Freeholders ask gov to weigh in on wind turbine; Board members say they lack power to halt Bayshore project
HOLMDEL – Monmouth County Freeholders plan to ask the state to consider placing a moratorium on a controversial 380-foot-tall industrial wind turbine planned for construction within 1,000 feet of a Union Beach neighborhood.
At a meeting of the Board of Chosen Freeholders at Holmdel Town Hall on Aug. 26, Freeholder Director Lillian G. Burry said Gov. Chris Christie signed bill S-763 into law on Aug. 18, which authorizes the directors of boards of freeholders to exercise veto power over proposed actions of county authorities.
But Burry said she doesn’t think the new law gives the board the power to ban the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority’s wind turbine, because the authority is an autonomous body.
“This would be my opportunity to veto a project that I’m not too fond of, and I don’t think any member of the board is, and that is the Union Beach [turbine] project,” Burry said. “It is a little premature, unfortunately, because it turns out that is not within our jurisdiction [under S-763]. At least you know the intent is there.”
Earlier in the summer, the freeholders unanimously passed a resolution opposing the wind turbine, citing reasons including health and safety concerns, lack of protection for community roads and infrastructure, and diminished property values.
Construction for the foundation of the turbine has begun on the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority’s (BRSA) 24-acre wastewater treatment plant property, with an expected completion date of January 2011.
The turbine, scheduled to receive funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), would produce 3.5 million kilowatt hours of energy a year, about half of BRSA’s 7 million kilowatt need, and stand taller than the Statue of Liberty, the Keyport water tower, and the historic Twin Lights in Highlands, according to noturbine. com, a website created by a Union Beach resident and supported by opponents of the plan.
“We had a lengthy discussion about this at workshop because we thought that perhaps there was a chance that this legislation would fall under our jurisdiction, but it doesn’t look like it,” said Freeholder Amy Mallet.
However, the freeholders will be writing a follow-up letter to Gov. Christie requesting that his administration take a closer look at plans for the turbine, which would be located 1,080 feet from a residential neighborhood.
“It is a great concern,” said Freeholder John Curley. “This board did go out and pass a resolution saying no, in our opinion, this should not be constructed. One of the big problems we have here in New Jersey is that we have these authorities that are very, very separate, and they are almost like quasi-governmental agencies. The people that are appointed to them do not have the accountability because they are not elected officials. They don’t have to listen.”
Curley, who is responsible for overseeing the county’s highways and bridges, suggested to County Engineer John W. Tobia that overweightmaterials— such as the turbine’s 118- foot-long blades and concrete for the 240-foot-tall pedestal – would require a permit to travel on county roads.
Tobia said BRSA has not applied for a permit to transport the overweight materials to the sewerage authority property.
“We will do everything we can here in Monmouth County to make sure they don’t turn the corner,” he said.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, residents from Union Beach and Hazlet pleaded with the freeholders to take further action before the turbine is erected. According to Union Beach Councilman Lou Andruzzi, BRSA has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court seeking to impose a gag order on the borough government, which unanimously opposes the turbine. Hazlet Township has also passed a similar resolution. Andruzzi cited that BRSA Executive Director Robert Fischer told residents at an open public meeting on July 19 that “fearmongers” were not allowed to speak unless they explained their credentials or sources of information. Members of the Union Beach Police Department were subsequently called to calm the crowd at that meeting.
“I am an expert … I am a certified history teacher, I have an MBA,” Andruzzi said. “I’m an expert in history, and history shows to date that anytime a government tries to squash your public right to speak guaranteed by the First Amendment … they are trying to hide something.”
In response to concerns about property values, BRSA cites a study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy office in Berkeley, Calif., that found no adverse effect on property values for homes located near wind turbines or wind farms.
However, Andruzzi said the studies used by BRSA do not address densely populated coastal communities.
“The studies are old as the hills and they compare us to cattle farms, and they [BRSA] accepted it,” he said. “I believe that is fraud, I believe that is malfeasance, and I believe we have a right somehow or another.”
Union Beach resident Diana Kenny said the gag order is unconstitutional because the majority of the borough does not want the turbine.
“We [Union Beach] don’t have the funding or the resources,” Kenny said. “Maybe that’s why they [BRSA] picked on us. They wouldn’t pick on a town like Middletown or Holmdel to put one of these things up, because they would have a big fight on their hands. But we don’t have the resources. I’m begging you all … please help us. We need help.”
Kenny, who lives in close proximity to where the turbine would be located, also voiced concerns about the impact on the environment and wildlife. BRSA must conduct two pre-construction bird- and bat-impact studies required by the DEP.
“They were pounding in the foundation about a week ago, and if they are doing an avian study, how are they going to do an accurate study?” Kenny asked. “Isn’t that going to make the birds go away from the noise?”
John Curran III, president of Hazlet Area Quality of Life Alliance (HAQLA), a nonprofit environmental organization that opposes the turbine, emphasized that the public health and welfare is the largest issue regarding the 1.5-megawatt turbine.
An environmental impact study has been conducted by BRSA, but Curran said human health factors are continuously overlooked.
“To date, neither the DEP nor the BRSA have addressed these [concerns] adequately,” Curran said. “I’m here to ask you for your help. Who will protect our health? Who can we turn to in the state, county, local boards of health? Somebody, between the elected officials and the appointed officials, has to have an obligation. Everyone is looking the other way, and they are slipping through the cracks, but our health is the most important thing. Are we going to have to wait until people fall ill before someone takes responsibility?”
Mallet said Monmouth County has a public health department as well as an office that handles environmental health.
“They could perhaps reach out to other areas and the state if there have been any studies or if there is any data available that may help,” she said.
In addition to the letter the freeholders will be sending to Christie, Union Beach resident Marco Oldhafer had a conversation with the governor during a question-andanswer session on New Jersey 101.5 radio station on Aug. 26 shortly before the freeholder meeting in Holmdel.
During the interview, Christie clarified that the recent legislation he signed into law regards offshore wind turbines, not on-shore machines.
“It would be 20 miles offshore and would not be visible to anybody on the beach,” Christie said, according to a recording of the interview from noturbine.com. “These are way offshore turbines, and the legislation also provides tax incentives for manufacturing facilities to manufacture the turbine to create jobs here in New Jersey.”
However, the governor said the Union Beach issue is a completely separate topic.
“I just began to learn about [it] this week,” Christie said. “I read about it in the newspaper, and I didn’t know anything about it beforehand. We [our administration] are now looking into it. I don’t know what the state can or should do about it, or whether it is a particular local issue with the sewerage authority.
“It always concerns me when these authorities go off and they are doing things, because nobody elects these people to these authorities. They are answerable often to regional political interests that are not necessarily directly answerable to people where they are going to be doing something. I have some concerns about it, which is why I have asked my staff to look into it for me.”
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