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Why isn’t the DEP doing its job?

Typing Letter to the Editor for the Opinion page.

By Rose Ann Scotti

Something does not seem right in New Jersey. While our Governor and our Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) commissioner keep bloviating about how concerned they are with the environment, several projects seem to be snaking through the various levels of government and the DEP permitting process without the proper environmental oversight.

Case in Point: The Colts Neck Manor project received approval in December from a Planning Board that apparently left common sense at the door.

The constricted site is environmentally very sensitive and historically prone to floods,
contains wetland habitat and is located on the Yellow Brook, a C-1 stream that feeds the Swimming River Reservoir, which is the source of drinking water for 300,000 Monmouth County residents.

The Colts Neck Manor project has evolved from a 48-unit townhouse complex, first proposed in 2006, to a 360-unit apartment complex for 1,000 people on 39 acres.

It would seem the humongous changes in the size and complexity of the project would dictate that it be treated as a completely new application as it progresses through the DEP permitting process.

Yet, the DEP seems to be poised to grant approvals as if it is an extension of the older, much smaller, project.

Consequently, we sent a letter to DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette on April 25 outlining our concerns in graphic, well-researched detail.

There are several deficiencies in the application. One that is most concerning is that the Amphidrome waste water treatment system is five to 10 times bigger than the previous system, is untested for a residential complex of this scale, and does not remove PFAS, a group of cancer-causing chemicals that do not break down in the environment.

Additionally, the storm water and waste water systems do not meet green infrastructure provisions of the NJAC Storm Water Regulations or Colts Neck’s conforming storm water
ordinance effective Feb. 10, 2021.

In the absence of an emergency response plan to mitigate against waste water system overflow if critical components fail, there would be a calamitous pollution event. We requested a meeting with DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette, but have heard nothing yet.

Case in Point: An Upper Saddle River project, where the Environmental Commission chairman defied the advice of the town’s attorney by submitting a letter to the DEP contending that an affordable housing project violated environmental standards.

The commission members felt the DEP should know about the multiple deficiencies in the site plan Upper Saddle River was required to approve.

What do these two cases have in common?

In both cases, serious deficiencies in the applications have been documented by very knowledgeable people.

In both cases, attorneys popped up to warn planning board and environmental commission members against questioning any purported deficiencies under pain of litigation from the developer.

What is going on? Shouldn’t the public have the confidence that through the DEP approval process all environmental concerns for development will be properly addressed?

Shouldn’t we sleep at night and be able to rest assured land development is taking place in a responsible way and that our drinking water is not at risk?

As an agency that is charged with assessing and responding to environmental and public
health risks, we are asking the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to do its job.

Rose Ann Scotti is a resident of Colts Neck.

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