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An unusual public hearing for a piece of a big project on the Delaware

Not all commissions attend the public hearings. Here, from left, Pamela Bush, commission secretary and assistant general counsel; Steve Tambini, executive director; Jeffrey Hoffman, New Jersey alternate commissioner  PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Not all commissions attend the public hearings. Here, from left, Pamela Bush, commission secretary and assistant general counsel; Steve Tambini, executive director; Jeffrey Hoffman, New Jersey alternate commissioner PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

DOCKET NO. D-2017-009-2 DELAWARE RIVER BASIN COMMISSION

Delaware River Partners LLC

Gibbstown Logistics Center Dock 2 Greenwich Township, Gloucester County, New Jersey

So, out of the blue, the Delaware River Basin Commission sets a public hearing for the project above.

The usual routine for the DRBC is to gather (and study) between 15 and 30 "dockets' (its word for projects) and present them together at a public hearing where speakers can address the commissioners about any of the projects on the list (or submit written comments for a period of time.)

Last Thursday, June 6, 2019, the DRBC called an unusual public hearing for a single project. Yep, this one. And with a limited written public comment period that ended about 24 hours after the hearing.

In its press release, the DRBC noted that with the public comment period over (in a rush) the project/docket could be voted on at the next DRBC business meeting, this week, on Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

This, one could fairly surmise, was a pretty special docket (project.)

Here's the DRBC blurb on it and the possibility/probability of a vote:

Delaware River Partners, LLC (NJ) Gibbstown Logistics Center Dock 2, D-2017-009-2. An application for a new dredging project at the Delaware River Partners (DRP) Gibbstown Logistics Center, a multi-use deep-water seaport and international logistics center currently under development, located at River Mile 86.5 of the Delaware River in Greenwich Township, Gloucester County, New Jersey. The new project consists of the construction of an additional dock/wharf containing two deep-water berths, which will include the dredging of approximately 665,000 cubic yards of sediment from the Delaware River to a depth of 43 feet below mean lower low water (MLLW) elevation. View draft docket (pdf 244 KB).

Submitting Written Comment. Written comment on draft Docket 2017-009-2 may be made through the Commission’s web-based comment system - http://dockets.drbc.commentinput.com/Written comments will be accepted through 5:00 p.m. on Friday, June 7, 2019. Use of the web-based system ensures that all submissions are captured in a single location and their receipt is acknowledged. Exceptions to the use of this system are available based on need, by writing to the attention of the Commission Secretary, DRBC, P.O. Box 7360, 25 Cosey Road, West Trenton, NJ 08628-0360.

At the Commission’s quarterly business meeting on June 12, 2019, Commission consideration of any item for which the public hearing is closed may result in approval of the item (by docket or resolution) as proposed, approval with changes, denial, or deferral. When the Commissioners defer an action, they may announce an additional period for written comment on the item, with or without an additional hearing date, or they may take additional time to consider the input they have already received without requesting further public input. Any deferred item will be considered for action at a public meeting of the Commission on a future date.

But, wait, there's more, if you can bear all the bureaucratese:

The purpose of this docket is to approve an additional dredging and deep-water berth construction project, referred to as “Dock 2,” at the docket holder’s previously approved GLC on the Delaware River. The GLC, which is currently under construction, is a multi-use marine terminal and international logistics center located at the former Repauno site (also formerly known as the “Chemours Repauno industrial site” and “DuPont Repauno Works”) in Greenwich Township, Gloucester County, New Jersey. Previous DRBC, federal, state and local approvals for the GLC authorized Delaware River dredging and construction for the deep-water berth referred to as “Dock 1,” consisting of one-ship berth on a pile-supported wharf structure. Dock 2 will consist of an additional pile-supported wharf structure that accommodates two ship berths and associated infrastructure. The construction of Dock 2 involves dredging approximately 665,000 cubic yards (cy) of sediment from the Delaware River to a depth of 43 feet below (-43) mean lower low water (MLLW) to accommodate the two deep-water berths. The Project does not involve demolition of any existing in-water or landside structures.

So, what's important here is that the docket squeaks in to be voted on at next week's business meeting of the DRBC. What is also important at least to whoever drafted this  is that this is ONLY for a second berth and dredging, and not for the whole project, which is "a multi-use deep-water seaport and international logistics center." Nowhere in these documents does it indicate that will essentially be used for the export of fracked gases, which are planned to be trucked in from central Pennsylvania (where fracking is a multi-billion industry) and shipped from here internationally. A statement about the "procedural error" that necessitated the special treatment read out by New Jersey's alternate commissioner, Jeffrey Hoffman, gave a list of what will be transported: butane, isobutane, liquid petroleum gas, liquid natural gas and methane.

I had some questions.

Here's the back and forth I had with DRBC's communication specialist:

DC: I was surprised to learn that you/DRBC have called a Public Hearing for June 6 on a project that -- I believe -- was not on the docket for the most recent DRBC public hearing.

This seems an unusual step, and could be interpreted by some as a way to avoid some of the routine public comments that happen at the DRBC's usual public hearing meetings. Why is this necessary?

DRBC:  The purpose of the public hearing on June 6 is to accept public comment on draft docket D-2017-009-2 Delaware River Partners Gibbstown Logistics Center Dock 2.

Our procedures for collecting comments for this draft docket are no different than for other projects.  We are accepting written comments online via SmartComment by June 7, and we are accepting oral comments at the hearing on June 6.  The Notice was posted 13 days before the hearing (DRBC rules require no less than 10 days’ notice)

DC: I know you all well enough to know that you'll follow the rules, perhaps following the letter of your regulations if not the spirit. At least it seems so in this case. When a public hearing is scheduled out of the usual pattern, it raises questions. Why couldn't it wait until the next regularly scheduled public hearing? Why make the watershed community have to travel to Trenton another time to say/share what their opinions are about it. It could seem as though you're treating this particular docket in some special way, and raises questions as to why?

DRBC: The hearing is being held at the request of the State of New Jersey.  You can contact NJDEP (and gives me the phone number of NJDEP's press office.)

Before we go any further let me point out that this is at least partially a Liquid Natural Gas project, in New Jersey, where Gov. Phil Murphy has recently stood with the governors of two other basin states -- to declare his support for the Delaware River and its watershed. He has also come out against any fracking in the state, and his DEP has denied at least one pipeline request (though with the caveat that the developers can come back and resubmit.)

So I contacted NJDEP. This is my note to Larry Hajna:

DC: I attended the odd public hearing for this project before the DRBC yesterday.

This seemed a rather rushed public hearing. This project was not on the most recent list of dockets presented at the last DRBC meeting, instead a special public hearing was called yesterday and today is the end of written comments, allowing for a rather rushed vote by the DRBC this coming Wednesday.

1. Why the rush? It seem to make the concern of many of the people who spoke against the project valid: that the project has been shielded from public scrutiny.

2. Also, since Gov. Murphy's public stance is against fracking and for renewables, it seems odd that this project would go forward while he is governor since it relies on LNG. Can you square those two seemingly opposing stands?

3. It seems pretty clear that this is an export facility, can you confirm? Also, a storage facility since it seems unlikely that the line of trucks from Pennsylvania will simply line up on the docks and empty their cargo into the ship.

4. The NJ representative on the DRBC read out a statement from the NJDEP at the beginning of this public hearing -- can you forward me a copy, please?

(And last,) there's a process where developers will break up their projects into several pieces, the better to elude discovery by folks who might be opposed to their plan. It's called segmentation. This proposal (smacks) of this practice, called segmentation. I can understand why a developer would prefer to stack the decks that way in their favor.... I'm wondering why NJDEP would allow it?

Here's his answer:

Hajna: The DEP is committed to transparency and public engagement, including in its permit review process. On May 20, 2019, the Department issued a Waterfront Development Individual Permit to Delaware River Partners (attached). Subsequently, on June 5, 2019, the Department suspended the permit due to a procedural error in the publication of notice of receipt of the permit application in the DEP Bulletin. Corrective notice was published in the DEP Bulletin on June 5, 2019, with a 15-day public comment period from that date. The Department will reevaluate suspension of the permit after close of the public comment period.

In October 2018, DRP requested that the Department issue a permit for a proposed expansion of its underground storage operations at the site pursuant to a long-standing statute, N.J.S.A. 58:10-35.1 et al. The Department advised DRP that it did not have regulations governing the permitting process. The Department further advised that, due to the scope of the proposed operations and in the interest of protecting public safety, health and welfare, the Department would be initiating rulemaking to establish a permitting process for underground storage operations in New Jersey, such as those proposed by DRP. DEP will begin holding stakeholder sessions in July to discuss the rulemaking process. To date, DRP has provided the Department with a geotechnical feasibility report regarding the proposed expansion at the former Repauno site.

And now you know as much as I do. It's not surprising that environmental groups had representatives at the public hearing speaking out against it, as well as New Jersey neighbors of the site. PHOTOS BELOW.

We'll have to see what the commissioners do on Wednesday. Remember the people on the dias are there as representatives of each state's governor. It is the governor who is the actual commissioner. Present or not, the vote is the governors'.

Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and a regular at DRBC public hearings. She was critical of the whole process, which she said needed "a comprehensive review," especially with regard to the "hidden LNG uses." She felt the business behind the project, New Fortress was deceitful. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and a regular at DRBC public hearings. She was critical of the whole process, which she said needed "a comprehensive review," especially with regard to the "hidden LNG uses." She felt the business behind the project, New Fortress was deceitful. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Doug O'Malley, state director of Environment New Jersey, called the process "a sham." and asked the DRBC to pause and consider "water quality,clmate impacts and ultimately the health of the Delaware River." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Doug O'Malley, state director of Environment New Jersey, called the process "a sham." and asked the DRBC to pause and consider "water quality,clmate impacts and ultimately the health of the Delaware River." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Matt Smith, from Food and Water Watch: "We shouldn't even be here. There's a huge gap in the company's information. The DRBC should insure full public review." Also, New Fortress is clearly looking to export LNG from this facility, using truck transport to avoid FERC review."
Matt Smith, from Food and Water Watch: "We shouldn't even be here. There's a huge gap in the company's information. The DRBC should insure full public review." Also, New Fortress is clearly looking to export LNG from this facility, using truck transport to avoid FERC review."
Taylor Macfarland from NJ Sierra Club, "The DRBC should not hold this hearing today. Those trucks delivering LNG to this site are bombs on wheels." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Taylor Macfarland from NJ Sierra Club, "The DRBC should not hold this hearing today. Those trucks delivering LNG to this site are bombs on wheels." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Paula Rogovin: "Projects like this lock us into fossil fuels for 30, 40, 50 years." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Paula Rogovin: "Projects like this lock us into fossil fuels for 30, 40, 50 years." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Carol Gay, representing the New Jersey Industrial Union Council: "We know that renewable energy provides far more jobs in our state. It's better for our economy and better for workers. There's no upside for New Jersey workers." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Carol Gay, representing the New Jersey Industrial Union Council: "We know that renewable energy provides far more jobs in our state. It's better for our economy and better for workers. There's no upside for New Jersey workers." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Rupika Ketu, policy analyst with the Clean Air Council, said that her organization "urges the DRBC to stop this project." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Rupika Ketu, policy analyst with the Clean Air Council, said that her organization "urges the DRBC to stop this project." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Norman Torkelson, from Stockton, called the project an example of "corporate greed." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Norman Torkelson, from Stockton, called the project an example of "corporate greed." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Jean-Marie Donahue, Assistant director of WaterSpirit, an environmental group sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joesph of Peace. "LNG is a dangerous gas. Ethics really matter. You need to stand up for the public, not the LNG industry." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Jean-Marie Donahue, Assistant director of WaterSpirit, an environmental group sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joesph of Peace. "LNG is a dangerous gas. Ethics really matter. You need to stand up for the public, not the LNG industry." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Jocelyn Sawyer, Food and Water Watch: "The supply of gas greatly exceeds domestic demand. The gas industry wants to keep prices high by exporting our excess." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Jocelyn Sawyer, Food and Water Watch: "The supply of gas greatly exceeds domestic demand. The gas industry wants to keep prices high by exporting our excess." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, called the port expansion a "stealth project," that its overall sponsor New Fortress has hidden the scoop of the project from various boards and "the DRBC is now the main defense to protect us from this unneeded project. They must look at the impacts it will have on the Basin and reject the proposal altogether."m PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, called the port expansion a "stealth project," that its overall sponsor New Fortress has hidden the scoop of the project from various boards and "the DRBC is now the main defense to protect us from this unneeded project. They must look at the impacts it will have on the Basin and reject the proposal altogether."m PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
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About Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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