permit and Clean Water Act Certificate
[Update: 8/24/16 – NJ.Com has a good story, with a video of some of the chaos:
The DEP was forced to cancel – at the public hearing – the hearing on a highly controversial DEP wetlands permit and federal Clean Water Act Water Quality Certificate .
Whoever selected the public hearing location KNEW it was totally unacceptable and was designed to frustrate and limit public participation and enable them to stack the hearing with a hundred intimidating union members.
Transco and DEP KNEW of the huge public and local government opposition to their project because of the huge turnout at a prior DEP permit hearing on the detewatering permit for the compressor station.
That prior DEP public hearing was held in a public building (the Chesterfield Elementary school). It was in a driver and pedestrian safe location, with reasonable parking, reasonable public access, and plenty of seating capacity to accommodate the large crowd that attended. Hundreds of people attended. So DEP and Transco KNEW a large crowd would be there tonight.
This was DEP’s hearing. Would whomever selected the location please raise your hand?
It was in a horrible location as a private facility. It lacked adequate parking. The highway location and lack of adequate parking forced scores of people to park far away and walk to the building. The Ramada location is on Rt. 206, a 4 lane State highway with a 50 mph speed limit. All those attributes put many pedestrians at risk in walking on the shoulders and crossing a 4 lane 50 mph State highway to get to the public hearing. All of this forced a huge police presence to manage the traffic and pedestrians.
Worst of all, the hearing room lacked adequate seating capacity and violated all kinds of fire safety codes (and likely electric codes as well).
Hundreds of people could not fit in the tiny room at the Ramada Inn. Scores more could not even enter the room to sign up to testify.
The hearing room’s fire code capacity was 180 people, forcing well over 200 people to jam that room. A few hundred more packed the Ramada lobby and could not enter the room. Scores were being turned away.
The proposed compressor station has long been opposed by local governments and hundreds of residents and environmental activists.
Prior to the hearing, many people warned DEP that the venue for the hearing – the Ramada Inn – was poor because it lacked sufficient capacity to accommodate the large crowds of people who opposed the pipeline and were certain to turn out in large numbers.
DEP failed to heed those warnings or reschedule the hearing. They asked for the chaos that ensued tonight.
The chaos that ensued tonight illustrates the abdication by DEP of their responsibility to assure that the public is afforded basic due process protections and an ability to participate in decisions affecting their lives.
What went down tonight
As I arrived, I noticed a table set up by union officials just outside the entrance – they were handing out pizza and soft drinks to union members.
I made my way through the crowd in the lobby and entered the hearing room about 10 minutes prior to the scheduled 6 pm start (see clock in photo above). I was pissed off but not surprised to see half the seats and standing room already taken by LiUna union members – Hillary just loves to build fossil infrastructure, you Go Girl! Maybe you can frack more gas and build more miles of pipeline than Obama!- while over 100 people could not even enter the room:
I began shouting, asking all the union guys that are paid to attend to raise their hands (several actually did!)
DEP Assistant Commissioner Kopkash then threatened to eject me from the hearing.
I told her she had no authority to do so before the hearing began and that if she proceeded to hold the hearing that DEP would have a lawsuit on their hands due to gross due process violations.
She ignored me and I struggled through the crowd to the sign up table to sign in to speak.
I began shaming and taunting the union guys, asking them – in a loud voice for the crowd – why they let themselves be used and paid by corporate energy giants to frustrate democracy.
Those were not the kind of values and labor and working class solidarity that my union family inculcated in me.
Not willing to be intimidated, I found one of the only seats left and sat down in the midst of the sea of orange union shirts.
It got ugly fast – one large union guy put his hands on me (twice) and forcibly ejected me from my seat, prompting me to shout for police.
Others began shouting about the fire code violations, complaining about all the hundreds of people who could not even get in, and demanded that the hearing be shut down. It was chaos and very close to violence.
The DEP hearing officer then timidly tried to begin the hearing – she was repeatedly shouted down, including from me.
As soon as she finished her opening statement, I raised a point of order and objected – on the record – to the gross due process violations and demanded that they shut it down.
All hell began to break lose and DEP finally was forced to shut it down.
The DEP will reschedule the public hearing – we’ll keep you posted.
The next hearing for DEP permits and WQC for the NJ Natural Gas pipeline is scheduled for September 7 in the same location – I assume that hearing also will be rescheduled to another more appropriate venue.
End note – I just read the Burlington County Times story – Public hearing on compressor station postponed due to large crowd and want to throw up.
Mayor Jill Popko is the only one with the courage to get it right:
“It was a boondoggle from the get go, just like the pipeline and compressor station,” Bordentown Township Mayor Jill Popko said. “They had no business scheduling (the hearing) in a room that only holds 200 people.”
Worse is that PennEast NJCF people who have done jack shit nothing on the WQC issue or to support local activists got quoted – Tom Gilbert and Ms. Cronheim. And their quotes showed deference to DEP, who allowed this farce to proceed, despite warnings and pleadings form local officials and activists.
Gilbert and Cronheim risked NOTHING – they were silent spectators.
While I and several others led the charge, aggressively took on the DEP and the union crowd – literally risking bodily harm and assault to protect people’s rights and shut the thing down.
When you put your ass literally on the line and chumps like Gilbert and Cronheim get the quotes, something is seriously wrong.
Same for O’Malley who praised DEP for canceling instead of condemned them, who cowered before the union guys and DEP, but managed to find the press.
Note to friends – Mr. Douglass was not referring to a soundbite:
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
Dave Levinski crossed Rt. 206 to interview me as I was leaving and the dust was settling. Scores of union thugs were threatening me, driving by, giving me the finger, honking their horns and yelling out the window that I’d get my ass kicked at the next hearing – I assume his editors cut out my hard hitting criticisms of DEP for the location, problems decribed in his story as mere “gripes”.
I got news for you folks, constitutional due process is NOT A GRIPE.
Here is the Burclo Times photo – I’m shooting a pic: