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Wind turbine proposal still up in the air

HAZLET – The Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority (BRSA) will continue to get its energy the old-fashioned way, as its controversial wind turbine proposal remains stymied by legal challenges and damage from superstorm Sandy.

Last month, the BRSA board of commissioners ratified a 24-month contract with Tri- Eagle Energy, which will provide electrical power for the treatment plant and the authority’s pump stations through May 2016.

Despite the two-year energy contract, BRSA Executive Director Robert Fischer said the authority has not dropped its plans to build a 380-foot turbine at the Union Beach facility.

“The thought would be that once that contract is up, we would then be benefiting from the energy generated by the turbine,” Fischer said in a May 19 interview.

“By the time we get the transportation issues straightened out and settle any issues out there with the town and the Planning Board, it is unlikely that we would run into an extended overlap.”

The multimillion-dollar turbine was first proposed by BRSA in 2008 as a way to generate approximately half the authority’s necessary energy.

Some residents and local officials have protested the proposal for years, saying the turbine, which would stand taller than the Statue of Liberty within 1,100 feet of a residential community, would negatively impact their quality of life and property values.

The borough of Union Beach is currently engaged in a long-standing legal battle with BRSA over the authority’s right to build the turbine.

Two trial court judges have already ruled in favor of BRSA, saying the borough’s 2009 ordinance prohibiting turbines larger than 120 feet does not apply to the authority’s proposal.

Special counsel for both sides argued before a three-judge panel in the Appellate Division of state Superior Court in February and are currently awaiting a decision.

Fischer said BRSA would not officially decide the future of the turbine project until the court weighs in.

“The board is waiting to see the results of the decision,” he said.

In the meantime, Fischer said BRSA is engaged in discussions with Conti Corp. over financial liabilities resulting from damages to the turbine components during superstorm Sandy.

Conti, an international project management firm, was contracted by BRSA to store, ship and assemble the turbine components at the Oak Street facility.

The nearly 200 tons of turbine parts, manufactured by General Electric, were shipped to a storage facility in the Port of Newark ahead of a planned trucking operation to Union Beach in the summer of 2012.

However, the shipment was blocked by a state Superior Court injunction after an appeals court ruled that BRSA could not build the turbine without the approval of the Union Beach Planning Board.

The components remained in the storage facility, which was ravaged by flooding during superstorm Sandy the following October.

Fischer said BRSA and Conti are currently discussing the estimated $1.6 million in damages to the turbine parts “and the responsibility for paying for that damage.”

The details of those talks cannot yet be made public, he added.

At the treatment plant, which suffered an estimated $20 million in damages during Sandy, Fischer said most of BRSA’s remaining restoration and mitigation projects have either been completed or are in the final stages of the design phase.

Two major projects to restore and protect plant buildings and pump stations will go out to bid in July, Fischer said, while a more comprehensive project to repair the plant’s incinerator will go out to bid in December.