Winds of change at BRSA; Sewage authority board replaces longtime attorney, vows to shelve turbine plans
So far, 2013 has proved to be a radical year for the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority (BRSA). After swearing in four new commissioners in January, the authority’s board ousted longtime attorney Louis Granata on Feb. 25 and replaced him with former Hazlet Township attorney James Gorman.
The motion to reappoint Granata during the board’s annual reorganization meeting was voted down, 4-2, after a 15-minute closed-session conference among the commissioners. Hazlet commissioners Walter Vella and Louis Pisano were the only members to vote in favor of reappointing Granata, who had acted as the authority’s attorney for nearly 20 years.
The resolution appointing Gorman passed with the same vote, as Union Beach commissioners Bart Sutton and Chuck Steiner and newly appointed Holmdel commissioners Adam Khachaturian and Marcy McMullen all voted in favor. A resolution to fire or hire a board attorney requires four votes for passage.
After the resolution to reappoint him was denied, Granata thanked the board for the opportunity, gathered his things and left the room. As he was leaving the BRSA grounds, Granata said the termination was part of being an appointed attorney. “It’s the board’s decision. I’m hired by them and I serve at their discretion. I have no say in the decision.”
Gorman, who also serves as the Planning Board attorney for the Township of Middletown, said after the meeting that he plans to use his extensive professional experience to benefit both the BRSA and thousands of residents it provides service to.
“I’ve been doing municipal work and governmental work for 30-something years, and I used to be a civil engineer before I became an attorney. So, I’m familiar with what is going on with the authority and the general areas it serves,” he said.
“I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity.”
The change is more than just a procedural motion. Granata has represented the authority in its efforts to build a 380-foottall industrial wind turbine at its Oak Street treatment center in Union Beach since the project was first proposed in 2008.
Throughout the past five years, the BRSA and Union Beach have been engaged in a number of legal and municipal-level battles over the authority’s right to build the turbine, which BRSA Executive Director Robert Fischer has said could provide up to half of the sewage facility’s necessary energy.
Opponents of the turbine, including a number of Union Beach officials, have publicly protested the project, saying it could lead to visual and sonic disturbances and impact property values throughout the borough.
Granata, as the authority’s attorney, has represented the BRSA before the Union Beach Planning Board, the Borough Council and in state Superior Court, pushing for the turbine’s approval.
In January, however, Union Beach appointed Steiner, the Planning Board chairman, to serve as one of its two BRSA commissioners alongside Sutton.
Vella is the only other commissioner to remain from 2012, and fellow Hazlet appointee Pisano is the only commissioner who was a board member when the authority first proposed the turbine nearly five years ago.
Last summer, Gorman appeared at a BRSA commissioners’ meeting alongside former Hazlet Mayor David Tinker and requested a number of contractual documents from Granata relating to the turbine.
He also questioned Fischer about a recent media report that highlighted significant costs incurred by the authority as Union Beach’s motions to block the turbine resulted in project delays.
“The article seemed that it was an attempt by BRSA to put pressure on Union Beach to relent. That’s what came across to me,” Gorman said at the time.
Fischer denied reaching out to the media to have the story published at the meeting.
Following the appointment of Gorman, a number of residents in attendance addressed the board, requesting that the BRSA rethink its stance on the multimillion-dollar turbine project.
Joe Reynolds, co-chair of the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council, presented the board with a letter on behalf of the areawide conservationist organization, asking them to take recent events into account before moving ahead.
“Superstorm Sandy has recently dealt a devastating blow to the Borough of Union Beach and to several municipalities along the Bayshore region,” he said, reading from the letter.
“The continuation of the proposed wind turbine will cause further division, additional loss of tranquility and create a significant impairment to bring local residents together at a time when partnerships, collaborations, relationships and a strong community for a generation or more is needed to rebuild Union Beach and the entire coastline of Raritan Bay.”
Hazlet resident Bill Shewan, a member of the volunteer Hazlet Area Quality of Life Alliance, seconded Reynolds’s statement.
“We agree 100 percent with everything in that letter regarding the turbine.”
Fischer later discussed a communication the BRSA had recently received from state Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-13th District), which Sutton then read.
“With infrastructure rebuilding as our priority throughout the Bayshore, I urge the BRSA as part of Union Beach to help with the housing crisis,” the letter read. “Restoring emergency services and the economic rejuvenation are imperative at this time.
“I hope and expect the turbine project will take a back seat to equipment repair and replacement. Given the enormous task of recovery ahead of us, I hope the BRSA will turn a new page and forge a strong partnership with Union Beach.”
Vella responded to the public and official concerns by explaining that the turbine project would be shelved for the time being.
“For everyone’s information, the turbine has taken a back seat. Our efforts and work are all to get this plant back to work.”
Fischer announced that the BRSA will be receiving $2.4 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for stormrelated repairs, 75 percent of its requested $3.1. Fischer said just over $1 million will be made available immediately to fund some of the multiple ongoing repair projects at the facility.
The board also ratified the Monmouth County Wastewater Management Plan, which currently proposes bringing BRSA sewer service to large tracts of land in Holmdel, including the PNC Bank Arts Center site.
BRSA, a joint sewerage utility funded by user fees that each participating municipality collects from residential and commercial ratepayers, serves Union Beach, Hazlet, Keyport, Keansburg, Aberdeen, Holmdel and parts of Marlboro.
The next board meeting will be held on March 11.
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