Fight for Princeton Battlefield Preservation Continues: Group Will Sue Institute in Federal Court

A billboard in Times Square promoting the Civil War Trust's campaign to save land that was part of the Battle of Princeton.
A billboard in Times Square promoting the Civil War Trust’s campaign to save land that was part of the Battle of Princeton.


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.

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  1. This is just vindictive now. Even if they win this case, it won’t stop the development. It is just intended to draw out, frustrate, and add cost to the project.
    For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with the Battlefield Society on this one. The proposed housing is limited, proportionate, and permanently protects green space. Unsatisfied with being offered 14 acres of protected green space, the Battlefield Society are drumming up money from all over the country to try to wrest the remaining land from the Institute. We already have a spacious Battlefield Park, and the Institute has protected hundreds of acres of woods for our enjoyment. As a Princeton resident I recognize the Institute’s right to develop their campus within reasonable limits, and this is certainly reasonable.

    1. What you are leaving out that this exact land they are building on is where a major part of the battle of Princeton took place. Archeological investigations have proven that. A battle where people lost their lives. A battle which allowed you and me to become Americans. Do you not get that? Would you support building a Walmart in the middle of the Gettysburg Battlefield? Then why would you support building something here? The society is going to exhaust every single thing at their disposal to make this hell for IAS. Good for them. Build your stupid housing somewhere else! This is sacred ground! The IAS should be ashamed of themselves.

      1. It’s surprising that those at IAS lacked the wisdom, sensitivity, & creativity to find another place to build and failed to create a way to expand without digging up relics & hallowed ground.

        1. So the real driving force behind this whole project at IAS is John Masten he is the CFO and truly the Villian against preserving the space and subverting evidence of wetlands and historical significance. Shame on you John! In the name of what are you doing this you corrupt fool!!

    2. SFB- It is a very simple choice. Dry wall and blacktop vs. a pristine historic field that holds the artifacts and the blood of patriot heroes from a critical battle (arguably, the MOST critical) for our country’s independence. Gee, I wonder what a true American would support in this case?

      Let’s be real here. The people of the Institute for Advanced Study are mostly foreign-born (I watched their PR video several times) and care absolutely nothing for American history. Convenient housing trumps the soul of the Revolutionary War to them every time!

      In addition, I have called the director’s office a few times and on two occasions I had the dubious pleasure of speaking to his receptionist (or assistant). She was very contemptuous and condescending. She also spewed misinformation, especially concerning the artifacts having been removed. I corrected her on about three “facts” she imparted (facts, according to the IAS, I suppose) and that didn’t make her day. But I do encourage everyone to call Robbert Dijkgraaf’s office (609-734-8202) so he understands that there are legions of us who are damn angry and not about to quit!

      We’re going to win this fight for our sacred historical ground, SFB. We are going to win it because we are as determined, as tenacious and as willing to fight tyranny as our Revolutionary War counterparts were! AND, we not only have right on our side, but just as George Washington believed, we also have Providence. Huzzah!

    3. It’s the principal of the matter, SFB. There is right, there is wrong, and there are lawyers. Most intelligent people can tell the difference between the first two, and no reasonable person one wants to have to use the third.

    4. Most of times I disagree with SFB but I am with SFB this time. If the IAS owns the land, they can use it as they wish and it is my understanding that they will be building in a sector of it.

  2. Ah, yes SFB. Nice to see you again. Maybe you’ll use your actual name. You’re probably an IAS employee or have something to benefit from this house being built.

    It clearly isn’t reasonable when all is taken into account. The IAS has an endowment of more the $700 million. They can’t afford housing elsewhere? Their chairman of the board is so rich, he flew into space…TWICE. The “institute woods” are no areas in which combat occurred, this is the site where British Soldiers and American Soldiers and Marines fought and died. You wouldn’t say homes should be built at the site of Pickett’s charge in Gettysburg, and homes shouldn’t be built here.
    the Princeton Battlefield Society is merely trying to prevent an organization with millions in capital and political influence from doing this reprehensible act. It is not reasonable because they have ignored the science and the history that proves that combat occurred here. Ignoring that, by an Institute that prides itself on scientific accomplishments is shameful on its own, not to mention the actual destruction of this land from both historic and environmental concerns.

  3. Kudos to the Princeton Battlefield Society for their stand to try to preserve this important historic landmark. I’m a foreign born American citizen and I do care that this sacred land where people lost their lives for American independence would be preserved for many generations to remember.

  4. Americans politely ignore the insults embedded in Pia de Jong’s sophomoric articles about our culture. We pride ourselves on being warm, hospitable, & ignoring pain. Ignoring IAS construction on hallowed ground is another matter entirely, because the blood of brave Americans, Free Men, French, Dutchmen, & Spaniards are in the soil that is our home & life-giver. In my opinion, the de Jong – Dijkgraaf family should be sentenced to watch “The Patriot” (2000) & “Little Women” (1994) without tissues, to ensure they experience the history & the pain that birthed the culture of the Eastern United States. These portrayals are based on the writings of true Americans from our region. Perhaps the de Jong – Dijkgraaf’s will come to understand that our foremothers & forefathers will ALWAYS be Princeton’s finest residents, despite any valid reason those at IAS feel they are most special. I applaud those who give our Revolutionary ancestors voices today, as they fight to preserve nature & beauty on a tiny but hallowed piece of our planet. Today’s weapons are attorneys but history repeats itself, as patriots face disrespectful aristocrats (who claim ownership to use hallowed ground for their needs). Construction crews, cinder blocks, & sewage pipes running through their graves will keep our beloved Revolutionary ghosts active for many years to come. May their spirits never die.

  5. I haven’t seen such pomposity, haughtiness, churlishness, and faux-righteous indignation since that absurd “Save the Dinky” campaign. You folks have way too much time on your hands.

    SFB: You’re correct, and the ad hominem attacks launched against you are the work of smaller minds and larger egos, incapable of compromise, and without the capacity to consider context.

    What Princeton really need is a good motto:

    Princeton: The Land That Time Never Forgets Because Its Residents Resist Every Change, Whether Reasonable or Not.

    Princeton: The Town That Without The World-Wide Significance Of Princeton University And The Institute For Advanced Study Would Be Just As Nice, But No More Interesting, Than, Say, Robbinsville Or Pennington.

    Princeton: Where, When the Going Gets Tough, No-One Gets A Grip.

    Princeton: The Land That Compromise Forgot.

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