To the Editor:
I’ve read the letter recently written by attorney Kleinbaum for Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods, and I find it concerning that, although the hospital site is listed as a contaminated site in the environmental resource inventory for the Township and Borough of Princeton (DVRPC 2010), the undated report that Avalon cites claiming that the site is really uncontaminated is not available to public officials or the general public.
The hospital is indeed a “known contaminated site,” according to the environmental impact statement report submitted by Maser Consulting on behalf of AvalonBay. Yet Maser “has performed no exploratory or testing services”—and doesn’t plan to do so unless “environmental contamination or waste (is) discovered.” The Maser report bases its conclusions on “site specific investigations performed for the property by EcolSciences” that “revealed that no underground tanks or contamination were found in the property.”
But here’s the catch: the EcolSciences report is not documented in the environmental impact study references section. Maser won’t release it; the University Medical Center at Princeton — our health provider — has not responded to requests for the EcolSciences report. An Open Public Records Act request for the EcolSciences report yielded nothing. The public can’t see the report. If it’s not made public, who can verify the science of its conclusions? Contamination is a matter of public health; the public has a vested right to know the truth now, not later.
The problems are stated in a letter sent by environmentalist attorney Aaron Kleinbaum (Eastern Environmental Law Center, Newark) to Jack West and Robert Kiser, engineers of Princeton Borough and Township, and to all Princeton Regional Planning Board members, dated August 22. Mr. Kleinbaum insists that AvalonBay’s application be deemed incomplete until “a full site investigation according to state or federal standards” has been performed by an independent party. This is right: clearly, Maser works for AvalonBay; the unavailability of the EcolSciences report gives no one grounds to trust the methods of the report. According to Maser, AvalonBay understands that if “issues related to the presence of contamination arise…a licensed site remediation professional will be hired to see that the issue is properly remedied.” Who will evaluate “the issues”? Hired by whom?
Mr. Kleinbaum cites a New Jersey Superior Court judgment from 2001: “A planning board has the authority to deny a site plan application if it lacks sufficient specificity . . . to assess the adequacy of a plan because the plan may have a pervasive impact on the public health and welfare.” The planning board in Princeton should heed this legal judgment. AvalonBay is proposing that hundreds of people should rent apartments over ground that may be contaminated. Mr. Kleinbaum has advised the planning board to deny the application “until a thorough phase II site environmental investigation is conducted” and made public.
Kleinbaum’s letter is posted on our Facebook page, or you can contact us for a copy of the letter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Pophristic is a member of Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods and is the chair of the chemistry department at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.