Representatives from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said today that construction workers at the Institute for Advanced Study housing site are not dumping debris in wetlands as opponents of the project claim.
The NJDEP’s findings contradict claims made last week by the Princeton Battlefield Society in a letter to the Institute for Advanced Study. The group threatened to sue the Institute in federal court over the issue of dirt and sand being dumped in wetlands, and sent the Institute a notice about the group’s intention to file a lawsuit.
Representatives from the NJDEP inspected the Institute housing construction site last week, as well as in early December, officials told reporters on a conference call Wednesday afternoon.
The Institute is building 15 houses for faculty on land it owns adjacent to the Princeton Battlefield State Park. The land the Institute is building on was part of the Battle of Princeton, the Jan. 3, 1777 fight in which General George Washington’s revolutionary forces defeated British forces.
“They (Battlefield Society members) are saying there are more wetlands out on the site,” said NJDEP Assistant Commissioner Ginger Kop’Kash. “We do not agree with their interpretation that there are more wetlands, and there was no dumping of debris in wetlands.”
The NJDEP has inspected the entire property in the past to determine where wetlands are located, officials said. The site was inspected last week, and in December to determine if the original letter of interpretation provided by the state was accurate.
“We are informing the Princeton Battlefield Society today that the NJDEP has determined that the letter of interpretation is accurate and the Institute project is not encroaching on any regulated wetlands,” NJDEP Press Director Bob Considine said. “This project does not require approval or permits from the Department of Environmental Protection.”
Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, called the NJEP’s findings ridiculous.
“How can the DEP not find wetlands? They can map and clearly see them. When you walk out to the area adjacent to Princeton Battlefield Park, you are standing in the mud,” he said. “The DEP is like Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Hero’s on the environment: ‘I know nothing! I see nothing!’ They let the developers do whatever we want, despite the ecological impacts. This land is not only historically and environmentally significant, but in a flood-hazard area, and should be preserved. However, the DEP is paving the way to allow this site to be taken over by development, which will cause flooding and pollution. This will impact the park’s historic and aesthetic value, which is held in the public trust and belongs to all of us.”
Kop’Kash said she does not know why an environmental expert hired by the Battlefield Society found wetlands on the site in a 1990 study. The NJDEP reviewed notes from that period and the findings are consistent with recent findings by the state, she said.
“The DEP did go out to the site (back in 1990). There are notes in the file. Representatives asked for some flagging out there,” she said. “They did accurately depict the wetlands…In 2005 the DEP went back out again and reaffirmed the extent of wetlands on the property. A field investigator walked the entire parcel.”
In early December when state officials inspected the site, no fill had been placed in the area by construction workers, officials said. A field inspector looked at vegetation ans soil borings in December and last week.
Kop’Kash said while she can’t confirm it, there is a possibility that failing septic systems in the area were the source of the water back in 1990, and that perhaps there is no water now because those septic systems were fixed.
The Institute for Advanced Study issued a statement about the NJDEP’s findings Wednesday night.
“We are pleased that the Department of Environmental Protection reaffirmed, with its most recent visit, that the Institute has the Department’s necessary approval to proceed with site preparation and construction of its Faculty Housing project,” reads the statement.