Commissioners try to sell county dump: A garbage story

county dumpDo you use the county dump, a.k.a. the Hunterdon County Transfer Station on Petticoat Lane in Clinton Township, to dispose rubbish and recycling?

The county commissioners are about to sell it to a private company because — after over 25 years of public ownership — they suggest they have no idea how to manage this significant public asset.

If you’ve ever wondered what your county commissioners actually do, you might be surprised to learn they’d really rather do less! (Oh, all those pesky constituents who expect us to know what we’re doing after they elect us!)

“Let’s dump the dump! It’s easier than managing it!”

The county dump has been owned by the county for over 25 years. Commissioners Zachary Rich and Shaun Van Doren are running for reelection this year, but don’t want to be bothered with the tough job of managing the dump. They would rather leave you to pay whatever a private business wants to charge — if the buyer even keeps the dump open to the public.

Correction: Van Doren is the only incumbent up for reelection this year.
(So, why do Rich and Van Doren want to keep their jobs?)

Once it’s sold, Hunterdon residents that rely on the dump will be subjected to the whims of whoever buys it. (Hint: Taxpayers own the dump, but the county hired your favorite garbage company, Waste Management, Inc., to run it. So guess who’s likely to buy it?)

A chance to speak up, demand answers

The county is required by law to hold two public hearings prior to putting the facility up for sale by bid. The first hearing, on June 6, will introduce an ordinance for the sale. The second public hearing will be held on June 27 at the Clinton Township Municipal Building on Route 31. Both meetings will be at 5:30 p.m., when most people are at work.

This is the time for the public to ask questions, demand answers, and to comment.

Political double-talk

The commissioners have offered no meaningful reasons for dumping the dump, no financial justification, and no evidence that the sale will benefit taxpayers or residential or commercial users.

Let’s take a look at the pure political-speak offered by Commissioner Director Zachary Rich at the commissioners’ April 18 meeting. As reported in the Hunterdon Review:

“Now is the time to move forward on the sale of the transfer station,” said Rich.

The county has owned the waste facility for over 25 years. Why is now the time to sell it? Rich doesn’t volunteer any real explanations.

A garbage story

The story Rich and County Administrator Brad Myhre throw at the public is perhaps best described as, well, garbage. The county serves up no compelling rationale or details that  support their decision, just useless, bureaucratic, political double-talk.

When have we seen this before? A past example of the commissioners’ back-room decision-making was revealed during the Route 629 debacle. While publicly questioning the New Jersey Water Supply Authority’s plans to permanently close a major roadway artery, internal county documents revealed the county was on board with the NJWSA’s plans from the start — until a dedicated group of residents took the lid off that smelly charade.
An astute taxpayer who has watched the commissioners B.S. their way again and again through “public disclosure” might reasonably conclude the real reason for the sale of the dump is to generate cash they can apply to their “conservative financial management.”

In other words, the quick proceeds from this rushed garbage sale might plug a whole lot of holes in the county’ budget. Besides, not having to manage a dump operation would sure be a relief — the commissioners could get back to the hard work of channeling taxpayer funds and federal and state grant funds to their favorite political patrons.

The dump story peddled by the commissioners appears to be a garbage story. They have offered no defensible reason for selling off the dump.

The “governmental bureaucracy” behind the problem

Director Rich slips and blames the very body he leads — the board of commissioners — for the “governmental bureaucracy” that has been derelict in managing the dump properly. Yet he wants the public to trust a decision of the very same bureaucrats to sell off this important public asset.

But Rich avoids any allusions to the drawbacks and downsides of turning ownership over to a commercial entity. The oblique double-talk gets worse:

“For many years the county has examined the potential privatization of the transfer station so as to remove governmental bureaucracy for what should be a private business operation.”

So this decision has been in the making “for many years”? There must be loads of credible documentation in support of the sale. Where are the bureaucrats keeping it hidden?

What have been the results of those examinations of “potential privatization”? What factors were considered in all those years? The public deserves to know.

Disclose all the details before the first hearing

Rich announced two public hearings about the proposed sale. This is required under N.J. law before a governing body can sell a public asset. But how can taxpayers ask questions and participate in a public hearing if they don’t have the facts?

Rich is admitting that for decades the county commissioners have been subjecting residents to a “government bureaucracy” behind the dump. He says it “should be a private business operation.” But other than political platitudes Rich offers nothing to support what seems to be merely his wishes as a politician.

  • Why should the transfer station be a private business operation?
  • Where is the analysis and due diligence?
  • Who actually made this decision?

The only way to conduct above-board public hearings is for the commissioners to release all records and data about the county’s management and deliberations relating to the dump prior to the hearings.

It would certainly be embarrassing if a subsequent, massive OPRA request for internal documents exposed poor decision making — or chicanery. (Just ask the N.J. State Water Authority: Documents reveal scramble for last-minute justification of route 629 closing.)

Disclose the full financials

TapInto Flemington-Raritan reports:

“The transfer station has an annual operating budget of $194,320, according to the proposed 2023 proposed county budget.”

No other financial information has been reported. It would be helpful if the commissioners were to fully disclose the dump’s financials, and explain any issues that support divestiture of the dump operation.

Absent information about revenues (like user fees) generated by the facility, or about grants, subsidies, or other funding the county gets for it, any public hearing would be an insult to the public. For example, Hunterdon County has received significant infrastructure funding from the state and federal governments. How does this net out against the costs of operating infrastructure like a county dump? It’s clear the commissioners are not telling us everything.

Either way, taxpayers (a.k.a. consumers) pay more

According to the Review:

“Waste Management Inc. currently operates the transfer station site while the county retains ownership, and the site’s current operating agreement between the county and company will expire on Dec. 31 of this year.”

How much does WMI pay the county, or does the county pay WMI? This stuff matters if taxpayers are to give approval or to nix any sale.

Rich admits residents will pay more when he drops this bomb that should raise the eyebrows of every taxpayer:

“There are substantial infrastructure improvements necessary to continue operations at the transfer station and those costs are better borne by a private investor rather than our county’s taxpayers.”

Maybe Rich believes his constituents are silly suckers who will swallow his sly pitch that, if he unloads the dump, taxpayers will somehow save money.


If the dump is sold, why wouldn’t the cost of improvements be passed on to users, just as the costs would be borne by taxpayers if the county were to make the improvements? Exactly why is this not a zero sum game?

Or what game is Director Rich playing? Maybe he’s showing you that famous shell game the Hunterdon commissioners like to call “conservative financial management” every time they run for reelection.

No demonstrated benefits to taxpayers

At the very least, the commissioners owe taxpayers a detailed rundown on what improvements need to be made to the transfer station and why, and the estimated costs.

If they can’t document estimated costs, how can they expect the public to believe selling the dump is the right decision?

Director Rich and Commissioner Shaun Van Doren are running for reelection this year.  It would behoove them to be a lot more transparent — and honest.

The commissioners have offered absolutely no evidence that the users and taxpayers would benefit in any way from the sale of the transfer station. If the commissioners were to suggest, “We’ll tell the public about all that at the public hearing,” that would be a railroad job designed to fulfill the legal obligation of conducting one of two public hearings, but without a real opportunity for informed public participation.

(Perhaps it is no accident that the public hearings will be held at 5:30 p.m., when most people are still at work and unable to attend. The commissioners are notorious for discouraging public participation and for using public hearings as nothing more than CYA.)

What the public needs to know

In order to conduct an honest and frank public hearing about the proposed sale of the transfer station, the commissioners need to explain why they failed to manage the transfer station effectively for the benefit of users and taxpayers.

The privatization of public utilities and other public assets has proven disastrous elsewhere. What is the role of government if not to manage assets entrusted to it by the public?

  • Are the commissioners trying to unload a valuable public asset merely because they don’t know what they’re doing?
  • Is the sale a fait accompli and are the public hearings just an unavoidable charade?
  • Are we looking at a sweetheart deal in this sale?
  • Is the transfer station the problem, or is lack of management acumen on the part of the commissioners the problem?

Users of the dump complain the facility is an eyesore and poorly maintained. Selling it to a purely profit-motivated commercial entity seems more likely to raise user costs and lower quality of service simply because users will not have any leverage at all.

Why are they selling it?

A well-managed dump would not operate in the red. A dump should generate revenue and even profits. What the commissioners are clearly telling us is that they want to dump the dump because they’re losing money on it — or maybe they just need the cash that a sale would generate. But are they losing money on it because it’s a bad asset, or because they are incapable stewards?

If you use it, you need to know why the commissioners really want to sell your county dump — before a private buyer jacks up fees and before your government gives up control of the quality of service you already pay for.

You should vote

So, you are probably still wondering, What do the county commissioners actually do? Apparently as little as they can possibly get away with, while still taxing you $79.2 million. The commissioners are raising the real county tax levy by $6.1 million (8.3%) over 2022, no matter what they claim about a “flat tax rate.”

You should vote in the commissioner election this November — after separating the garbage from the truth.

You should demand answers

The two public hearings are your chance to make the commissioners accountable — and to protect an important public asset.

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A new model to fight sprawl: Citizens sue their own towns

More and more citizens in New Jersey are standing up to bad municipal government decisions to approve more sprawl in the name of phony “redevelopment” — while handing developers sweetheart deals for ultra-high-profit projects that don’t belong in their towns.

redevelopmentLike the Clinton Township Community Coalition (CTCC) did in Clinton Township during the Windy Acres planning board approval process (and in later projects), these groups are organizing and hiring lawyers and filing lawsuits against their elected representatives.

(Clinton Township’s official but very spare “Windy Acres history” doesn’t mention a word about the CTCC or its legal actions against the mayor and council.)

Citizens sue their town

A recent action in Westfield, NJ provides a simple model for citizens opposing sprawl ordinances. Excerpts from an column:

Residents sue N.J. town over plan to redevelop shuttered Lord & Taylor site

A group representing some residents of Westfield has filed a lawsuit against the town over a plan to redevelop a former Lord & Taylor store and several other downtown parcels. Westfield Advocates for Responsible Development, and its officers, Frank Fusaro, Carla Bonacci and Alison Carey, are named as plaintiffs in the legal filing that challenges an ordinance that was passed by the Westfield Council on Feb. 14.

The council voted to allow HBC, the owner of the Lord & Taylor, and its real estate arm, Streetworks Development, to build One Westfield Plaza.

The lawsuit says that the plan continued to move forward despite inconsistencies with the town’s Master Plan and comments from residents about the plan’s questionable financial benefits, traffic, the cost of the parking decks, and other issues.

“Despite numerous requests to study further the adverse impacts of the redevelopment plan, the governing body” adopted the ordinance, the lawsuit states.

The single count in the lawsuit alleges that Westfield’s approval of the redevelopment ordinance was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and in contravention of law.

“The defendant, in reaching its decision, failed to adequately consider the economic impact, excess density, traffic, parking costs and environmental impacts of the development being permitted through the adoption of the redevelopment plan,” the lawsuit states.

It asks the court to reverse and vacate the approval of the ordinance, award plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and court costs and grant other relief the court deems appropriate.

Demanding a voice for citizens

The key here is that the Westfield lawsuit demands a citizen-friendly legal interpretation of what a planning board process should do — give a presumption of validity to concerns expressed by the public.

The suit demands that town officials “adequately consider” issues that planning board routinely brush aside:

  • economic impact
  • excess density
  • traffic
  • parking costs
  • environmental impacts

Planning board attorneys (representing towns) routinely interpret land-use law in the favor of the applicant developer — to avoid lawsuits from the developer.

“The lawsuit says that the plan continued to move forward despite inconsistencies with the town’s Master Plan and comments from residents about the plan’s questionable financial benefits, traffic, the cost of the parking decks, and other issues.”

“Despite numerous requests to study further the adverse impacts of the redevelopment plan, the governing body” adopted the ordinance, the lawsuit states.

These lawyers go overboard in their conservative advice to planning boards, zoning boards and municipal governments.

The result is approvals of bad projects which mayors and town councils justify by crying,  “We had no choice!”

A new model to stop sprawl

There is always a choice. When Clinton Township made the wrong choices with Windy Acres and Pulte Homes, the CTCC — a group of citizens that grew to the thousands — made the choice to sue its own government.

Now Westfield citizens are doing the same. Their legal action may be the only good model for responsible citizens to use when their government runs out of control, powered by the questionable advice of lawyers who are terrified to go into a courtroom to defend the interests of a town and its citizens.

Would a town rather fight a pernicious developer, or get sued by its own citizens?

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Still no official NJWSA statement about future of Route 629 over Round Valley

future of route 629Yesterday morning the N.J. Water Supply Authority reopened Route 629 over Round Valley Reservoir following months of public outcry. A caravan of 20 vehicles took a drive over the road late in the afternoon, celebrating the success of local activists intent on reopening the road.

Following a series of exposes published here over the summer, it was those activists that forced the hand of the NJWSA.

However, the NJWSA has issued no official statement that Route 629 will remain open. In fact, the only relevant official statement the agency has made is that it continues to work on “updating” a secret report that will justify permanent closure of the road for “security reasons.”

(Video courtesy of Jonathan Kinkel)

No statement from NJWSA

The Hunterdon County Commissioners recently announced the reopening of 629 and asserted that the NJWSA would not close the road again. However, NJWSA — owner and operator of the Round Valley Reservoir dams and dikes — has not issued any official statement that it has abandoned its ongoing efforts to close 629 permanently. There is no announcement on the NJWSA’s website or in its Round Valley Updates page.

Wise bureaucrats go silent during times of public uproar… but keep working like busy bees “in the back room” while the public stops paying attention.

NJWSA works on “update” to study that will support permanent closure of Route 629

In July NJWSA claimed its decision to close the road permanently was “based on recommendations identified in a [2012] report prepared by U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in coordination with N.J. Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Dam Safety.”

But the NJWSA continues to refuse to release the 10 year old report to the public. It has reportedly provided a copy of the outdated report to Clinton Township Mayor Brian Mullay, instructing him that the report was to be kept secret.

NJWSA said it already had the official support of NJDEP.

Homeland Security denies involvement

The NJWSA stated during the summer that they were working with federal agencies to “update” the old dam security report, which they expect will justify plans to permanently close 629.

There is no indication that the study update is not proceeding.

But was the federal government actually in support of the permanent road closure “for security reasons?”

Congressman Tom Malinowski made a surprise visit to the NJWSA in early August. That visit seems to have confirmed what was revealed in internal documents obtained under the Sunshine Law: U.S. Homeland Security had no involvement in the decision to close 629 permanently for “security reasons” as NJWSA Executive Director Marc Brooks repeatedly claimed.

Internal e-mails obtained by seem to confirm it.

Reprinted from Documents reveal scramble for last-minute justification of route 629 closing

July 6-7
DEP’s John Kale asks Department of Homeland Security whether it knows “of any document that says roads should not be placed on high hazard dams in particular ones that are on the critical dam list?”

DHS responds “No, it is up to the owner/operator to determine what are acceptable risk to them and what protective measures if any they want to implement to protect their facilities. All of our documents are voluntary guidelines and best practices for suggested risk mitigation, protective measures, etc.”

In other words, despite the 2012 report, DHS will not comment on a specific site or road. Nonetheless, WSA claims on its website that the old DHS “report” is the basis for closing the road. View doc

More simply, it seems the NJWSA had been lying to the public. While Malinowski’s office made no statement about what transpired in the meeting, an aide confirmed that his office is routinely advised in advance by Homeland Security prior to any activity in his district. There was no record of any such notice of Homeland Security’s involvement in the planning of the road closure.

It does not seem unlikely that Malinowski, who is on the Congressional Homeland Security Committee, cautioned the NJWSA about misrepresenting the Department of Homeland Security’s involvement in its plans.

Planning for permanent road closure appears to continue

Just a few days after Malinowski’s visit, the NJWSA put everything on hold.

On August 8, MyCentralJersey reported that “The New Jersey Water Supply Authority has paused a request for Hunterdon County to close Route 629 around Round Valley Reservoir until an updated study is completed on possible security concerns.”

Reporter Mike Deak’s article went on to say: “the authority’s Capital Projects Committee has recommended an update to that study. The authority has begun discussions with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the New Jersey State Police and Homeland Security about updating the study. Until that study is completed, the authority will hold off asking the Hunterdon County commissioners to close the road.”

The NJWSA has never officially stated that its original plans have changed, only that it is holding off.

Playing the public relations game

Read the reports about Commissioner Lanza’s meeting with NJWSA Executive Director Marc Brooks:

Lanza said that Marc Brooks, the Authority’s executive director, agreed to study long-term security enhancements that do not involve the road’s closure.

Studies. Not promises. Not a commitment. It may seem “clear” that NJWSA has committed to not closing Route 629, but that’s not what Lanza said to the press, and the NJWSA has continued to play the public relations game it has played throughout this debacle.

Again and again, the NJWSA’s “positions” and “statements” about 629 have appeared  unofficially and second-hand on online news outlets, on the Clinton Township website, and now in second-party reports from a county commissioner. The NJWSA has studiously avoided publishing official statements of its own, so it always has plausible deniability.

It’s an old PR trick: Don’t say anything yourself; let others say what you want the public to hear, then go about your business. The NJWSA has not officially stated that it will not permanently close Route 629 over Round Valley Reservoir.

Will there be another roadblock on Route 629? Drive carefully.

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Exxon Warehouse: Clinton Township zoning says NO

exxon warehouse

Prologis warehouse, Chambersburg, PA

How do you stop an Exxon warehouse? It’s simple: Clinton Township citizens and  neighbors who would be affected show up at the next council meeting, Wednesday, October 26 at 7:00 P.M. and tell their elected representatives on the council:

“Uphold our zoning! No amendments to permit warehouses!”

It seems that fast on the heels of our report on Thursday, Oct. 20, Exxon to bomb Clinton Township with 4 million SF warehouse, Exxon Mobil quickly decided to disclose what it has been quietly discussing for some time with Clinton Township officials. Exxon was reportedly going to announce this at a future council session: Letter from Exxon.

It’s now clear that Exxon is proposing a huge warehouse to be operated on Exxon’s long-time property by Prologis, which has massive warehouses strewn across New Jersey and other states.

Warehouses not permitted

It’s not clear why the township would even entertain this proposal. The township’s ROM-1 zoning does not permit warehouses.

Here’s what Exxon wants, from its letter:

exxon request for zoning change

Exxon’s entire site is within the ROM-1 zone, or the Research, Office and Manufacturing district. This defines what a property owner may and may not do within a zone.


All Clinton Township has to do is say NO

In other words, the Clinton Township council can simply and politely tell Exxon NO, and do so on solid legal ground.

But Exxon is making a special request. Exxon is…

“…requesting that the Township Council consider amending the Property’s prevailing zoning to permit such a use.”

Why do we have zoning?

Zoning is the set of rules a community develops, under New Jersey’s Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL), to ensure the wishes of its residents are enforced. A town cannot implement arbitrary zoning — that would be illegal.

If the council agreed to “amend” the ROM-1 zoning to appease Exxon, what happens when other ROM-1 property owners ask for the same? Does the council upend the will of its residents on a case-by-case basis? Or, what is the law for? Will residents have to show up at public hearings in every single case after they’ve already enshrined a law that does not permit warehouses?”

Prologis would love that.

Without turning this into a detailed lesson in land use, a town’s governing body (often with advice from its planning board) legislates, or frames in its laws, what may and may not be built within its borders. Of course, these land-use rules must be consistent with State of New Jersey laws. Before zoning can be enacted through legislation by a town’s governing body, public notices are issued and the public (including developers and Exxon) are welcome to comment before a vote is taken by the council to enshrine the zoning into law.

Clinton Township’s restrictions on what can be built in the ROM-1 zone are defined by its community for the good of its community. These land-use laws are published and readily available to anyone considering building anything anywhere in the township.

Exxon wants to “make a deal”

This is how Exxon cues up a “friendly negotiation” with elected officials and with the planning board — when Clinton Township doesn’t need to negotiate anything.

Such imprudent “negotiations” are how Prologis builds fantastical structures that:

  • introduce acres of impervious ground cover (rooftops and asphalt driveways and parking lots) that:
  • impede groundwater recharge (that ‘s how aquifers refill residents’ wells)
  • create storm water run-off (that pollutes streams and the water supply)
  • generate thousands of diesel truck trips per day
  • destroy air quality, and
  • introduce massive amounts of traffic congestion and noise.

That’s why Exxon wants to cue up meetings — so it can make a deal.

Given that existing law already does not permit warehouses, it would be imprudent for Clinton Township to even consider wading into the murky legal swamp of “a negotiation.”

So why is the township even considering warehouses?

A developer has the right to appear before the township council and planning board and request a variance to legally depart in specific ways from the zoning. The planning board may approve a variance request if the applicant meets certain criteria, but it does not have to.

That’s why the township is even considering this, barring any inappropriate influence.

But in this case, Exxon does not even seem to be asking for a variance. Exxon is asking Clinton Township to consider entirely changing the zoning for the Exxon site.

“…amending the Property’s prevailing zoning to permit [warehouses].”

Exxon wants Clinton Township to change the law to suit Exxon, not the residents.

Why do we have zoning?

Towns have zoning to protect their residents. Residents elect officials to make the laws and to enforce them for the benefit and safety of the residents. These laws are made through an often cumbersome process: it takes a lot of work for a community to decide what’s best for all.

Clinton Township’s zoning is legal, it is clear, and it is what the residents decided they want for their community.

Warehouses are not permitted. In fairness and out of respect for a significant corporate resident, the council might nonetheless entertain Exxon’s presentation at a public meeting.

But the township’s position is already clear and enshrined in its laws.

How to Say It: “Warehouses are not permitted.”

That is all the township council and/or planning board needs to say to Exxon. The planning board isn’t even required to hear an application for a warehouse. (Why would busy, unpaid planning board volunteers waste their time, when they’ve already invested their time to make the township’s position on warehouses into law?)

The township’s only justification for NO needs to be nothing more than the very existence of its ROM-1 zoning.

Reprise: Exxon is looking for “a deal”

Could the council and planning board allow Exxon to build a warehouse anyway?

Yes, they could. They could “make a deal.”

For example, if Exxon can’t build a warehouse, it might threaten to build some extreme version of what the zoning does permit, and use the threat to get a deal whereby the township agrees to change its zoning to permit a warehouse.

Or, Exxon could point out (as it did in its letter) that a new warehouse could provide “a significant increase in real estate tax revenue.” But taxes on a warehouse are calculated not on what’s in the building, but on what the building is: a tin shell with relatively little value. The taxes would never compensate for the pains the warehouse would inflict on the township. This kind of deal is called “chasing ratables.”

making-sausageOr, Exxon could offer to improve “prevailing traffic problems,” as it did in its letter. But the clever letter makes no mention of dealing with the future traffic problems that potentially thousands of truck trips per day would be generated by a 4 million square foot warehouse. (See ‘Warehouses in their backyards’: when Amazon expands, these communities pay the price.)

In politics, these kinds of negotiations are referred to as “how sausage is made.” If you look, you’d never swallow what you see.

What will the council do?

It might seem clear what the township’s council should do — after all, it’s in the law!

But the council’s recent behavior with the New Jersey Water Supply Authority suggests council members are easily intimidated and overly impressed by seemingly powerful external forces. In the Route 629 case, council quickly bowed to a state agency that in fact has no power over the township or the county. Rather than say NO to permanent closing of a critical roadway, the council punted and said it wasn’t up to them to decide the fate of Route 629.

The council in fact had the power to say NO. When it failed to do so, the public rose up and had to do it for themselves.

What will the council do about enforcing and defending its zoning? It can work for and with its constituents, or it can replay Exxon’s song about why it’s a good idea to make a deal and allow a 4 million square foot warehouse.

Reprise: How do citizens of Clinton Township stop an Exxon  warehouse?

Clinton Township residents and their mayor and council need to be clear, firm and resolute. Council can support the law and the community:

“Build under our zoning, or don’t build. Please go read our law. We’re under no obligation to defend our land-use laws or to negotiate warehouses. NO.”

no warehousesAn elected official’s obligation to their citizens is to apply the law. Not to make deals — or sausage.

The public’s prerogative is to expect and insist that its government use existing laws to protect the community.

What can citizens do? It’s simple: citizens show up at the next council meeting, Wednesday, October 26 at 7:00 P.M. and tell their elected representatives on the council: “Uphold our zoning! No sausage! No deals! No amendments to permit warehouses!”

CORRECTION: Exxon is zoned ROM-1, which does not permit warehouses. This article incorrectly referenced C-ROM zoning, which expressly prohibits warehouses. The article has been corrected.

HOWEVER: General Provision 165-93 provides that “Where a use is not specifically permitted in a zone district, it is prohibited.” So a warehouse in this case is both not permitted, and prohibited by exclusion.

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Exxon to bomb Clinton Township with 4 million SF warehouse


Nike warehouse, TN, 2.8 million SF

Exxon Mobil Corporation has notified Mayor Brian Mullay that it plans to sell off hundreds of its 800 acres on Route 22 & 31. Sources familiar with the matter said  that a 4 million square-foot warehouse is reportedly planned for for an unknown tenant.

That’s approximately 92 acres of facility alone and, in addition, paved driveways and parking areas that will dramatically reduce groundwater recharge and increase storm water run-off.

4 million square feet of warehouse would qualify the project as one of the top 10 largest facilities of its kind in North America.

Will mayor and council “refer” it to the planning board?

Exxon will need approvals from the township’s planning board and possibly the zoning board. But first, the council will likely need to vote to refer any application to the board.

This is a common way for mayors and council members to “bless” a project while also “washing their hands of it” — and thus leave the planning board to “hold the bag.” What residents are likely to hear from their elected officials is:

“Oh, don’t worry, folks! This still has to go through the planning board! Nothing is approved yet! You’ll have loads of opportunities to comment on this and make your feelings known! It’s up to the planning board!”

(This is how Mayor John Higgins and his council — some of whom are still in office — ran and hid after approving over 800 affordable housing units in the dark of night in 2017.)

The fact is, the mayor and council have enormous influence over whether a “big box” like this even gets to the loading dock.

Public knows less than Exxon employees

For months Exxon reportedly has been having confidential back-room meetings with Mullay, former mayor John Higgins (a retired Merck land development executive with ties to Exxon), township planners and other officials. If Exxon brings formal plans to the Planning Board, board members that have been involved — including Mullay and Higgins — may have to recuse themselves from the review and approval process.

While mayor and council have kept the negotiations strictly under cover, Exxon has already issued an Exxon Employee Bulletin (file dated October 12) outlining a plan to sell “surplus land adjacent to our Clinton [Township], New Jersey research facility.”

Thousands of diesel truck trips per day possible

The plan reportedly includes a new traffic lane on Route 31 to accommodate thousands of truck trips per day, connecting not to I-78 but to Route 22, further exacerbating congestion on local highways. The Route 31 access road to the site is near the township’s #1 highway deathtrap, the intersection of Route 31 and Country Club Drive.

For the benefit of getting toilet paper, books and other necessities from Amazon in mere hours, residents will have to deal with the estimated thousands of trucks that will be spewing out of the site each day into the most congested intersection in Hunterdon County: the Route 22/31/78 “mixing bowl” at the Petticoat Road intersection.

As a reference point, an Amazon warehouse of just 680,000 square feet in Fontana, CA, generates nearly 6,000 vehicle trips per day, including more than 2,300 diesel truck trips. Such massive warehouses are known to create equally massive amounts of air, water and noise pollution in addition to highway congestion.

N.J. residents mobilize against massive warehouses

11 warehouses each the size of 18 football fields have been built in 2020 alone along Pennsylvania’s I-78/I-81 corridor.

In N.J., angry residents of West Windsor have organized to fight a 5.5 million square foot warehouse. In Salem and Cumberland Counties residents are opposing similar invasive projects. The battle has been engaged in White Township, Warren County for several years against two Jaindl warehouses proposed at 2.6 million square feet.

Clinton Township officials are already familiar with local activism against powerful state agencies and big developers alike. Over 3,500 residents organized to fight and stop the 1,100 housing-unit Windy Acres development. Over 2,500 have petitioned to force the New Jersey Water Supply Authority to re0pen County Route 629. The question is, will mayor and council go along with this Exxon deal and face the wrath of their constituents again?

Why is Exxon doing this to Clinton Township?

Exxon is telling its employees not to worry about their jobs. Jobs will not be affected. The purpose of the project is to raise money for the company:

“This is simply an opportunity to realize the value of our global property portfolio and capture additional operating efficiencies.”

Exxon says it

“has engaged with parties interested in potentially purchasing and developing the surplus land. We anticipate approaching the Clinton Township Council regarding the potential development at a future Council meeting.”

Exxon is holding a meeting for its employees about the matter on November 7. The next township council meeting is Wednesday, October 27. The mayor and council have made no announcements to township residents. Rather, they reportedly have taken measures to keep this information from the public to date.

Exxon has been cultivating support

Exxon is apparently sweetening the deal by offering to donate 120 acres of its 800 to the township for open space and recreation, and to help rebuild township hiking trails. If the donation includes areas that lie over massive limestone deposits, known as karst, on the Exxon property, the land is probably undevelopable anyway. Karst is known for collapsible underground caves that leave massive sinkholes behind.

In 2019 township councilwoman Amy Switlyk announced that Exxon awarded a $45,500 “grant” to the Environmental Commission to support “environmental education.” As council liaison to the EC, Switlyk has made herself responsible for all things environmental. How susceptible is she to Exxon’s offers in a quid pro quo? Since she is running for re-election, along with councilman Bill Glaser, it will be interesting to see how the two vote about referring the big-box warehouse plan to the planning board, knowing the water, air and noise pollution such a project will bring.

In fact, it will be interesting to see how candid the entire council is about the matter, and whether they once again play their game of “We have no control when special interests and big money attack Clinton Township! It’s up to the planning board now! Land-use law ties our hands! Let’s just make the best of it!”

Then there’s this classic, if overused and disingenuous political foil: “A warehouse will generate lots of tax revenue for us!” Remember where you read that while you research towns that have used such deal-with-the-devil windfalls to actually decrease taxes.

Do Clinton Township’s elected officials have what it takes to do the right thing — for the residents? Or do they have to be publicly shamed into it once again?

It probably depends on how many residents show up at upcoming council meetings.

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Malinowski meets with NJWSA, 629 closure on hold

[An earlier version of this article suggested the proposal to permanently close 629 is “dead in the water.” The title has been edited to reflect that it’s merely “on hold.” -Ed.]

On August 4, 2022 U.S. Congressman Tom Malinowski (D) met with officials of the New Jersey Water Supply Authority on behalf of constituents to raise questions about the proposed permanent closure of Hunterdon County Route 629.

Malinowski was recently asked for help by area residents that oppose the proposed permanent closure of the road that goes over a Round Valley Reservoir dam.

This morning a Malinowski spokesperson acknowledged the congressman’s meeting last Thursday with the NWSA.

Will 629 re-open?

Route 629Today reported that the NJWSA’s plan to permanently close 629 has been “put on hold,” following a recommendation of the Authority’s Capital Projects Committee.

The Hunterdon Review has also reported on the hold.

MyCentralJersey reported the road closure will be on pause “until an updated study is completed on possible security concerns.”

There is no indication whether or when 629 will be re-opened, although work related to the road appears near complete. (See photo, courtesy of Robert Quinlan.) But the “informal proposal” — on which the NJWSA based its requests for formal resolutions of support by Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough — seems to be on hold, at least for now, apparently due to the Malinowski meeting.

Proposal to close 629 appears dead in the water, for now

The article goes on to say the proposed road closure was “prompted by a confidential study by the Department of Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers.”

However, “the authority’s Capital Projects Committee has recommended an update to that study. The authority has begun discussions with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the New Jersey State Police and Homeland Security about updating the study. Until that study is completed, the authority will hold off asking the Hunterdon County commissioners to close the road.”

Coming just days after the U.S. Congressman met with WSA officials about the matter, it seems concerned residents have an advocate in Tom Malinowski.

Flurry of activity

Internal NJWSA e-mails obtained by, dated June and July, reveal a flurry of attempts by Water Authority officials to come up with last-minute justifications to close 629 — after unyielding protests from area residents.

Water Authority e-mails to and from U.S. Homeland Security and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers appear, from these documents, to have been fruitless and embarrassing.

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Documents reveal scramble for last-minute justification of route 629 closing has obtained official records from the New Jersey Water Supply Authority  under the NJ Sunshine Law that reveal the Authority scrambling to find after-the-fact justification to support its proposal to close county route 629.

Records were requested from the beginning of 2022 — but it took the Authority until July to seek support, well after it floated the road closure.

One e-mail, for example, asks Department of Homeland Security whether it knows “of any document that says roads should not be placed on high hazard dams in particular ones that are on the critical dam list?”

This request came weeks after the NJWSA asked Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough for formal resolutions of support to close the roadway.

E-mails to and from U.S. Homeland Security and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers appear, from these documents, to have been fruitless and embarrassing.

Water Authority documents and e-mails

Click “View doc” link after each summary to view the source document.

July 6
Route 629Shaffer (WSA) and Kale (DEP) debate whether internal docs “call out this road as a target” and speculate about whether “Justification for closing road could be tied to the “active and passive vehicle barrier guide””. These efforts to create justification for closing 629 are made weeks after WSA asks Clinton Township to support the proposal.

In the meantime, Mayor Brian Mullay keeps repeating that NJWSA instructed him to keep the justification for the closing “secret,” but that he finds “the reasons compelling.” This leads his council to vote unanimously on June 22 to go along. View doc

July 6-7
DEP’s John Kale asks Department of Homeland Security whether it knows “of any document that says roads should not be placed on high hazard dams in particular ones that are on the critical dam list?”

DHS responds “No, it is up to the owner/operator to determine what are acceptable risk to them and what protective measures if any they want to implement to protect their facilities. All of our documents are voluntary guidelines and best practices for suggested risk mitigation, protective measures, etc.”

In other words, despite the 2012 report, DHS will not comment on a specific site or road. Nonetheless, WSA claims on its website that the old DHS “report” is the basis for closing the road. View doc

July  8
WSA asks NJ DEP to support permanent closing of 629, “based on recommendations identified in a report prepared by US Department of Homeland Security and US Army Corp of Engineers in coordination with NJDEP Bureau of Dam Safety. The report analyzed various potential threats at all three Round Valley dams and offered recommendations to mitigate those threats.”

The referenced report was produced in 2012, 10 years before WSA asked towns for resolutions of support. Today’s announcement suggests report is out of date and insufficient. View doc

July 22
WSA e-mail response to earlier DHS e-mail: “the Water Supply Authority finds ourselves in a bit of a local uproar.”

WSA has “requested input from NJSP [NJ State Police] about whether “the report provides a legitimate basis for our request.”

These requests to justify closure of 629 come over a month after WSA told Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough that the action was necessary. View doc

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Official source documents: Route 629 closing

These documents were obtained under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act from Clinton Township. They include communications/e-mails between the township, Lebanon Boro, the NJ  Water Supply Authority and Hunterdon County. Chronology is oldest at the bottom of each file, newest at the top.

Pages from 2022 06 30 OPRA 629 closing

E-mails between Mayor Mullay, township administrator Vita Mekovetz and NJWSA Executive Director Marc Brooks, establishing that Mullay knew about the proposed permanent closing of Route 629 as early as April 7, 2022. He had over 2 months to properly notify the public about the proposal before the council voted on it June 22 with no one present to comment.

Also establishes that on April 7 Mullay knew “many” residents would be interested in commenting on the matter because — in his own words — “Many will be disappointed if it is closed as people frequently ask when it will reopen.”

The empty council chamber on June 22 suggests Mullay had no intention of widely notifying the public.

Pages from 2022 06 30 OPRA 629 closing-3

In which Brooks, on June 10, outlines the informal proposal he made to the County Engineer, and the Engineer’s request for a formal proposal and supporting resolutions/letters from Clinton Township and Lebanon Boro before the Engineer would consider a formal proposal. The Engineer also requires that the public be given an opportunity to comment “to minimize potential for complaints in the future if the closure becomes permanent.”

More to come.

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Letter to the Hunterdon County Engineer

Council meeting, June 22, 2022

Without any public comment, and without once wondering aloud what the public might want, this is how the council rationalized taking no position on permanently closing route 629 when it had the chance to communicate the wishes of residents of the township to the county.

“It is a county decision, not ours… it may actually be the county in conjunction with the Water Supply Authority… My suggestion would be that the council authorize me to send a letter to the county saying, not necesarily that we support it [permanently closing the road] but that we understand it, and while it would be an inconvenience it’s ultimately the county’s decision.” – Mayor Brian Mullay

“So just to reiterate, we have no choice in the long run… I’ll support it because we don’t have a choice…” – Councilwoman Amy Switlyk

Who needs elected representatives to communicate the will of the people?


July 7, 2021

An open letter to Mr. Thomas Mathews, Director, County Engineer, Hunterdon County

Dear Mr. Mathews,

I’m a former mayor of Clinton Township, where a controversy is brewing over our council’s letter to the NJWSA (and to you, for all I know – I cannot confirm it) about the Water Authority’s “informal” proposal to permanently close county route 629 after Round Valley dam and dike reconstruction is completed.

In a June 10, 2022 e-mail from Marc Brooks to Mayor Brian Mullay, obtained under OPRA, I learned of some important requests and suggestions you apparently made to the NJWSA “to minimize potential for complaints in the future if the closure becomes permanent.”

Mr. Brooks wrote:

“Hunterdon County’s Engineering Division is prepared to make the recommendation to the County Commissioners but has asked that the Authority provide a formal request. With that request, they have asked that we include resolutions, or letters of support from the mayors of both Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough. The County has suggested that the municipalities publicly discuss this matter on the record to minimize potential for complaints in the future if the closure becomes permanent.

[Emphasis added]

I appreciate that you asked the NJWSA, prior to submitting a formal proposal to you, to ensure that this matter be aired in a public forum where residents of both towns have a full opportunity to give their views, and I expect you meant before their respective governing bodies take action.

But Clinton Township did nothing more than the minimum-required “public notice” on a matter of enormous interest to the residents of the township. Two people were in the audience at the June 22 council meeting. No one commented. Certainly, we expect more of our elected officials, especially after COVID emptied our council chambers of public participation for two years.

Now, Clinton Township’s failure to provide a well-advertised public forum has resulted in an enormous number of strident complaints – protests against the proposed road closure, questions about the lack of accountability regarding security issues, ire at the clearly needless rush to act and, perhaps more important, outrage over the complete lack of transparency with which this has been handled by Clinton Township and the NJWSA. If you have access, you need only check the Facebook Groups and Nextdoor forums associated with Clinton Township and Lebanon. I’ve been witness to public controversies in Hunterdon, but I cannot recall one as wild as this in 15 years.

Certainly the public bodies involved in this can do a better job of respecting the public’s right to know what’s going on and to ensure the public’s right to participate in their government. Based on the information I have, it seems your office did the right thing. For that, thank you.

My response to all this is in an open letter I wrote to Mr. Brooks. Since the county has been cited again and again as the decision maker on this matter (“We have no choice – it’s a county decision” was the refrain by Clinton Township council before they voted to not oppose the closure), and since your office has been cited as the advisor to the county commissioners, I wanted to share my response with you.

My hope is that Clinton Township and Lebanon will hold widely advertised public comment opportunities on the proposed permanent closure of Route 629 before your office needs to make a recommendation to the commissioners, so that you may be afforded a complete picture of public sentiment – not just the wishes of our politicians.

In addition, I expect that the NJWSA will appear at these forums to answer questions and provide substantive justification for closing 629. My hope is that everyone, including your office and the commissioners, will have the information they need so all will support one choice based on sound information and judgment.

In the interest of transparency, I will post this communication online as I have my letter to Mr. Brooks.

Thank you for your kind attention.


Nick Corcodilos
ExMayor, Clinton Township

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The Lame Pitch to Close Route 629: This dog don’t hunt

July 7, 2022

Open Letter to Marc Brooks, Executive Director, NJ Water Supply Authority

Dear Mr. Brooks:

On June 22 the mayor and council of Clinton Township voted unanimously not to oppose the permanent closing of county route 629 over Round Valley Reservoir — without one public comment at the meeting. This is telling, because almost 2 weeks after that furtive action, an article about the matter on was viewed over 3,600 times in less than 6 days. Many Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough residents who knew nothing about the proposed road closing have expressed outrage and opposition.

close route 629Based on what I now know about the 629 proposal, I am presently 100% against it. Everything surrounding this pitch can only be called lame and embarrassing.

I am a former mayor of Clinton Township and live on Old Mountain Road, along with over 100 other households. We’ve been patiently waiting for the road to reopen after over 4 years of dam reconstruction. Open for over 60 years, the road was closed briefly after 9/11 then reopened. The road is our best, fastest and most economical route to points south and to the Hunterdon Medical Center Emergency Room.

The closure has been proposed “informally” by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority to the County Engineer. The Engineer must decide whether to recommend to the County Commissioners whether to close this important county road.

According to official documents obtained from Clinton Township under OPRA, the County Engineer requires from the NJWSA:

  • a formal proposal for the closing
  • formal resolutions of support from Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough
  • that the public have an opportunity to comment on the matter prior to any formal proposal made to the county “to minimize potential for complaints in the future if the closure becomes permanent.”

Nowhere is there any indication of any rush or even a deadline for the towns to take formal action, or to receive public comment.

Lebanon has not yet decided how to proceed, citing the need for more information, to consider all the ramifications to the public and to its businesses, and to get input from its residents. Lebanon will discuss the matter in public later in July and seems in no rush.

Clinton Township, however, acted immediately and precipitously on June 22 to not oppose the road closing and to pass the buck to the county without any public comment, and with only the minimum required “legal notice” to the public and to affected residents. Certainly, the people we have elected can do better than that.

There are many notices posted at the huge fence that blocks entrance to 629 at the intersection of Old Mountain Road and Cherry Street. But Clinton Township couldn’t be bothered to post a notice there to affected residents, or to use its “Email Alert” system, inviting their input and concerns. Nor did the township publish any notice in its monthly newsletter, even though Mayor Brian Mullay knew about the proposal as early as April 7 and acknowledged then that it would be controversial.

The County Engineer should be aware that there are already loads of public objections to the proposal as well as complaints about the failure to ensure adequate opportunity for public comments. One need only check the Clinton Township and Lebanon Facebook groups and Nextdoor.

The NJWSA has provided the skimpiest justification for the closure: vague references to “security reasons” that local officials were told “not to discuss publicly.”

On June 22 Mayor Mullay told the council that:

“There are security concerns which in my opinion are major, but which we can’t get into the details of… but I very much understand the rationale behind their desire to close it.”

  • What security expertise and qualifications does Mayor Mullay possess to warrant offering his opinion to justify closing a road? What rationale is he referring to?

Asked by a council member, “Why?” Mullay answered:

“We can’t have that discussion in public, but it satisfied me, that’s all I’m going to say.”

  • By what legal authority does Mayor Mullay limit public council deliberation about a public road funded by taxpayers? Does the rest of the council have this information? Was this discussed in closed session?

Responding to a concerned resident via e-mail, Mullay said this:

“I understand your concern of a lack of transparency. I believe I mentioned that I wish I could go into more detail during the Council meeting. All that I am able to say is that the security concern that the Authority has is related to dam safety. I toured all the project sites with the Authority, during which time we discussed in detail the dam security issue that is leading them to make the request for closure to the County. It is unfortunate, but the sensitive nature of that information cannot be discussed publicly (in fact, I was asked not to discuss it publicly). Suffice it to say, I found the information compelling.”

  • What secret clearance does the mayor possess? What warranted the NJWSA’s disclosure of sensitive security information to him, and under what legal authority did it then instruct him to withhold the information from the public? This cloak-and-dagger stuff must be, suggested one resident, from watching too much “24” on tv.

The NJWSA reportedly told Lebanon only verbally that heavy trucks could undermine the road’s stability. Yet it has provided the towns with nothing substantive from any relevant authority to support its proposal.

The County Engineer was wise to wave away the NJWSA’s “informal” proposal. Mayor Mullay and his council were foolish and irresponsible to take formal action without due diligence and without formal documentation to defend their rushed vote. Mullay could not even offer anything substantive to the council. Not even the township engineer was present.

After contacting relevant officials and reviewing available documents, based on what I now know about the 629 permanent closure proposal, I am presently 100% against it. I see no justification or evidence that it would be prudent to permanently close a major Hunterdon County through road that so many residents from Clinton Township and Lebanon rely on. Moreover, while the county is spending tax dollars on an “Eco-Tourism” initiative, does it make any sense to close the most stunning, gorgeous drive through nature in Hunterdon County?

To change my position, first the NJWSA would have to provide a formal assessment and position statement from US Homeland Security, or other relevant authority, about new security risks at this specific dam and road. The document might be redacted for security reasons, but I need to see that a proper authority did the proper analysis and recommends the closure. Mayor Mullay’s opinion and whatever the NJWSA did or did not tell him is not sufficient. Violation of the NJ OPRA is not acceptable.

Second, you’d have to provide an assessment and recommendations from the US Army Corps of Engineers about the risk of damage to the dam from truck traffic on this specific dam and road. Did the State of NJ really put out a bid for dam work that would not withstand the kind of traffic that has been going over that road for over 60 years? The NJWSA noted to me that the NJ DEP has expressed only “verbal support of this proposal.”

It seems everyone is “passing the buck” on approval to permanently close the road, and the only backstop is public outrage — and the only solution is public comment.

I am stunned that Clinton Township Council voted unanimously to not oppose the closure by stating that “it’s the county’s decision, not ours” and “we have no choice,” without a shred of documentary evidence that the road closure is necessary, for any reason, whether engineering/structural or related to homeland security.

Where have we heard “we have no choice” before? For over 10 years residents of Old Mountain Road led the successful war to stop Pulte Homes from putting over 1,000 housing units on Windy Acres, even to the point of having to sue the township. If we had listened to “We have no choice” from then-mayor Tom Borkowski, the planning board and he council, there would be no Windy Acres Park today.

Do we have to sue someone again, this time to protect a road we rely on?

I’m even more stunned that the NJWSA would ask Hunterdon County to close the road and transfer it to the NJWSA without supporting documentary evidence. I’m shocked that NJWSA and the county would put the cart before the horse and, in a seemingly deft political ploy to pass the buck, first ask the towns for formal support when the NJWSA itself has offered the towns nothing formal upon which to base a decision the towns can defend to the public.

If there are legitimate “security reasons” that are documented and verified (even if some of this is “secret”), then our local and county governing bodies should have all the evidence they require to make an informed decision about closing the road. But they must be able to document and defend their decision.

This entire enterprise seems less than half-baked and steeped in bureaucratic and political manipulation of our naïve elected officials. I do not support the present shenanigans because this dog don’t hunt.

I’m still waiting to see the information Mayor Mullay and the council used to support their premature action, which in any event is unforgivable for lack of any effort to first obtain public comment, especially from residents affected most.

I ask the NJWSA to kindly:

  1. Provide the public with evidence of independent assessments of this road and this dam/dike, as well as formal recommendations regarding road closure, from US Homeland Security and the US Army Corps of Engineers.
  2. Recommend to Clinton Township that the council repeal its premature, unsupported June 22 resolution — which was devoid of any documented basis or public input — because it’s the right thing to do.
  3. Provide to Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough a complete, formal proposal that has the full, formal support of the NJ DEP and the county, prior to expecting the towns to provide formal resolutions of support. I’m sure you recognize the importance of due diligence when elected officials must make important decisions that affect taxpayers.
  4. Ensure that NJWSA and the towns have taken necessary and meaningful measures to inform residents about this proposal and to provide ample opportunity for public comment “to minimize potential for complaints in the future if the closure becomes permanent.”

While I respect the NJWSA’s desire to ensure the safety and security of our towns, that is meaningless without protecting and ensuring the sacred right of the public to know what’s going on and to participate fully in our own government.


Nick Corcodilos
ExMayor, Clinton Township

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