Nearly 200 tons of wind turbine parts are sitting in a warehouse in Newark, awaiting an appellate court decision that will ultimately decide the fate of a controversial natural energy project in the Bayshore area.
On Wednesday, July 18, Judge Mary Catherine Cuff of New Jersey State Superior Court granted the Borough of Union Beach an injunction prohibiting the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority (BRSA) from shipping a 386-foot industrial wind turbine into town until a decision could be reached in a still-pending appeals case.
The injunction, requested by Stuart Lieberman, of Lieberman & Blecher in Princeton, on behalf of the Union Beach Planning Board on July 6, was granted just five days before the delivery project was scheduled to begin.
“We are very, very pleased with this decision,” said Lieberman, “but we’re keeping everything in perspective. We still don’t have a final decision on the appeal yet. What this injunction says is, until we get a decision on the appeal, they can’t move that tower.”
Robert Fischer, executive director of the BRSA, said that the authority will abide by the judge’s decision and wait for further instructions.
“We have halted all transport and construction of the turbine,” he said, “and hopefully a decision will be reached in the appeal soon.”
The project, according to Fischer, was originally projected to cost $5.9 million. Nearly half of that amount, he said, was funded through low-interest loans and the other half came through government grants.
The delay caused by the injunction will cost the authority nearly $250,000 in “double handling” fees, storage costs, legal fees and periodic maintenance for the turbine parts until the end of July, said Fischer. Those unforeseen costs, he said, are being paid out of the authority’s surplus funds.
The BRSA, a joint sewerage utility serving Union Beach, Keyport, Keansburg, Holmdel, Hazlet, Aberdeen and parts of Marlboro, is funded by user fees that each participating municipality collects from residential and commercial rate-payers. Bayshore residents critical of the turbine project have expressed concerns that the turbine – which would stand taller than the Statue of Liberty – would cause visual and sound disturbances in nearby areas.
The shipment project, which was scheduled to begin on July 23, would have lasted through Aug. 1 and entailed convoys of wide-load delivery trucks and police escorts traveling through areas of Marlboro, Matawan, Aberdeen and Hazlet on their way from Newark to BRSA headquarters in Union Beach, said BRSA officials.
The appeal, filed on behalf of the Union Beach Planning Board by Lieberman, centers on a 10,000-square-foot parcel of land adjacent to BRSA headquarters on Oak Street, where the authority plans on constructing the 1.5-megawatt industrial turbine.
The contested property, which was condemned and acquired by the authority from JCP&L via eminent domain last year, would be used by the BRSA to provide clearance for the turbine’s 118-foot-long blades as they spin.
The Union Beach Planning Board denied BRSA’s application for the site in December 2010, stating that its proposed plans had been based on a zoning error and required the authority to reapply seeking a “d” variance.
The authority stated in response that the borough had made a mistake in its zoning classifications and that a variance would not be necessary for the proposed use of the JCP&L land.
The BRSA then brought the matter before a trial court, stating also that the authority had received a state permit for the plans from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and that state approval made any municipal land-use decisions irrelevant.
In April 2011, after the trial court sided with the BRSA, the Union Beach Planning Board filed an appeal with the Appellate Division of state Superior Court, stating that the DEP permit obtained by the authority did not grant it final approval for the project.
The appeal, which is still pending in the Appellate Division of state Superior Court, would decide whether or not the Union Beach Planning Board has the right to hear and decide the authority’s application.
Neither Lieberman nor Fischer knew when a decision might be handed down in the case.
“The decision could come soon or it could be a ways off,” said Lieberman. “Essentially, how it works is one day you open up the mailbox and there it is. All we can do right now is wait.”
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