Monday, June 12, 2006

The Mayor and the DEP

Letter to the Editors

Is the endless quest for ratables finally going to bite taxpayers back in South Brunswick?

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has found South Brunswick’s stormwater management plan deficient because the Township failed to include its handling of runoff from numerous warehouses on Davidson Mill Road. Those who have been following the story are well aware that members of the Eastern Villages Association have repeatedly insisted that this runoff is flooding the Pigeon Swamp State Park and compromising both its lands and waters.

DEP investigators agree. With a new Commissioner in place and new regulations governing stormwater discharge, DEP engineers toured the area in March. Since all the waters in the Pigeon Swamp including the Great Ditch are listed by the State as Category 1 waters, contamination from runoff is of critical concern. Category 1 waters are sources of drinking water and must be protected from any upstream discharges. This Spring, the New Jersey Courts upheld DEP regulations regarding Category 1 waters over protests from developers. As a result, these laws must be enforced.

Now, South Brunswick finds itself in an awkward position. The Trammel Crow warehouse developers have given the Township $100,000 for an engineering study of the flooding. Many in the know have suggested that this money will just be a portion of what is needed to do a thorough investigation. How much more will be needed to remediate the problems and fix the causes of the flooding? Where will those funds come from?

The Township Planning Board was told of this problem during the Summer of 2005 during the CNJ warehouse application. The Township Engineering Department and the Township Council were also informed. EVA members asked the Boards to use caution in approving the CNJ application because that developer was going to be modifying the very detention basin and drainage system causing the flooding. Had the Township acted then, the CNJ developer would have been responsible for remediation. Instead, the Planning Board approved the plans with only Joe Spataro and Debra Johnson, who had taken the time and effort to visit the site of the flooding, voting against CNJ.

Now, as I write this, bulldozers and earth movers are beginning work on the CNJ site. There is no turning back. While various State agencies have done their best to control the effects of the CNJ plan, the responsibility of proper stormwater management remains in the hands of the municipality. All along the way, the professionals and officials of South Brunswick ignored the warnings.

The Mayor has established the Davidson Mill Road Committee as a task force to consider the impact of warehouse development in the area. Included will be discussion of the flooding. As well the Trammel Crow money is slated to hire and engineering firm to study the flooding. But this all comes nearly a year and a half after the EVA first discovered the flooding and began to investigate its cause. Within a matter of four months, DEP engineers had investigated and made their decision. Now, the Township must act. It is no longer a matter of mere speculation and discussion. Failure to listen to logic has its consequences.

The trouble is, South Brunswick residents may be faced with the bills. We are already paying with potential damage to our drinking water. Are we yet to face potential damage to our wallets?

How much are our ratables going to cost us in the end?


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