The legal fight between the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority and its host town, Union Beach, over the construction of a 380-foot-tall wind turbine is proving costly to taxpayers.
A towering crane, which was to install the wind turbine, instead sits unused, and the constuction delay is costing $150,000 a month. And that doesn’t include the estimated $178,600 in combined legal fees.
The authority says the turbine would generate electricity to process waste water at its sewer treatment plant on Oak Street, cutting its electricity bill in half. The savings would be passed on to its customers, the authority says.
Opponents of the proposed $7.7 million project say the wind turbine would be unsightly, be too close to their homes, lower property values, cause adverse health conditions and would not reduce costs. Opponents have sued to block the construction for now.
Residents in the constituent towns of Aberdeen, Hazlet, Holmdel, Keansburg, Keyport, Matawan and Union Beach will share these costs:
• In attorney fees alone, both sides have paid a total of $178,600, from 2010 to June 2012.
• Since the construction was stopped, the executive director estimates it costs the authority about $150,000 a month to keep equipment ready should the court give the go-ahead to resume work. The crane rental alone costs $65,000.
Those costs infuriates some taxpayers.
“It is fiscal malfeasance on the part of the (authority) commissioners,” said Bill Heller of Union Beach, a vocal critic of the project and creator of the www.noturbine.com website.
Heller added the authority should not have spent money on the project until the litigation was settled.
Residents of Union Beach in particular are being squeezed for money from both sides.
From 2010 to June 2012, the Union Beach Borough Council has paid $54,136 to Princeton-based attorney Stuart J. Lieberman and his firm to fight the turbine, according to a review of records by the Asbury Park Press.
Meanwhile, the BRSA has paid Matawan-based attorney Louis E. Granata about $124,475 during the same time period for work related to the construction of the turbine, including answering legal challenges. The BRSA has a budget of almost $10.44 million for 2012.
“Union Beach makes up about 8 percent of our (BRSA’s) total flow, so they pay about 8 percent of our bills” – or almost $10,000 of borough ratepayer money to keep the windmill program going, said Robert C. Fischer, executive director of the authority, which has its headquarters at the treatment plant.
But with Union Beach’s 6,245 residents paying all of Lieberman’s costs, that translates to almost a total of $64,100 paid in legal bills – whether or not they are for or against the turbine.
The other towns similarly will split the costs, with each town’s share between almost $10,000 and $33,600.
The Conti Group, with its headquarters based in Edison, is building the wind turbine. The contractor assumed there would be a three-month delay until construction resumed in calculating the monthly cost of the stoppage, Fischer said.
In total, it would cost around $40,000 for reconfiguring trailers for transportation; around $195,000 for three months of crane rental; around $55,000 for three months of miscellaneous rentals, including turbine storage and maintenance, as well as timber mats, steel plates, and trailers; and around $160,000 for overhead and insurance. (If construction goes beyond September, the contractor would need to purchase a new insurance policy.)
“That’s $450,000 for 3 months, which equates to $150,000 per month,” Fischer said.
The cost to take down the crane and later reassemble it would cost $165,000. The BRSA will decide by the end of this week whether or not the crane should remain on its property for another month or to disassemble it.
Buying the crane is not an option. To purchase the machine would cost more than $2 million, Fischer said.
The crane was erected on July 18, and is rented through about Aug. 17. About 10 days notice is needed to get a crew to take down the crane – which takes about a week.
Construction stopped because of a July 18 injunction issued by an appellate court judge in Trenton, pending a decision on a March hearing. Transportation and construction was to have begun July 23.
The appellate court will decide which Union Beach board – the Planning Board or Zoning Board – is the agency to hear the project.
The Planning Board sent the project to the Zoning Board. The BRSA challenged that decision to a trial court, which ruled the matter had to go before the Planning Board.
Union Beach appealed that decision, and the authority filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, which was denied.
“Do we cart all this stuff out of here, wait for the answer, and then quite possibly cart it all back in, spending $165,000?” Fischer asked.
No court date had been set as of Wednesday.