The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) is firing back after Mayor Dennis Elwell requested that the town be removed from its jurisdiction.
The agency has jurisdiction over zoning decisions on 88 percent of land in Secaucus, compared to only about 7 and 37 percent in Jersey City and North Bergen, respectively.
In the last year, the agency has made some decisions that have proved unpopular in Secaucus, including green-lighting a new bakery near a school.
On March 6, Elwell sent a letter to Gov. Jon Corzine in which the mayor wrote, “I am hereby calling upon your office to utilize any resources necessary to remove Secaucus from the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. I would request that this be done as soon as possible.”
Arguing that the Town of Secaucus has sent in excess of $63 million to the NJMC since 1973, which Elwell called “unfair,” the mayor went on to request that Corzine “end revenue sharing as the residents of Secaucus no longer want their tax dollars going to an agency with a record of such poor oversight.”
To back up his argument, Elwell sited the NJMC’s handling of the controversial Damascus Bakery permit, affordable housing in Secaucus, and the EnCap development in Bergen County. (See www.secaucusreporter.com for previous stories on EnCap.)
The NJMC is in the process of drafting a formal response to the mayor’s letter. However, the agency said last week that Secaucus may have much to lose by severing its relationship with the NJMC.
In a lengthy statement, NJMC spokesman Brian Aberback highlighted millions of dollars in funding, grants, technical assistance, and other aid that the agency has given to Secaucus since 2004.
NJMC aids flood relief
Last year, “The NJMC developed plans for flood-control improvements to four flood-prone areas in Secaucus and allocated $100,000 for [these improvements],” Aberback said in a written statement to the Reporter.
He specified that “The recommended improvements include a new drainage pipe between Franklin Terrace and Garry Terrace to the Central Lane stormwater sewer system, concrete curbing and new stormwater pipes and inlets on Central Lane, yard drains between First and Second streets with a new stormwater collector pipe to convey stormwater to First Avenue, and yard drains between First Street and Minnie Place with a new stormwater collector pipe to convey stormwater to Minnie Place and Golden Avenue.”
These improvements – which, in fact, Mayor Elwell highlighted at last week’s Town Council meeting (see cover) – were among 13 projects that Aberback noted in his statement. Others included more than $4.9 million for the Secaucus High School Marsh Enhancement Project and more than $2.4 for the proposed Riverwalk.
“It is our belief that Secaucus receives enormous benefits from its relationship with the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission,” Aberback concluded.
Does Secaucus stand alone?
The NJMC has jurisdiction over 14 municipalities in Hudson and Bergen counties.
Of the cities and towns under NJMC jurisdiction in Hudson County, the agency’s relationship with Secaucus seems particularly contentious. The rapid development currently taking place in Secaucus has frequently put the agency on a collision course with the Elwell administration as the two sides wrangle over different visions for the town’s growth.
“From North Bergen’s perspective, the Meadowlands Commission has always worked in conjunction with the town and they’ve been very good partners on projects,” said North Bergen Town Administrator Chris Pianese last week. “Now, there’s always going to be the argument that we feel we pay too much [to the NJMC], but in terms of working with them, they’ve been great partners.”
When asked about the NJMC’s relationship with the other townships, Aberback wrote in a written statement, “The NJMC believes it has an excellent relationship with the municipalities in the Meadowlands District. Over the past few years the District has focused on strengthening its communications and outreach with the municipalities as it continues to provide beneficial municipal services, including the funding of flood-control projects, part improvements, the purchase of police and fire equipment, and other valuable services.”
Elwell is hoping to meet personally with Gov. Corzine to discuss his request.
Council kept in the dark
In the meantime, it was revealed at last week’s Town Council meeting that the mayor wrote and sent his letter to Trenton without the knowledge and consent of the councilmen. Gary Jeffas said he was particularly concerned that the council was “blindsided by this and we’re left to read about this in the paper.”
Alluding to the Damascus Bakery situation, which is under litigation, Elwell responded that he had specific reasons for initiating his request the way he did, and told the council he would provide further details in a closed caucus session.