April 20, 2016

Battlefield Society Pursues Court Injunction

The Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS), in its ongoing efforts to halt an Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) construction project, last week asked the U.S. District Court for New Jersey to grant a preliminary injunction under the Clean Water Act.

If granted, that injunction would prevent the IAS from continuing work on its 15-unit faculty housing project until the Battlefield Society’s March 10 complaint concerning the destruction of wetlands on the site is resolved. The Institute has until May 2 to respond to the current motion, and on May 16 the court is scheduled to hear the case, according to Battlefield Society attorney Bruce Afran.

The Institute, stating that it “has received all the necessary regulatory approvals to proceed,” continues to move forward with site preparations on the seven-acre parcel.

In January, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) notified the PBS that they had found no wetlands on the IAS building site and that “the Institute does not require any permits from DEP,” but the Battlefield Society disputes that finding.

Though the current court issue is one of environmental land use, the presence of wetlands on the building site would necessitate a historical review of the project, and the Battlefield Society has long contended that the site, next to the Princeton Battlefield Park, is land on which General George Washington led an historic counterattack against British forces.

Emphasizing its “commitment and sensitivity to battlefield preservation and stewardship,” the Institute has cited the project as meeting “a critical need” for faculty housing, and claims to have “taken great care to address all reasonable concerns relative to preservation issues.” The Institute made extensive changes to its original site plans, including moving the project further away from the Park, adjusting the profiles and materials of the housing units and enhancing the landscaped screen between the site and the Park. It also arranged to provide 14 acres of public space subject to a conservation easement, including a 200-foot-wide -parcel adjacent to the Park that will become part of the Park.

The PBS suit against IAS, its contractor and its engineer seeks injunctive relief requiring the removal of all fill material, restoration of the wetlands, and penalties of up to $37,500 per day, according to Mr. Afran.

“We’re hopeful that the Institute will agree to wait until the issues are resolved” before continuing with construction,” Mr. Afran stated. “We hope the Institute will see that compromise is better than pushing ahead,” he said, adding that an offer from the Civil War Trust of $5 million for the disputed land is still on the table.