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Christie DEP Dodges Tough Decisions on Drinking Water Infrastructure Deficits

April 15th, 2014 No comments

EPA Asked To Oversee Enforcement of Permits To Prevent Sandy Failures

Gov. Christie’s Austerity Approach Accelerates Crumbling Infrastructure

In another example of hiding controversial and important policy decisions under obscure DEP website links, the Christie DEP recently posted a new “Asset Management” Guidance document.

The DEP is posting documents in dribs and drabs as part of the long delayed Water Supply Master Plan Update.

DEP apparently thinks this voluntary Guidance developed  ”by invitation only” friends behind closed doors can substitute for a robust public planning process, backed by enforceable regulations and real funding mechanisms.

But buried in the weeds of that Guidance is a huge admission by DEP – Sandy exposed the fact that water and sewer facilities violated the terms of their permits and that DEP failed to monitor, inspect and enforce these permit requirements.

According to NJ’s “Sandy Recovery Plan”

At the height of the storm, 94 wastewater treatment systems suffered failures or disruptions, including inadequate treatment, broken sewer mains, and other operational issues. The loss of electrical power rendered many water systems unable to maintain service. Even at plants where backup generation was available, the disruption of the petroleum production and delivery system caused generator fuel supplies to be limited.

The vast majority of New Jersey’s community water supply systems were impacted: 427 of 604 community water systems experienced power loss during the event. As a direct result of the service interruptions, 362,334 New Jersey residents were placed under a boil water advisory. One month after Superstorm Sandy made landfall, eight drinking water systems in Ocean County, serving approximately 10,000 households, were still subject to a boil water advisory. ”

Those severe failures were predicted and preventable.

Based on those failures, PEER requested that EPA conduct oversight and condition any future federal funding on compliance.

Get the full story, with links to the documents, from our friends at PEER:

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For Immediate Release:  Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Contact:  Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

CHRISTIE’S OTHER HIDDEN MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR DEFICIT
No Plan to Pay for Huge Water Infrastructure Shortfall Aggravated by Sandy  

Trenton — New Jersey is facing a massive and growing financial gap in its ability to protect water supplies and infrastructure but has no plan to pay for needed improvements or prevent coming water emergencies, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). A water infrastructure deficit pegged at nearly $13 billion several years ago has now ballooned by impacts and implications of Super-Storm Sandy, sea level rise and expected extreme weather events.

An “Asset Management” Guidance document quietly posted earlier this month on the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) website is the latest placeholder for the long overdue Update of the State Water Supply Management Plan.  In this Guidance, the state acknowledges that in order to safeguard drinking water supplies it must invest heavily in upgrading sewage treatment plants, controlling sewer overflows, installing backup generators and shielding other waterworks.  Yet, it has no plan for doing so:

  • The Statewide Water Supply Management Plan has not been updated in nearly 20 years and is based upon hydrological data from the 1980’s;
  • The state admits its legal duty to “require drinking water and wastewater utilities to demonstrate that they have adequate facilities, and equipment, and that they regularly perform operation and maintenance to meet the conditions in their permits,” according to the Guidance document but has no timetable for enforcing these requirements; and
  • Governor Chris Christie does not want to discuss how to pay for these heavy investments, given the tough choice of impinging on private water company profits or raising customers’ utility rates.

“Our water infrastructure deficit is a yawning fiscal sinkhole which the Christie administration wants to treat like it is merely a decorative koi pond,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former long-time DEP analyst.  “The post-Sandy factors now in play make our already huge water infrastructure needs both more expensive and urgent – they will not go away.”

The state’s failure to enforce “resilience” and “asset management” requirements in DEP permits is not merely academic – it could jeopardize federal Clean Water Act funding tied to these same requirements.

Today, PEER wrote to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck to inquire when resilience and asset management requirements for water infrastructure would be invoked.

The state’s continuing malaise was underlined in the April 3rd transmittal email from DEP’s Water Supply Modeling & Planning chief, Jeffrey Hoffman, on the release of its Asset Management Guidance:

“I checked and am told that it is DEP’s goal to eventually incorporate these guidelines into regulations. DEP is open to suggestions on how to improve the guidelines in order to create more effective regulations.  I am not aware of any formal review process or meetings but comments are welcomed.”

“Unfortunately, our water infrastructure deficit is compounded by a leadership deficit,” added Wolfe. Pointing out that since the notoriously anti-regulatory Gov. Christie has no schedule for converting these thorny and costly voluntary standards into mandatory regulations, it is likely the problem will be left to his successor.  “Ensuring healthful water supplies for New Jersey should not be just another political can kicked down the road.”

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Read the PEER letter

Examine New Jersey’s vague new Guidance on Asset Management

Revisit water emergency in immediate wake of Sandy

Look at historic $12.8 billion water infrastructure deficit

See how Sandy multiplied water infrastructure needs

New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability

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Delaware Bayshore History a Barometer for Measuring Climate Change Sea Level Rise

April 14th, 2014 No comments

Where is the vision and leadership to protect the people and resources of the Bayshore Region?

NJ Spotlight ran an excellent piece today on the impacts of climate change driven sea level rise on the Delaware Bayshore region, see:

It’s not just scientists and environmentalists that know about the dangers of climate change and are sounding alarming warnings.

The excellent NJ Spotlight piece uses the East Point Lighthouse and regional historical resources as very visible indicators of the rise in sea levels, mainly attributable to climate change:

East Point Lighthouse stands about 118 feet from the high-tide line on South Jersey’s Delaware Bay shore, but it used to be much further away.

The historic structure at the mouth of the Maurice River was 460 feet from the high-water mark when it was inspected in 1908, according to the Maurice River Historical Society, which has helped to restore the lighthouse, and is keeping a careful eye on its proximity to the ocean. By 2008, the margin shrunk to 174 feet, and then to 118 feet in 2013.

It’s a shame that the highly vulnerable and ecologically and historically rich Delaware Bayshore region has been ignored by the Obama/Christie post Sandy funding blitz.

The people and local/county governments of the region have recently come together to produce a forward looking regional plan to preserve the history, culture and resources of the Bayshore and adapt to climate change threats. (see this post).

That local/regional voluntary effort has been ignored by federal and state funders, as well as the non-profit and philanthropic communities.

IF adequate resources were provided, the conditions are ripe for institutionalizing a regional planning framework along the lines of the Pinelands and Highlands and Meadowlands regions.

But where is there vision and the leadership to make that happen?

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Bordentown Annual Tree Planting

April 12th, 2014 No comments

Shade Tree Committee and Volunteers

Shade Tree Committee volunteers plant 3 plane trees on Burlington St.

Shade Tree Committee volunteers plant 3 plane trees on West Burlington St. (4/12/14)

 

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tree planting3

A big thanks to Mayor Joe Malone for help with the front end loader moving left over soil for my yard!

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Pinelands Commissioners Push Back Hard On Gov. Christie’s Attack

April 11th, 2014 No comments

Commissioners Appalled By Tone and Inaccuracies In Gov.’s Letter

Commissioners Strongly Defend Need for Staff Salary Increase

[Update: 4/12/14 - Kick ass Record editorial: Pinelands' Politics

Christie veto wasn't just about raises

NEW JERSEY'S Pinelands in South Jersey are a state treasure; indeed, a national treasure. Members of the Pinelands Commission, tasked with keeping watch on the environmentally sensitive, million-acre nature preserve, should not have to worry about facing intimidation from any sitting governor of New Jersey. [...]

“It is a shame that the protections of the Pinelands and the independence of the Pinelands Commission must be sacrificed for the political ambitions of scandal-plagued Governor Christie,” said environmental blogger Bill Wolfe, a former employee of the state Department of Environmental Protection. ~~~ end update]

The Pinelands Commission’s Planning Committee met today just a day after news stories reported on Gov. Christie’s harshly critical veto letter on their proposed salary increase for staff.

The Gov. accused the Commission of a “confiscation” of conservation funds and a “gross abuse of power”, see:

The meeting was quite a scene – the gloves almost came completely off. Because it is rare to see open criticism of Gov. Christie, I figured I’d lay out a little of the blow by blow. There were many blows struck!

While recognizing the Governor’s legal power to veto the proposed raise, for 30 minutes or more the Commissioners blasted the Gov.’s letter as totally inappropriate in tone and riddled with inaccuracies and innuendo.

Chairman Lohbauer was the last to speak . He began by saying that to be the first Chairman ever to have the Gov. exercise a veto was not a “proud moment” in his tenure.

Lohbauer captured the essence of the debate by saying the Gov.’s letter was “deeply troubling”, “unfair”, and made accusations that “impugn the character of the Commission”.

Commissioner Lloyd began the discussion during the routine approval of the minutes.

Lloyd criticized the language of the letter. He then explained that the proposed use of the Conservation Fund for staff salaries was a previously authorized use of those funds and not “confiscatory” or an “abuse of power” as the Gov. falsely claimed.

Commissioner Jackson was next to takes exception to the letter, and stressed that he  did not frivolously vote to spend money. He emphasized that staff deserved the raise and that their work was critical to protection of the Pinelands and the functioning of the Commission.

Commissioner McGlinchey then jumped in to criticize and rebut the inaccuracies in the Gov.’s letter.

He called on his fellow commissioners to write a letter to clarify the false impressions the public and the press may have formed based on the Gov.’s letter.

He emphasized that the staff well deserve the raise, that only $123,000 was involved, and that the Commission probably spent far more on lawyers during the past 4 years of failed collective bargaining negotiations.

McGlinchey seemed to take the letter personally – he particularly took exception to the Gov.’s false claim that the Commission “confiscated” funds: “I am not a thief!” he cried.

Commissioner Galletta concurred with McGlinchey’s comments. Things were in full swing by now.

But Jackson then jumped in to tamp things down and say that the Commission should not write a letter to the Gov. as that would be counterproductive and publicly escalate the dispute. He suggested that there were more effective ways to proceed.

Commissioner Rohan Green agreed with her colleagues and Jackson, and urged fellow Commissioners not to get into a “tit for tat” and “shouting match” with the Gov. by writing a letter.

After about 30 minutes of this, unfortunately, there was no real consensus on a followup next step.

The Commissioners explained their frustration in trying to work quietly behind the scenes. About 6 months ago, a group had met with the Gov.’s Office and tried to persuade them to support the raise, but got nowhere. They vowed to continue to explore ways to seek additional funds for the raise and to work with the Gov.’s office.

During the public comment session, Carleton Montgomery of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance spoke eloquently in support of the staff and explained why the raise was justified.

I tried to explain the larger political context of the Gov.’s move and why it was no accident that he used such harsh and false criticism, as he had done so before in attacking the North Jersey District Water Supply Authority and the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission as unaccountable, bloated, and patronage filled “shadow governments”.

The Gov.’s attempt to cast the Pinelands Commission under that dark cloud is an intolerable outrage.

I stressed that the Commission had to fight back or else the Gov. would use these false characterizations to inflict even more damage and further erode the Commission’s independence and public perception (I left implicit what I’ve already written – that the Gov.’s plan is likely to replace commissioners with expired terms and use this as a rationale).

I strongly urged them to do more to clarify the intent of the proposed raise, explain why it was justified, and rebut the Gov.’s false claims about “confiscation” and “abuse of power”. These kind of clarifications did not have to come in the form of a letter to the Gov., but they did have to be memorialized in some kind of document (meeting minutes are not adequate, perhaps a press release is in order).

Unfortunately, I think those recommendations fell on deaf ears.

Curiously, Commissioner Avery  - who voted to oppose the pay raise on the losing end of a 12-2 vote – was silent during this entire debate.

He is obviously a tool of the administration, and I actually felt him glaring at me during the meeting. He went out of his way to give me a nasty stare as he left the meeting early while it was still in session (with no public explanation or apology).

Equally curious was the absence of Executive Director Wittenberg, another tool of the Gov.’s Office. Where was Nancy?

This debate is a long way from over.

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Fenimore Fools Have Become Frauds

April 11th, 2014 4 comments

Local Site Plan Approval Required for Landfill Closure Plans at Legacy Landfills

DEP Surface and Groundwater Standards Must Be Met

DEP’s Closure Plan Must Be Consistent with the Highlands Master Plan

Strict Highlands Act Water Quality Standards Apply

A New 30 ppb Hydrogen Sulfide Air Quality Standard is Enforceable by Injunction

An Injunction Can Be Sought To Block All Work At the Site

New Law Expands Persons, Basis & Powers to Seek Injunctive Relief

Lots of stuff breaking in the Fenimore landfill battle recently, but I want to make a few points based on today’s news story.

You can read the bullets above and get the gist of this post.

I continue to be amazed by the lack of competent legal representation for the residents on Roxbury.

I’ll stick to just one glaring example raised in today’s news.

Here is section 3 of a law that was passed and signed by Gov. Christie on June 26, 2013. The law was passed in response to the Fenimore landfill fiasco.

Note that the law expressly states that landfill closure “shall apply for and obtain site plan approval”:

C.13:1E-125.3 Site plan approval required.

3. Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law to the contrary, any person who undertakes the closure of a legacy landfill, or the owner or operator of a closed sanitary landfill facility, who accepts for any reason, solid waste, recyclable material, contaminated soil, cover material, wastewater treatment residual material, dredge material, construction debris, or any other waste or material shall apply for and obtain site plan approval pursuant to the provisions of the “Municipal Land Use Law,” P.L.1975, c.291 (C.40:55D-1 et seq.).

So why is Roxbury Township Attorney and State Assemblyman Anthony Bucco saying exactly the opposite?

The Roxbury Register reports:

Bucco said that even if the Superior Court judge had sided with the township, it would not have ceased operations at the site.

“We have no authority to stop the DEP from remediating as they see fit. They need site plan approvals from the township eventually, but that is just for things like landscaping,” he said.

“There is nothing in the state law that says the township has the right to stop them. They still have primary jurisdiction. The state has pre-empted any town from having jurisdiction over landfill closures,” he said.

However, the DEP must go before the Morris Soil Conservation District  because the state will not allow streams and water to be polluted by runoff,” he said.

Hard to know where to begin to correct the errors, omissions, and misleading statements here.

First, state law no longer preempts landfill closure for legacy landfills. Fenimore is a legacy landfill. Read the law above.

Second, State law says site plan review is required – it does not limit that review to to “things like landscaping”, so Bucco is just making shit up.

Towns have broad powers under the MLUL on issues that are not preempted by State jurisdiction. Landfill closure is no longer preempted by DEP. That means towns have the fill scope of MLUL powers, which are far broader than “things like landscaping”.

Third, the Morris County Soil Conservation District does NOT regulate surface water quality – or water pollution – or landfill closure.

That is DEP’s job and the Highlands Council’s job.

Under the state Water Pollution Control Act and federal Clean Water Act, DEP classifies all surface waters, including streams, in what as known as an “anti degradation designation”. DEP assigns designated uses for the streams, sets numeric and narrative criteria known as “water quality standards” to protect those designated uses, and issues pollution discharge permits to assure that water quality standards are met. DEP conducts monitoring and enforcement to assure that water quality standards are met. DEP mandates cleanup plans for waters that don’t meet standards

The Highlands Act built on clean water laws and created specific anti-degradation policy and designations, stricter water quality standards, larger 300 foot buffers, and stricter regulatory review procedures for activities that might degrade water quality – it’s too much to discuss in detail here.

DEP and the Highlands Council have parallel responsibilities for  groundwater protection.

Last, DEP has a very detailed set of regulations regarding landfill closure requirements. [Update note: See this post for a discussion of DEP landfill closure requirements, including links to regulations.]

How could licensed attorney – and State Assemblyman – Bucco not know all this?

Is he incompetent?

Or is he stupid?

Or is he covering for the Fenimore Fools and Gov. Chrisite’s DEP?

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