After Public Outcry, Pinelands Commission’s Attempt to Fix Fatal Flaw In Public Hearing Is A Meaningless Gesture
Extension of written comment period does not correct defect
I demand that the Commission select a civic building with adequate capacity to allow meaningful comment. ~~~ letter to Pinelands Commission, 1/4/17
[Update: 1/30/17 – Janet Tauro has a good Op-Ed in the Asbury Park Press: Pinelands commissioners treat public like trash ~~~ end update.]
The Commission was warned about this well before the hearing and ignored those warnings. Additionally, a prior DEP public hearing on related pipeline permits also was forced to be cancelled due to a huge crowd that turned out to speak. The Commission ignored DEP’s mistake as well.
As a result, over 100 people were unable to attend the “public hearing”, dozens more stood for hours in freezing rain to testify – as warm and dry paid union hacks held seats for hours – and many people left after the doors were closed at 9:15 am (15 minutes BEFORE the scheduled start of the meeting).
This abuse was not lost on the press, who made the abuse a focal point of their coverage.
In response to the public outcry – “this is a sham, shut it down“- and threats of another round of lawsuits for denying basic due process rights, the Commission just announced an extension of the written public comment period until February 8, 2017.
The extension is a meaningless gesture that does not remedy the fatal flaw.
First of all, the Commission meets on February 10, 2017, where they may vote to approve the SJG pipeline project. An extension until just 2 days before that hearing provides insufficient time for Pinelands Staff and Commissioners to consider and respond to public comments.
Second, the opportunity to submit written comments in a written comment period is not the same as attendance and testimony at an open public hearing.
It’s like the difference between listening to the radio in your car versus attending a concert. One is a private individual act, the other a collective, live experience.
At a public hearing, citizens collectively meet to participate in a democratic process. They can talk with their fellow citizens, share concerns, organize resistance, and listen to each other speak.
None of that happens in a written comment process.
So, don’t be fooled by this latest cynical maneuver by the Commission’s Executive Director. It is designed to frustrate litigation and create the false impression that the Commission is responsive to public concerns.
Here is the comment I submitted on Tuesday afternoon after being unable to enter the meeting room:
Dear Pinelands Commission:
Let me begin by saying that you should be ashamed of yourself for how you knowingly and arrogantly abused, frustrated, and limited the due process rights of hundreds of people to participate and submit testimony at the Jan. 24 public meeting of the Commission on the SJG pipeline application.
I arrived at 9:15 am and while looking for parking saw scores of people walking back to their cars. When I stopped to ask why, I was told that there were over 100 people outside the hearing room who were not being allowed inside because the room was at fire code capacity.
These people are denied their due process rights. On that basis alone you must reschedule and hold an additional public hearing.
I stood in the freezing rain with well over 100 other people for over 3 hours and was not able to testify. Drenched to the bone and freezing cold, I was forced to leave.
The Commission was repeatedly warned that this venue lacked adequate capacity – these warnings were ignored.
The Commission repeated the mistakes of the DEP who scheduled a hearing at the Ramada Inn in Bordentown that lacked capacity to accommodate 500 people in the overflowing crowd. But at least DEP was smart enough to cancel and reschedule that public hearing.
Today’s fiasco was predicted and avoidable – the Commission ignored warnings and intentionally chose to limit public rights.
The Commission refused to reschedule the hearing, despite the outrageous situation of hundreds of people standing outside in the freezing rain.
Shame on you!