The Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society plans to file a suit in federal court claiming that the Institute for Advanced Study has violated the Federal Water Pollution Control Act by depositing dirt from a construction site into wetlands.
The group claims that dirt and sand from the new faculty housing construction site was deposited into wetlands on December 13, 2015 and each day since then by construction equipment used on the site. The group’s lawyers say the discharges by the Institute are in violations of the Federal Water Pollution Act because they are unpermitted discharges into navigable waters.
“(The wetland is) navigable water because it directly abuts a non-navigable tributary of traditional navigable waters, or is adjacent to such a tributary and has a significant nexus to that tributary,” reads the 60-day notice sent to the Institute by the Battlefield Society informing officials of the intent to sue.
After the expiration of the 60-day notice period, the Battlefield Society plans to file a citizen suit for the alleged violations. The suit will seek injunctive relief, requiring the removal of all fill material and restoration of the wetlands, and penalties in the amount of $37,500 for each violation at each wetland. The Battlefield Society lawyers say the discharges are “continuing violations” under the Act, and thus each day since those discharges began is a separate violation of the Act. The suit will also seek attorneys’ fees and litigation costs.
“The Society notes that since the Institute appears to have obtained Letters of Interpretation concerning the site from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection by withholding information and/or providing misleading information, the court would be justified in assessing the full penalty amount for each day of each violation,” reads the letter to the Institute.
A spokesperson for the Institute released a statement dismissing the Battlefield group’s arguments.
“The notice that was given to the Institute does not raise any issues that have not already been reviewed and rejected in the course of all of the approvals received on the Faculty Housing project, including subsequent judicial review of those approvals,” reads the Institute statement.
The lawsuit is the latest skirmish in the war over Maxwell’s Field, part of the battlefield where George Washington’s famous counterattack struck the British lines and saved the American Revolution. The Institute is building 15 units of faculty housing on the site after winning several court victories.
Last month, the Institute for Advanced Study began construction work on Maxwell’s Field and issued a statement to the press saying the project would move forward.
“The Institute for Advanced Study is moving forward with its Faculty Housing project on approximately seven acres of a twenty-one acre site on the Institute’s academic campus. The Institute has received all necessary approvals and permissions from the relevant agencies. The project meets a critical need for the Institute, which has taken great care to address all reasonable concerns relative to preservation issues in consultation with historians James McPherson and David Hackett Fischer,” read the statement.
“The Institute made extensive changes to the 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. Archaeological surveys have been conducted on the project site to recover any remaining artifacts, and to meet commitments made to the Princeton Planning Board in the course of its approval of the project,” read the statement. “At no cost to the public, fourteen acres will soon be open public space subject to a conservation easement, including a 200-foot-wide parcel adjacent to the Princeton Battlefield State Park that will become, in effect, part of the Park. In 1971, the Institute sold to the State of New Jersey land that increased the size of the Battlefield Park by some thirty-eight percent. The creation of more open public space further underscores the Institute’s commitment and sensitivity to battlefield preservation and stewardship.”
The Civil War Trust, the largest nonprofit organization devoted to preserving American battlegrounds, has launched a petition drive and letter writing campaign to save land that was part of the historic Battle of Princeton from development. The Civil War Trust, through its Campaign 1776 initiative, has repeatedly asked to meet with the Institute to talk about purchasing the property or explore other alternatives. The Trust offered to buy property from the Institute for $4.5 million – a price the group claims is nearly 40 percent higher than the appraised value of the property. All purchase offers and meeting requests have been rejected by Institute leadership, according to the Civil War Trust.
Battlefield preservation supporters have also met with state officials and legislators to try to stop the project.
The New Jersey Senate’s Environment and Energy Committee held a public hearing on Dec. 21 to investigate the Institute’s construction plans. More than eight witnesses, including Lighthizer and State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, provided testimony. As a result of the hearing, committee chairman Bob Smith, along with vice chairman Linda Greenstein and ranking member Kip Bateman, sent a letter to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection urging the agency issue a temporary stay to stop the construction.