Released in Environment Comm.: Bills dealing with turf fields, development on piers, more

TRENTON – The Assembly Environment Committee released bills dealing with walkway repairs, grease recycling, turf fields, and development on piers.

A3874: This bill directs the Department of Environmental Protection – when weighing shore protection projects – to consider during its priority ranking projects involving public access walkways. It passed 5-1.

Sponsor Assemblyman Ruben Ramos said the bill adds walkways to eligibility lists in order to implement repairs to areas commonly visited by tourists and other members of the public.

Hudson River Waterfront Conservancy and similar associations supported the bill, saying private developers and associations cannot afford the expense.

The Sierra Club pointed out, however, that legally they are required to maintain the walkways, and opposed the bill in its current form.

A3414:  This bill would require businesses that recycle grease to be registered and licensed by the Department of Environmental Protection.  The bill would require the same oversight and regulation as that required of the solid waste industry. It was released 4-1-1.

Chair and Sponsor Assemblywoman Grace Spencer said the Attorney General raised questions about costs and potential impact and she said she would consult with the AG on amendments.

But she said it is a growing market and there are some “nefarious’’ individuals involved. People actually steal waste grease to use for auto fuel, she said.

A3541:  This bill would exempt towns building artificial turf fields from the requirements of the “Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act.” It was released 6-0.

The act already provides an exemption to public or private schools. This bill would allow such fields to be constructed by a local government unit as well.

Kinnelon Council President Ronald Mondello said he envisioned only a small number of exceptions being sought if this bill becomes law. He said he believes that towns were overlooked in the original legislation regarding the Highlands Act.

Council members said Kinnelon is a very small town in Morris County with just one field that some referees said is unsafe to play on. The field is used for sports such as lacrosse or football.

Environmentalists opposed the bill, saying that the Highlands Act deliberately omitted towns for fear of large sites being built, there are health concerns regarding the chemicals used in artificial fields, and the existence of the Highlands Act has helped make New Jersey water costs fourth lowest nationwide.

Assemblyman Peter Barnes supported the bill but did point out that it sounds to a degree like so-called ‘special legislation’ that would benefit basically one town, something that often is criticized.

A3933:  This bill would allow development on piers on rivers in so-called high-hazard areas, something prohibited outside Atlantic City. It was released 5-1.

Essentially, the bill would be aimed at condo-type projects along the Hudson River in northern New Jersey, but environmentalists have called such legislation foolish and said the state would be deliberately placing residents in harm’s way in light of what happened last year with Superstorm Sandy.

Donald Stitzenberg of the Hudson River Waterfront Conservancy talked about what a condominium in Weehawken experienced during Sandy, becoming cut off from help, and said this bill would allow that situation to occur again elsewhere.

Mayor Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken submitted written testimony opposing the bill and requesting her town specifically be exempted from this bill if it passes.

“… the residents of Hoboken are strongly against development on waterfront piers for numerous reasons,’’ she said.

She cited the high costs and flooding risks associated with this type of proposal.

She said that Hoboken taxpayers already are paying $12 million to rebuild a soccer field on one pier that collapsed four years ago.

She also wrote that this bill may lead unwary buyers to purchase property only to find out the flood insurance they were required to obtain does not cover their buildings.

However, Steve Corodemus, a former assemblyman, said this bill would correct a problem that has been in existence for some time, and the Hudson River area was not supposed to be a coastal high-hazard area.

Residential development along the Hudson River has proliferated through the years.  He said these are not the kinds of piers one normally thinks of, but are  structures that are safe to withstand the weather problems opponents raise.

He said the Weehawken council supports the bill, and reminded the committee the bill was amended to apply only to existing piers, not new ones.

Ruben Ramos said that when he was on Hoboken Council they adopted a policy in opposition to this whole issue. “I’ve been opposed to development on piers since I was on Hoboken Council,’’ he said.

He said the significant damage along the waterfront during Sandy is evidence of what damage is being risked.

A3898: This bill concerns the financing of water conservation, storm shelter construction, and flood and hurricane resistance projects. It passed unanimously.

It would change the “clean energy special assessment” into the “clean energy and storm resistance special assessment.”

Released in Environment Comm.: Bills dealing with turf fields, development on piers, more