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EPA Wrong on American Dream Approvals

Date : Wed, 29 Aug 2012 11:02:51 -0400

For Immediate Release
August 21, 2012 Contact:Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club, 609-558-9100

EPA Wrong on American Dream Approvals

The EPA has taken the side of developers and pollution over protecting our priority wetlands and the Meadowlands.The agency approved permits allowing for even more wetlands fill for the American Dream/Xanadu megamall.Over seven acres of wetlands have already been filled for this project, and now the project owner Triple Five would be able to fill in five more.The company could move forward with the expansion plan while providing inadequate, taxpayer subsidized mitigation.In preparing the permit, other on-site alternatives were not properly examined and impacts to the entire site and Meadowlands wetlands system were not properly studied.The EPA did not do proper oversight and Sierra Club sent a letter calling on the agency to reverse its approval and either deny the permit or require more mitigation.

"The EPA should be stopping this project, not rubberstamping a permit.EPA is setting a dangerous precedent for future wetland projects in the Meadowlands.Now projects can move forward without proper mitigation.This is bad precedent for not only the Meadowlands but all wetland.If you can fill in priority wetlands, you can fill in all wetlands.It seems politics is driving approvals for this project over protection of the environment and wetlands," *said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club*.

Tittel continued, "Given what is happening in DEP under the Christie administration when it comes to wetland permits and now given the failure of EPA to do proper oversight on the Meadowlands and wetlands, this is going to mean open season on wetlands in New Jersey. The EPA needs to rescind its approvals based on weak mitigation commitments and ongoing concerns related to the fill of wetlands and associated flooding, stormwater, and water quality impacts." They are increasing the retail on the site by another 25% adding 640,000 square feet to the 2.3 million square feet from the original size. The draft permit would allow the expanded project to fill in an additional 5.47 acres of wetlands, bringing the total impact to Meadowlands wetlands to over 12 acres.Almost a quarter of the project is located in wetlands, causing a tremendous negative environmental impact.Increased flooding will result from more fill and those impacts have not been properly studied. The mitigation plan does replace the wetland values and flood storage capacity lost due to this project, a key reason why the permits should be denied.The mitigation plan includes the enhancement of 5.41 acres of existing wetlands at the Evergreen mitigation bank.However no new wetlands will be created to compensate for the destruction of priority wetlands on site.This is not adequate or proper mitigation.The mitigation compensation ratio is only one-to-one acre. Also phragmites holds metals in their roots and stems, while Spartina respires them back into the environment.Mitigation is proposed on a site that has known mercury contamination, which may violate federal standards.The Division of Fish and Wildlife has expressed concerns about the release of these metals through the mitigation plan. The mitigation plan also includes the deed restriction of the 138 acre Walden Swamp by the Meadowlands Commission.The land is already owned by the Commission and is in a conservation area and not zoned for development.Fish & Wildlife has raised serious concerns and did not sign off on this mitigation plan.

"This weak mitigation plan will now be the template for future mitigation, setting a dangerous precedent.With this approval it is now open season on development in the Meadowlands. Triple Five's proposal is a Madoff mitigation plan and should not have been approved," *said Jeff Tittel*. This site does not do an adequate job in handling stormwater currently.Given the importance of protecting water quality in the Meadowlands, stormwater management on site has to exceed Best Management Practices (BMPs).The entire site needs to be retrofitted to properly manage stormwater, control potential flooding, and maintain water quality. The American Dream will significantly increase traffic in the region.The applicant projects the complex will generate more than 200,000-220,000 cars a day, gridlocking an area of the state already overburdened with traffic.That is the equivalent of 12 lanes of traffic moving at capacity for 10 hours.Sierra Club does not think that these projections are high enough. For example the applicant's analysis states that the amusement park will not impact rush hour traffic since it does not open until ten am.However people will be coming to get breakfast or go shopping beforehand, adding traffic to the morning rush hour.The applicant has yet to produce a plan for how our infrastructure system will handle that significantly increased stress.On an average day, traffic coming to the American Dream would be triple the amount if all three existing facilities in the Meadowlands- the Racetrack, MetLife Stadium, and Izod Center- held an event at the same time.The roadways currently cannot handle the traffic created when those facilities have simultaneous events and this project would create those conditions every day.

"What happens to the traffic in the region if on a Saturday shoppers are coming to the American Dream, the circus is at the Izod Center and there is a Saturday football game for high school or college students at the Meadowlands?" asked Jeff Tittel. This additional traffic will significantly add to air pollution in the area.This project could potentially put New Jersey in violation of our State Implementation Plan under the Clean Air Act since we are moving forward with a large trip generating project without any trip reduction programs in place or any significant program to develop mass transit. Right now the developer is expecting New Jersey Transit (NJT) to increase service to the Meadowlands complex but there has been no firm commitment from NJT as their funding has been significantly reduced and fare hikes in recent years have been over 20 percent.Before the Army Corps of Engineers issues permits for this project, there needs to be a finalized transportation plan in place to address the substantial increase in traffic in the region as a direct result of this project. There are alternatives on site that would have less impact on priority wetlands.Areas to the west, northwest, east, and northeast sides of this existing mall building would be more appropriate for the expansion.These sites are already filled and would not require the additional loss of wetlands.

"EPA does not stand for 'expedited permit approval'.They need to do their job to protect clean water and wetlands for the people of New Jersey and the United States.This project could be built without filling in those wetlands and we believe the EPA succumbed to political pressure and did not do a proper review," said Jeff Tittel.

-- 
Kate Millsaps
Program Assistant
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
609-656-7612
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Received on 2012-08-29 08:02:51

New Jersey Sierra Club, 145 West Hanover St., Trenton, NJ 08618, USA
tel: 609 656 7612, fax 609 656 7618
or email Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator, at nicole.dallara@sierraclub.org

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