April 30, 2014

Depriving Community of Potentially Critical Information That May Affect Its Well-Being Sets a Terrible Precedent

To the Editor:

Things related to the developer’s initiation of demolition of the former Princeton Hospital site are moving right along. My hope is that they are not going to be moving “wrong” along.

At the Princeton Town Council meeting of April 7, a Harris Road resident told the council that he had filed an Open Public Records Act Request three times to review Dr. Ira Whitman’s original report, which had been referenced at the March l0 council meeting — which referencing would thereby make the original report a public document. (Dr. Whitman, for those who may not know, is the Licensed Site Remediation Professional (LSRP) hired by the town to “evaluate environmental issues at Princeton Hospital associated with the [lately-disclosed] medical-waste incinerator, and with demolition of existing structures as the site is re-developed into a multi-unit rental apartment complex (Whitman’s LSRP Report from March 2014).

In response to the resident’s comment, municipal attorney Trishka Cecil said that since the report was a draft, it is not subject to the Public Records Act. But can there really be an “original draft” — as it was referred to — especially if Dr. Whitman referenced it while negotiating with AvalonBay and its consultants? Once the information has been shared with AvalonBay, does not the original document become a public document that is no longer deliberative or confidential in nature?

At the March l0 council meeting, council member Simon asked who had permitted this negotiations by Dr. Whitman with AvalonBay, and he requested a copy of Whitman’s initial unedited recommendations. Why doesn’t the public also have “the right to know” what was contained in that same report? After all, it contains material related to the public health, safety, and welfare of all citizens, including the many children who live in, or attend schools in, the hospital-site neighborhood.

After the negotiations, Dr. Whitman downgraded his original recommendation and deleted lead from the substances designated for soil testing related to the incinerator. Lead, as Whitman acknowledged, was “negotiated away” by AvalonBay, even though it is a known byproduct of medical-waste incinerators.

Local candidates have been campaigning for openness and transparency in government; sadly, it may be that the newly-formed Town of Princeton is a long way from achieving this. Depriving the citizenry of potentially critical information which may directly affect its well-being sets a terrible precedent. Precisely what doesn’t our local government think we should see?

I quote Councilman Lance Liverman. He hoped that AvalonBay would have “come to the table and said, ‘We don’t have to do this, but we’re going to do it” and “… We need more testing.” I, too, hope that a desire for rigorous inquiry and truth-seeking will prevail and that it will prompt the council to release to the public all information contained in Dr. Whitman’s original report.

Linda Auerbach

Lytle Street