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Turbine appeal goes ahead in Union Beach

UNION BEACH – In the fight over a controversial energy-producing wind turbine project, one side has had its path to court cleared while the opposing forces in favor of building the turbine are declaring the battle essentially over and won.

Earlier this month, the appellate division of the state’s superior court denied a motion by the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority – the entity looking to construct the turbine – to dismiss an appeal by the borough, the latest step in a series of events that has included the local planning board sending the turbine project to the zoning board and the sewerage authority challenging that decision in a trial court that ruled that the matter had to go back before the Planning Board.

The Aug. 8 appellate division decision gives the borough the go-ahead to appeal the trial court’s decision, meaning this conflict may not be over any time soon.

“Usually appeals take about a year to decide,” said Stuart Lieberman, a Princeton-based attorney representing the borough. “It’s unclear. Maybe they’ll expedite this. The court only knows that, but it’s commonplace for appeals to take about a 12-month period.”

However, the proposed turbine, a 380-foot-high project with an estimated cost of $7.7 million, has been approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection, which issued a construction permit for the project under the state Coastal Area Facility Review Act last June.

And according to Louis Granata, the Matawan-based attorney for the BRSA, recent actions taken by the authority have made the borough’s argument irrelevant: the authority acquired a quarter-acre of property from Jersey Central Power and Light Co. adjacent to its current property in May through a declaration of taking, a condemnation process he said was similar to eminent domain.

“One hundred years from now (the property) is still going to look the way it looks right now,” BRSA executive director Robert Fischer said in June.

This week, Granata claimed that “the issues that Union Beach raised in the appeal are all moot. There’s nothing for us to argue about in the appellate division, because any issue that Union Beach has raised – and that is that the borough Planning Board has some jurisdiction to decide what use (the BRSA) will have for the property – has now become irrelevant because the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority condemned the property and took it under its powers of eminent domain.”

Granata said the property falls under the jurisdiction of the state DEP, not the local planning board. “When we were issued the permit to construct the wind turbine (by the DEP), the turbine extends maybe 30 feet over the property line and the DEP said, ‘Acquire that piece so that you can extend it over the property line,’ which we did by way of condemnation.”

Ending the legal fight over the turbine is in the best interest of local residents, Granata argued.

“I wanted to end it to stop the expense of the taxpayers of Union Beach and to stop the expenses of the rate payers in the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority,” said Granata, “because they’re paying my attorney’s fees, they’re paying the engineer’s fees for the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority, the taxpayers are paying the attorney’s fees for the appeal and the ultimate outcome of the appeal is: what difference does it make? We’ve already acquired the property, and we’re using it for the turbine, just as the DEP said.”