January 20, 2016

DEP Gives Go-Ahead To Institute Project; PBS Presses Suit

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) last week notified the Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS) that, after additional inspections, they still found no wetlands on the site where the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) intends to build faculty housing and no need for IAS to acquire further permits.

At a December 21 State Senate Hearing, which resulted in a letter from three members of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee requesting that the DEP issue a stay on the Institute’s construction project, and a follow-up meeting on January 4 with DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, the Battlefield Society questioned the accuracy of the DEP’s Letter of Interpretation (LOI), which stated that there were no wetlands on the site, and claimed that the Institute was dumping debris and preparing to build in freshwater wetlands.

In last Wednesday’s letter, addressed to Princeton Battlefield Society lawyer Bruce Afran, the DEP denied the PBS claims.

“As a result of the December 7, 2015 and January 8, 2016 inspections,” according to Ginger KopKash, DEP assistant commissioner, “DEP has determined that the current LOI is accurate and that the Institute’s project is not encroaching on or otherwise disturbing any regulated wetlands or transition areas. Therefore the Institute does not require any permits from DEP.”

The NJDEP’s findings contradict claims made by The Princeton Battlefield Society in its January 7 letter of intent to sue under the federal Clean Water Act. The PBS letter to the Institute claimed “unpermitted discharges into wetlands” and called for a penalty of $37,500 per day for each designated wetland site, also citing deceptive actions by the Institute in obtaining its Letter of Interpretation from the DEP.

The Battlefield Society was unfazed by last week’s DEP ruling. “They haven’t substantiated their findings in any credible way,” declared PBS President Jerald Hurwitz, further claiming “troubling misconduct” on the part of the DEP. “It’s hard to believe the DEP findings. They’ve been reluctant all along. They don’t like going back and admitting mistakes. The evidence is undeniable.”

Mr. Hurwitz said the Battlefield Society would “continue on the path we’re on. Our intent is to proceed with the law suit under the Clean Water Act at the expiration of the 60-day waiting period. We are contemplating other actions. We will proceed.”

On January 8, in preparing its response to PBS concerns, according to Ms. KopKash, a team of expert professionals from the DEP conducted visual inspections, compared current conditions outlined in materials provided by the Battlefield Society and conducted soil borings in three different areas that PBS had identified as wetlands.

Site preparations continue for the Institute’s proposed eight townhouses and seven single-family houses on the parcel of approximately seven acres, with the IAS continuing to claim that “our right to build is not in doubt.” In an official statement following the DEP decision, the Institute declared, “We are pleased that the Department of Environmental Protection reaffirmed, with its most recent visit, that the Institute has the Department’s necessary approval to proceed with the site preparation and construction of its faculty housing project.”