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Hopewell Is A Poster Child for Why Open Space Diversion is Fatally Flawed

October 23rd, 2014 No comments

Watershed Planning & Water Quality Management Tools Saved The Town From Massive Sprawl

Open Space Diversion Would Slash Funds For Those Same DEP Programs

No town in NJ provides a more compelling example than Hopewell of the value of watershed planning, water quality management, and DEP science and technical support programs.

I just read another highly misleading half truth Op-Ed in support of Open Space Ballot Question #2, this one by my friend Jim Waltman at Stony Brook Watershed Association., see:

Waltman touts prior efforts to preserve the rural character of Hopewell:

Unlike some surrounding communities, Hopewell Valley’s rural character has been largely preserved thanks to sustained efforts to protect open space and farmland. Hopewell Township’s residents have made a strong commitment to conservation and preservation and with tremendous results, but nearly 20,000 acres of undeveloped land remain open to development — that’s 50 percent of our total area. Voting yes will help protect our clean water and quality of life for generations to come.

But Mr. Waltman leaves something critically important out of his argument.

Hopewell lands were protected from sprawl development by the very watershed planning and water quality management programs that the open space ballot initiative would severely cut.

Hopewell, in the mid 1990′s, became the battleground and statewide focal point for what was then called the war on “suburban sprawl”. I was a resident of Hopewell at the time and was proud to be engaged in this fight.

These battles publicly revolved around massive development plans that involved extensions of sewer lines into Hopewell to support intensive development.

Millions of square feet of new commercial development and thousands of new residential units would have been served by the proposed massive increase in sewer infrastructure and capacity, including along Scotch Road/Merrill Lynch, the BMS campus in Pennington, and north along Rt. 31. These debates included expansion and upgrade of the Pennington treatment plant.

[and if those sewer lines were built, land values would have increase 10 times or more, making an acquisition strategy cost prohibitive.]

A few years later, there was another major development battle at the Berwind site – this one involved expanding an old package wastewater treatment plant and various regulatory restrictions imposed by a DEP Category 1 stream designation.

The common denominator and decisive factor in all these debates was the science and regulatory requirements of DEP’s watershed planning and the water quality management programs.

In fact, a group of residents I was involved with, represented by Bill Potter of Princeton, actually filed a lawsuit that successfully blocked the planned ELSA sewer capacity on the basis of violation of these DEP regulatory and planning requirements.

Those are exactly the same DEP programs that would be slashed by the Open Space ballot diversion.

As I’ve written, based on DEP’s budget documents, there would be 123 DEP staff positions in water quality monitoring and planning cut under Ballot Question #2 – with $16 million more from DEP’s science and technical programs that provide support and $18.1 million from DEP land use regulation that implements the science and planning.

Here is what those DEP staffers do that Hopewell directly relied upon – across the entire state:

Since 1996, 4% of the revenue annually derived from the tax imposed by the Corporation Business Tax Act (P.L.1945, c.162) has been dedicated to the Department. A portion of this dedication has been used for the following purposes: watershed-based water resource planning and management, financing the cost of water quality point and nonpoint source pollution monitoring, nonpoint source pollution prevention projects, Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) development and implementation, as well as lake restoration and grants. Conducts planning on watershed management, water quality, water supply, coastal zone management, nonpoint source control, stormwater management, and other planning requirements associated with the federal Clean Water Act and the New Jersey Water Quality Planning Act. Also administers the National Estuary Program and federal Section 604(b) water quality management planning.

It is incredibly disingenuous – and just flat out wrong –  for Waltman to ignore this history and regulatory realty in his arguments in favor of Question #2.

On top of all that, following these major battles that local environmentalists won, Hopewell built on that success by adopting perhaps NJ’s most innovative and science based Master Plan and zoning scheme, which is based on water resource capacity – both water quality and water quantity.

Again, it is exactly that science, watershed and water resource capacity based planning, and regulatory programs that preserved so much land in Hopewell that would be slashed under the Open Space diversion.

No town in NJ provides a more compelling example than Hopewell  of the value of watershed planning, water quality management, and DEP science and technical support programs.

It is extremely shortsighted and totally counterproductive to sacrifice those very effective programs on the mantle of a half baked, rob Peter to pay Paul, open space funding scheme.

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October Surprise! Bergen Record Provides a Platform For Dupont PR Stunt

October 23rd, 2014 No comments

Negligent Local Officials Portrayed As Aggressive Law Enforcers

Blatant PR Stunt Just Days Before Local Election

This could be one of the most outrageous examples of corporate propaganda and local politics I have ever seen.

Regular readers here know that the Dupont Pompton Lakes site is highly contaminated with a toxic brew of heavy metals and organic chemicals that poison soil, groundwater, Pompton Lake sediments, fish & wildlife, and about 450 nearby homes with industrial chemicals via “vapor intrusion”.

Dupont has dragged their feet for over 30 years in failing to completely cleanup the site and compensate homeowners for destroying their health and home equity.

At the same time, local residents have become increasingly frustrated by the failure of EPA, DEP, and local officials to “crackdown” on Dupont and enforce environmental laws to require that the site cleanup is expedited.

Residents repeatedly have criticized local officials for their cozy relationship with Dupont and failure to defend their interests.

There were two former Pompton Lakes Council members who took on Dupont, Ed Meakem and Lisa Riggiola. Both were quickly dispatched by the Dupont puppets.

The failed Dupont cleanup has become a big issue in the local election, which is less than 2 weeks away. One of the candidates if the husband of former Council member Riggiola. He too is fighting Dupont.

On top of all that, local officials recently were forced to shut down an un-permitted and illegal river dredging operation, after I filed a complaint with the US EPA.

So, with all that in mind, check out this extended quote from our good friends at Dupont in today’s Bergen Record story: Crackdown begins on DuPont property in Pompton Lakes

DuPont spokesperson Terry Gooding said the company is working with the police to help protect the people and the environment.

“Protecting people and the environment is a top priority,” said Gooding. “It’s in the interest of safety that we do not want the general public entering DuPont-owned property under any condition. We ask that people respect our property boundary. There are various types of wildlife present across the property, including coyotes, venomous snakes, and bears. If someone were to get attacked and/or injured on the property, we may not be aware of it in order to provide necessary assistance.

Gooding added, “ATV and dirt bike riders potentially can have accidents on the property. These vehicles also cause irreparable harm to the wildlife habitats and remove vegetation from areas that allow erosion to occur. In order to prevent this activity, we are working with the local police departments to complete a program in which trespassers will be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

First of all, the Record’s reporters and editors HAVE to know that this is a propaganda and political stunt. They can not possibly be that naive.

Protecting people and the environment is a top priority at Dupont? Are you kidding me?

People entering the property might get harmed by wildlife? How about poisoned by Dupont’s toxic mess that still hasn’t been cleaned up after 30 years.

ATV’s harm wildlife habitat? What about Dupont’s toxic mercury?

Dupont is concerned about erosion along the river? What about the illegal dredging and disposal operation the town is conducting that EPA just had shut down?

Local officials are “cracking down” on the Dupont property?

That might be the biggest absurdity and laugh of all -

I’ll close with a reader’s comment about that:

Where were the police when DuPont was poisoning the water?
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A New Cover Story on the Open Space Diversion of $100 Million Of Environmental Funds

October 22nd, 2014 No comments

How Did Cuts and Layoffs of This Magnitude Stay Under the Radar for So Long?

The debate I’ve been seeking on the open space Ballot Question #2 regarding the impacts of diverting funds from existing State parks and DEP environmental programs seems to be buzzing behind the scenes.

Reporters and editorial writers are looking into these issues as well.

So, in this fluid environment, I thought I’d report briefly on developments of significance or new information I come across.

I got a call earlier today from a longtime, well respected, and well placed conservationist, who wanted to ask me a few questions about my criticisms.

This person had called Board members and staff of KIG coalition member groups and asked for their response to my criticisms regarding the DEP & parks diversions, layoffs, etc

This person was told that early on, after Sen. Smith made an inquiry to DEP about use of the CBT, and after DEP refused to respond, then the KIG coalition members suspected and later assumed that the Christie Administration had diverted the CBT money into the General Fund!

This assumption appears to have morphed into some kind of urban myth.

See, if the CBT money was being diverted into the General Fund – just like Gov. Christie diverted over $1 billion of Clean Energy Fund revenues – then by definition there could be no harm to environmental programs or DEP if the CBT funds were diverted to open space.

Effectively, there would be no Peter for Paul to Rob.

I told this person that that story was not credible, because in April, during the budget review process, OLS asked, and DEP responded to, specific OLS question on the use of CBT money and DEP provided a written response.

I published those OLS questions and DEP responses in my prior post.

But this story could explain how they kept this whole set of issues quiet for so long – just accuse Christie of diversions and then KIG diversion for open space becomes a GOOD THING!

The truth will out on all this – the only question  is whether its too late to influence the Nov. *4 vote.

[Note - * means technical error corrected]

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Flying Blind on Open Space – And Lying About It

October 21st, 2014 2 comments

What will be the result of diverting $100 million/year from DEP environmental programs?

Don’t Ask Because No One Knows

You go to war with the army you have – not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.   ~~~ Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld

This is the ballot question we have. It is up to all of us to work together and pass it whether you like it or not, because losing will cause bigger harm to the environment. ~~~ Director of NJ Sierra Club, Jeff Tittel

I spent several hours last night doing research on the legislative history of the Open Space ballot question.

I began my research at the prompting of a news editor, who yesterday sent me an October 6 Sierra Club press release that the editor felt was a response to my October *6 PEER press release on the the negative impacts the would result from the open space ballot question.

Sierra Club’s October 6 press release provided very lame (and false) excuses for the DEP environmental program cuts they supported and then went on offense with this indirect attack:

To be clear this dedication is not going to zero out funding for parks and park maintenance because park capital repairs is still included in the question and the money will be set aside during the implementation legislation. None of this money is going to go too (sic) maintenance, it goes for capital repairs. The Site Remediation funding was supposed to go towards cleanup sites especially orphaned sites and not for staff. The money that used to go to staff from the Spill Act now goes to balance the budget. Also $100 million from the Passaic River cleanup settlement is being diverted to the general fund. Money for Watershed programs were supposed to go to water projects, restoration programs, and to towns for water shed (sic) planning not for staff. 

People are criticizing this dedication, but where were these people for the last 2 years when Sierra Club was fighting money being taken from other programs to fund open space or supporting us on a water fee for open space? We are committed to getting additional funds for these programs from other sources.

I took NJ LCV to the woodshed for similar falsehoods and spin, so before I get to the legislative history (which has Tittel’s fingerprints all over it) let’s take my friend Jeff Tittel’s press release claims quickly in order: (please read the OLS fiscal estimate to get the law and the facts straight).

  • Parks funding

First, you can read a DEP parks employee go into great detail on the issues.

Firstly, Tittel seems confused about what a capital project is and is dead wrong about the deferred maintenance backlog and capital projects. The DEP staffer explained:

Back in 2006, voters were asked to approve, and overwhelming did, a constitutional amendment that authorized 15% of corporate business tax (CBT) funds to assist NJ State Parks & Historic sites with major deferred maintenance known as capital projects. 

Next, read the OLS fiscal estimate and see that the Ballot question does in fact legally terminate and “zero out” the current Constitutional dedication of 32% (about $32 million/year) of CBT funds to parks:

for financing improvements and facilities for recreation and conservation purposes on parks and other preserved open space lands

Tittel does not seem to understand the legal meaning of a dedication to a specific use versus authorization of a range of allowable uses, and is totally clueless about how that influences political decisions on allocation of funds and impacts the administration of funds at DEP.

The current *$32 million Constitutional dedication in under the total control of DEP’s Parks program for specific parks related purposes. Parks has a $400 million maintenance backlog, so that funding is already spoken for.

[* it increases from 15% to 32% in 2016, when diesel retrofit funds are shifted to parks]

Take a look at what that funded this year, per DEP reply to OLS questions:

State Parks Projects:

The projects below are being funded from the department’s appropriation for Recreational Land and Development (CBT dedication); reimbursement is being sought from FEMA Public Assistance funding and from the Community Disaster Block Grant – Disaster Recovery funding (State’s ten percent share)::

Current:

  • Island Beach State Park, Fisherman’s Walkway Reconstruction $181,109 7/1/14
  • Leonardo State Marina, Temporary Office $128,180 7/1/14
  • Leonardo State Marina, Maintenance Area Gasoline Tank Repairs $57,041 7/1/14
  • Liberty State Park, Ferry Slip/Walkway Repairs $938,696 5/31/14
  • Liberty State Park, Terminal Exterior Repairs $4,798,758 9/1/14

Planned:

  • Leonardo State Marina, Demolition of Various Damaged Structures $75,000 9/1/14
  • Leonardo State Marina, New Office/Visitors Service Complex $2,000,000 12/31/16
  • Liberty State Park, Terminal Interior, Mechanical, Plumbing, Electrical Restoration $7,500,000 6/15/15
  • Liberty State Park, Interpretive Center Restoration $2,000,000 6/30/16

The proposed ballot question would significantly change that.

It would legally abolish the currently dedicated 32% to parks and pool it with other allowable uses., specifically, 71% – 78% for the preservation and stewardship of open space (Green Acres), farmland, historic sites, and flood-prone areas (Blue Acres).

Does Tittel not understand that this means that parks would have to compete with HUGE unmet needs for open space, farmland, historic sites, and blue acres?

There is no way – none whatsoever, that parks will get anywhere near the $32 million – that would be 45% of the new total pool of funds.

Far more likely, parks would be on the short end of the funding stick when competing against all those other very popular and hugely unmet needs. Parks simply will not be able to win the bureaucratic and political war for scarce funds.

That lack of political clout and support at DEP is what created the $400 million deferred maintenance backlog in State Parks. Had Parks been able to compete effectively for DEP funds, that backlog would never have been created.

  • DEP salaries

For the record, contrary to Mr. Tittel’s false claim, the original 1996 CBT ballot authorized DEP to use funds for salaries. In fact, it was drafted, in part, in response to Gov. Whitman’s budget cuts and layoffs at DEP. Since then, for 18 years, the Legislature has annually appropriated CBT funds to specific DEP program staff in every DEP budget, and DEP has been spending CBT funds on DEP staff. Here is OLS on that:

under the current constitutional dedication, up to 9% of the total amount dedicated may be used to pay for administrative costs of the State’s hazardous substance discharge program.

Even more broadly, here is how DEP advised the legislature regarding the use of CBT funds during the FY’15 budget review:

  • [OLS] Question: How many positions in the DEP are funded in whole or in part by the Corporation Business Tax dedication? Please provide a breakdown by program.
  • [DEP] ANSWER: Approximately 266 positions in the DEP are supported by the Corporate Business Tax dedication. 230 of these positions are on accounts directly funded by CBT appropriations. The remaining are funded via reimbursement from CBT funds.

Below is the breakdown by program:

  • Site Remediation- 107 positions
  • Compliance & Enforcement/UST Inspections- 10 positions
  • Water Monitoring & Planning- 123 positions
  • Air Quality- 8 positions
  • Parks Management- 18 positions 

How could Tittel and others now object to this when they knew or should have known that CBT funds were used for hundreds of DEP salaries for 18 years?

  • History - where were these people for the last 2 years

Mr. Tittel also knows that I have been fighting DEP budget cuts and diversions since 1985 both from within DEP and in the non-profit sector.  Over that 30 year period, I have written about and testified multiple times  to the legislature and in other DEP fora in support of all sorts of fees, taxes, fines, and funds to support various infrastructure and environmental programs.

Tittel himself testified on March 17, 2014 to the Senate Environment Committee (link below) and explicitly recognized my work on the original 1996 CBT dedication, which was done BEFORE Tittel was even with Sierra Club’s staff.

  • Current Uses of CBT Funds that would be diverted to open space

Contrary to the documentary practice of PEER, which always provides links to source documents, we note that Tittel provides no data or documents to support his false and misleading claims, so here are the facts, with links to the underlying official documents:

The current CBT dedication provided $103 million to DEP in the FY 2015 budget (DEP section starts on page D-105).

Since 1996, 4% of the revenue annually derived from the tax imposed by the Corporation Business Tax Act (P.L.1945, c.162) has been dedicated to the Department. A portion of this dedication has been used for the following purposes: watershed-based water resource planning and management, financing the cost of water quality point and nonpoint source pollution monitoring, nonpoint source pollution prevention projects, Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) development and implementation, as well as lake restoration and grants. Conducts planning on watershed management, water quality, water supply, coastal zone management, nonpoint source control, stormwater management, and other planning requirements associated with the federal Clean Water Act and the New Jersey Water Quality Planning Act. Also administers the National Estuary Program and federal Section 604(b) water quality management planning.

As outlined in the FY’15 budget, here is how the current CBT funds are allocated among DEP programs (all of these will be cut under the Open Space Ballot diversion):

  • $16 million goes to science and technical programs (water supply, science support, & land use regulation)
  • $53 million goes to site remediation and waste management
  • $18.1 million to environmental regulation
  • $16 million to natural resource management (development and conservation of recreational lands)

Additionally, the CBT funds municipal brownfields cleanup and redevelopment projects and provides millions of dollars in grants to homeowners to remove underground storage tanks.

Tittel also knows that I was the author of the 1997 Watershed Management Act that created the current watershed planning process. His claims about watershed planning funds are flat out false.

  • Legislative History of Open Space Ballot Question

Now that Tittel’s spin has been exposed as false and misleading, lets now ask: How did this happen?

I was trying to get my head around how we could possibly have come to a point where $100 million per year of funds dedicated to specific DEP programs (i.e. parks maintenance, water resources, & toxic site cleanup) will be eliminated – and without a word of opposition from DEP; labor union CWA who represents DEP employees who will be laid off as a result of the diversions; the press; and environmental groups.

You would be shocked to know. Basically, they don’t know. And made very little effort to find out.

Senate Environmental Committee Chairman – and sponsor of the Open Space initiative SCR84 [SCS] – explained it all at the first hearing on the introduced version of his Resolution SCR84 on March 17, 2014 where he described the “crisis on open space”  (listen here – open space is the last up).

Smith said he just did not know how current CBT funds that would be diverted are currently used at DEP because DEP refused to provide information or respond to his requests for information!

The problems with that is … that the $100 million in CBT money has been used for other purposes. …

One thing you’re going to find out is that we’ve not been able to get any information from anybody – not the Treasurer, not the DEP.

Nobody is willing – we’ve asked for the information, nobody is willing to provide it.

So there it is -

But the ignorance, laziness, and lies of legislators and environmental lobbyists does not explain why DEP failed to provide that information or why the DEP’s employee union, CWA, failed to raise objections.

Next, we challenge the claims made by Keep It Green Advertisements.

[Endnote: I must observe two absurd ironies:

1. For "environmentalists" to suddenly be shocked - a la Claude Reins - that, after 18 years, CBT money is being used for DEP salaries is absurd. They are either ignorant or lying, perhaps both.

Ironically, that concern echoes Hal Bozarth of the Chemical Industry's criticisms that his members were paying Spill Act fees to support DEP staffers who were overseeing toxic site cleanups by his members.

Before that, Jim Sinclair from the NJBIA made those arguments, for very similar reasons: corporate NJ resented having to pay for DEP oversight of their operations.

It's called "Polluter Pays" and its been DEP policy since the Florio Administration - shockingly, NJ ENGO's seem clueless about all that and are parroting industry arguments.

2.  If you listen to the testimony of the March 17, 2014 Senate Environment Committee hearing (link above), ironically the groups I have been criticizing most harshly (e.g. KIG, LCV, watershed) actually expressed more concern about the impact of the DEP diversions than Tittel did. - end]

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Followup on Gov. Christie’s Pinelands Fiasco

October 20th, 2014 No comments

The Koch Brothers and Big Oil & Gas are watching

David Reilly wrote a followup story in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer on the Christie Pinelands retaliation scheme, see:

I am glad to see the press stay engaged with this issue, so will make a few observations on Reilly’s story.

First of all, Reilly relies on political pollster Patrick Murray to explain the politics. But Murray muddies the water for two reasons.

First, Murray must not be closely following this issue because he filters this dispute through 2 conventional wisdom lenses. Murray essentially says:

1) National: Gov. Christie is running for President and cares only about right wing primary voters who do not support the environment; 2) In state/NJ:  how the environment stacks up as an issue compared to other priority issues (code for jobs and economic growth, which in turn are code for corporate profits and capitalism).

From the national perspective, Murray ignores the fact that the pipeline is a test of Christie’s ability to deliver on major fossil energy infrastructure projects –  the Koch Brothers and Big Oil & Gas are watching.

Crushing environmental and democratic (small “d”) opposition to energy infrastructure is a key test to attract the Big energy money required to fuel a 2016 campaign, especially if it can be done on a “bi-partisan” basis (note: with the support of Democrats Van Drew & Sweeney and a Democratically controlled Senate and mobilized trade unions).

[Note to Mr. Murray: it's not primary voters Christie is concerned about, it's primary money.  Iowa voters are not following the Pinelands, but Koch & Energy people definitely are.]

Does Murray not recognize the national implications of pipeline and energy infrastructure debates, given the exploding Climate Movement?

[Keystone XL is only the tip of a huge iceberg on the expanding debate over extreme energy and climate change. "Leave Fossil in the ground" is the new battle cry.]

[Update -10/21/14 - I swear, when I wrote this, I was not dating Coral Davenport and did not have a mole in the NY Times, see:

Murray is simply dead wrong when he says:

“there’s no political pressure for him [Christie] to pay,” said Murray,

From the NJ instate perspective, first, this is not a traditional “jobs versus environment” issue.

Murray ignores the bi-partisan letter from 4 former Governors that elevate this issue way beyond that stale debate.

This is about the integrity of the Pinelands Commission and whether Gov.’s will be  allowed to get away with abuses of power that compromise their independence as a regulatory body.

Evidence of the importance of the issue can be seen by the fact that Chairman Scutari used Republican Senator Bateman as the initial attack dog in questioning the nominee on the pipeline. In his questions, Bateman cited Gov. Brendan Byrne’s [D] legacy and asked the nominees whether we should go backward and weaken regulations that protect the Pines.

Similarly, Democrats on the Committee cited the Gov.’s letter.

It also explains why Gov. Christie’ strongest backers on the Judiciary Committee, Kyrillos and O’Toole, did not lift a finger to defend the Gov.’s nominees and let them twist in the wind.

Second on the in-state political issues is the fact that the fate of the nominees is in the hands of Senate Democrats.

So, from Gov. Christie’s perspective, this is a test of his machine alliances -

George Norcross is all over South Jersey infrastructure and economic development decisions. The pipeline has been justified as a major south jersey economic development project. That means Norcross/Sweeney are involved.

Accordingly, there very likely were prior political commitments and agreements made that now test Christie’s ability to honor deals he may have made with Senate President Sweeney and the South Jersey wing, represented by Van Drew.

Keep in mind that Van Drew has publicly stated on the record that he has the support of Sweeeney and the Gov.’s Office in backing the pipeline.

From the Senate Democrats’ perspective, the NJ political issue is the South v. North intra-Democratic party split and the degree to which South Jersey machine deals with Christie will be allowed to continue.

Which takes us to our next point – how and why were these nominees selected?

The Gov.’s motives are obvious – just like the Mob enforcing discipline, he is retaliating for 2 Commissioners voting their conscience, particularly Ms. Rohan Green who is a republican and a Christie nominee.

The nominees were handled the way they were to give the Governor and the Gov.’s office a plausible deniability of direct involvement.

The deals likely were made by political surrogates.

The Gov.’s office low level staffers were just the waterboys.

Evidence suggesting this was brought out by Sen. Gill, who asked a key question that nominee Roohr failed to respond to.

Gill asked if anyone mentioned the Gov.’s position on the pipeline – that conversation would go something like this:

Q: “Are you a loyal team player”  A: Yes, of course.

Q: “Gov. Christie supports the pipeline and BL England plant as critical to south jersey’s economic development and believes it can be built with no harm to the Pinelands.

“Are you willing to accept the nomination? – A: Yes

See how political understandings are reached? The quid pro quo remains unsaid.

But the nominees know EXACTLY what is expected of them in return for the nomination.

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