Trenton — The head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
gave a prominent developer an advance look at streams that would be designated
for protection months before the list was published for public comment, according
to emails released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(PEER). The state agency subsequently dropped the stream protection plans that
would have interfered with the developer’s projects.
In an October 28, 2002 email to DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell, Joe Riggs, President of K. Hovnanian, a major New Jersey developer, opposed additional protections for several high quality streams and rivers, including the Peckman River, Lopatcong Creek, Pequannock River, Mill Brook and South Branch of the Raritan River. The company objected to placing these stream buffer lands off limits to building because that would preclude sewage treatment plant expansions needed to serve its projects.
“This is a case of inside trading to rip off the environment,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “These documents reveal troubling behind-the-scenes political influence that ultimately undermined protections for high quality New Jersey trout streams and rivers,” commented New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP official.
Under the Clean Water Act, stream classifications are adopted in accordance with open rulemaking procedures. By law, these classifications are to be based solely on water quality characteristics and science. According to the emails, Campbell had given Riggs an internal DEP draft list of streams under consideration for upgrades. Campbell then relayed Riggs concerns about frustrating “growth opportunities” to DEP with this comment:
“Pls. see attached regarding the reclassification., He makes a valid point re the Peckhman, methinks.”
Neither Joe Riggs nor his company ever publicly commented on the Peckman. The list of proposed streams was made available to the public on January 6, 2003, more than two months after it had been provided to Riggs.
“Unfortunately under Commissioner Campbell, environmental protection is too often handled as a closed door affair,” Wolfe added. “The way it works is that only those with a private pipeline to the Commissioner receive favorable treatment.”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability.