Bayshore residents angered by rising costs associated with the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority’s (BRSA) industrial wind turbine project took to the authority’s headquarters in Union Beach, demanding answers from its board of commissioners.
Residents from Union Beach and Hazlet attended the BRSA’s Aug. 13 agenda meeting, seeking explanations for what they said they believe to be the authority’s financial irresponsibility and disregard for its municipal ratepayers.
Bill Shewan, Hazlet, said the BRSA had initiated an expensive, involved project that was outside the realm of its expertise and is continuing it in the face of legal obstacles.
“This authority’s main thrust is to process sewage, not to produce electric,” he said. “And I think this is where you are going wrong”
“You could figure out that the town of Union Beach was probably going to take some action against you, and they did,” he added. “There was an appellate court case still to be litigated and you proceeded, you proceeded with those two things possibly hanging over your head.”
Robert Fischer, executive director of the BRSA, responded that the 380-foot turbine project was a calculated effort by the authority to help offset electricity costs, providing ratepayers significant savings on their monthly bills. “In 2008, I think the total energy cost for the authority was $1.4 million dollars. Electricity alone was over $1 million,” he said. “It has come down from there, but it is still our second largest line item that we have in the entire budget.”
Fischer estimated the turbine could generate approximately 50 percent of the plant’s required energy.
Marco Oldhafer, a Union Beach resident, said the turbine project was an irresponsible waste of ratepayer money.
“If I was going to invest something into my business that cost me $4 million or $5 million and it took me 10 years to recoup, because that’s what the numbers say, I would be a dumb business owner,” he said.
Commissioner Walter Vella, Hazlet, said the authority could face significant costs if the turbine is not ultimately built, as the grants and loans used so far for the project would have to be paid back to the government.
“What would the costs be if we stopped?” he asked. “What would we owe the federal government and who would have to pay for it?”
When asked by Hazlet resident Charles Hoffman how much the BRSA would have to repay, Vella said, “It’s a lot of money.”
The turbine project is funded through low-interest loans from the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Financing Program (NJEIFP) and a federal grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
In 2008, when the BRSA first proposed the turbine, the authority received $7.7 million through NJEIFP, of which Fischer said $5.9 million was used on the turbine. The remaining $1.8 million was used for sewage service improvements.
In 2009, the authority applied for and received a coastal management permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The permit stated that “no work shall be undertaken until such time as all other required approvals and permits have been obtained” and required the BRSA to acquire a half-acre parcel of JCP&L owned land adjacent to its property to provide clearance for the turbine’s 118-foot-long blades as they spin.
Attempting to acquire the property as a subdivision, the BRSA applied to the Union Beach Planning Board, which found that the two properties were in different zones and denied the application.
The BRSA then filed a complaint with a New Jersey trial court, stating that the borough’s zoning classification of its property was incorrect and the DEP permit the BRSA had received trumped any municipal landuse decision.
In April 2011 the trial judge found in favor of the BRSA, and soon after the authority acquired the JCP&L property via eminent domain.
Union Beach then filed an appeal with the Appellate Division of state Superior Court. Before the case could be argued, however, Fischer told the Independent newspaper the BRSA had been advised it could transport the turbine materials to the site.
In September 2011, the BRSA accepted delivery of the nearly 200 tons of disassembled turbine components from manufacturer General Electric.
Storing the parts at a warehouse in Newark at a cost of $6,100 a month, according to Fischer, the BRSA retained Conti Enterprises to oversee delivery and construction of the turbine.
In a Jan. 5 letter from DEP Chief Lawrence Baier to Union Beach special counsel Stuart Lieberman – which copied Fischer – Baier said, “I am certain that BRSA is acutely aware that any construction undertaken while this matter is in litigation would be at their own risk.”
The appeal was argued on March 21.
In order to receive Monmouth County approval for the shipment of the turbine parts from Newark to Union Beach, the BRSA had to conduct surveys and inspections of roads and sewers, place security bonds and pay town engineers to provide oversight.
These expenses, Fischer said, necessitated a change order in the amount of $291,874, which was approved by the DEP and NJEIFP and discussed at the Aug. 13 BRSA commissioners meeting.
In early June, Conti received county approval for the shipment and began sending out notices to area residents, stating that delivery would begin on July 23 and continue until Aug. 1.
Lieberman filed for an injunction to stop the delivery prior to a verdict in the appeals case. It was granted on July 18, the same day the BRSA erected a nearly 300-foot crane at its headquarters to help construct the turbine.
On Aug. 10 the appellate court ruled in favor of Union Beach, overturning the trial court decision and mandating that BRSA appear before the borough’s Board of Adjustment prior to proceeding with the turbine.
The crane, which Fischer said the authority had rented for $65,000 a month, was disassembled and removed from the property by Aug. 17.
“We have also instructed the hauler, the transporter, to disassemble their trailers and reallocate them to other purposes,” Fischer said. “We are trying to find as many cost reductions as possible.”
He added that Conti, after renewing their insurance policy for the project several times, would have to purchase a new policy as of Sept. 1 at a cost of $97,000.
In an interview on Aug. 18, Lieberman called on the commissioners to abandon the turbine project.
“My understanding is that Conti still owns this turbine. They can sell it to someone else,” he said. “They can stop this and I believe they need to stop this immediately.
“The BRSA has lost its way,” he added. “Sewage processing plants are like prisons, electric plants, recycling facilities, water plants – they should act quietly in the background.
“Instead of quietly working in the background, the BRSA has become the dominant source of discussion in this community. And that’s how you know that something is wrong.”
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