Friday, February 12, 2010

NJ Senate committee to address S762 on Feb. 18

NOPE will be in Trenton on Thursday, February 18, to testify - if needed - in favor of S762, the Senate measure to conduct a cost benefits analysis of the proposed Laurelwood civilian housing conversion at Naval Weapons Station Earle.

The Community and Urban Affairs Committee, which passed the measure unanimously during the 2009-10 legislative session, will again consider this bill (at 10 a.m., Committee Room 1 in the State House Annex in Trenton), which remains intact from its predecessor (S3017), which then-Senate President Codey refused to post for a full Senate vote for no good reason. Mr. Codey unexplainably set this important, rational and nonpartisan bill back by at least a month, in essence, but we are positive it will pass this time.

S762 would give New Jerseyans a true cost assessment of an unfundated mandate from the Department of Navy. NOPE, again, estimates the cost to all parties for the civilian housing plan (i.e. area residents, New Jersey taxpayers, the Navy, Laurelwood Homes) will run at least a half-billion dollars and must be considered before the DoN goes thru with opening its highly secure base to anyone that can cut a rent check.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tinton Falls resolution passes, and NOPE will continue its EPA challenge by going to President Obama's "CEQ"

Confirmed this morning by Councilman Scott Larkin, the Tinton Falls Borough Council, as anticipated, last night passed a resolution supporting the Beck-Casagrande-O'Scanlon legislation in Trenton (S762-A2014) pushing for a cost-benefits analysis of the Laurelwood civilian housing plan at NWS Earle. NOPE appreciates the Council's continued support on all fronts.

Meanwhile, NOPE is drafting a letter to Nancy Sutley, Chair of the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which NOPE has learned from mostly fruitless dealings with the EPA, enforces the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, or "NEPA." We will post that letter here, once completed.

In short...through letters, a postcard campaign and phone calls, NOPE has long encouraged the EPA to withdraw its favorable rating of the Laurelwood Environmental Impact Statement, which violated NEPA, namely by obscuring the Department of Navy's true "purpose and need" for converting Laurelwood into a free-for-all rental complex through 2040. The EPA, however, argued in a December, 2009 letter that it does not have NEPA-enforcement powers, and therefore will not consider revising its rating.

So, NOPE is now going above the EPA and challenging President Obama's CEQ to probe this matter, which hopefully will prod the EPA, as our nation's environmental PROTECTION agency, to revise its Laurelwood rating with respect to information sufficiency, for the EIS commentary the EPA put forth was clearly based on misleading information provided by NAVFAC, a Naval agency. NOPE charges the DoN with misleading the public on its true need to rent military housing to civilians, which is solely to avoid a $3.5-$4 million annual rent payment to Laurelwood Homes, LLC...and nothing more.

Environmentally speaking, the "No Build Option" for what to do with the Laurelwood housing (i.e. do not build a 2-mile unimpeded access road thru an active and highly secure weapons base, do not let civilians live at NWS Earle) written off by the DoN as infeasible clearly is feasible based on what we now know (i.e. that the agreement automatically goes to buyout by May 1 if the Navy picks "No Build") and will have the least detriment to the environment...something the EPA should have recognized in its EIS response.

Maybe pressure on the CEQ helps...maybe it doesn't. Either way, NOPE will continue to press forward on this front and all others.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

80 days and counting...(and two quick briefs)

The expiration of the Department of Navy's in-lease on Laurelwood housing and proposed conversion to civilian housing for the next 30 years is only 80 days away. NOPE continues to monitor any permit applications from the DoN and its developer, Laurelwood Homes, LLC, but has no new information beyond the Dec. 23 letter we blogged about January 23 and remains confident that the DoN-Laurelwood will relent to some kind of buyout compromise.

Meanwhile, we expect Tinton Falls Borough Council to vote on a resolution tonight in support of S762-A2014, the state's proposed cost-benefits study into the Laurelwood civilian housing plan at NWS Earle and its impact to NJ taxpayers. NOPE is optimistic about passage of the resolution, which is nothing more than an endorsement of Senator Beck's proposal in the Statehouse to study the merits of the DoN plan. As we have long railed, the DoN purposely omitted financial data and security cost ramifications of the plan from the Laurelwood EIS, and NJ taxpayers deserve to know how big an unfunded mandate they face as a result of the DoN's insistence on pursuing an extremely hazardous plan.

Finally, an interesting anecdote from California...where the Los Angeles times reports that the Navy has put an end to a free ferry service for the 130 or so sailors and civilian contractors who commute daily from mainland San Diego to North Island Naval Air Station. (Cali subsidizing the ~$150k annual cost as a means to ease road congestion around the Coronado base, which reportedly hosts about 35,000 employees.)

From our perspective, it is just interesting - bordering on laughable - that in the wake of the Fort Hood massacre that the DoN sees a such huge threat from a commuter ferry and cancelled a service used largely by its own employees, citing security concerns, but has no problems creating unimpeded access to NWS Earle, an 11,000-acre base that houses 300 bunkers of high-powered U.S. weapons stockpiles. On the one hand the DoN is making it harder on its own to get onto a Navy base (North Island), whereas here at Earle, the DoN is opening its arms so wide to anyone that chooses to traverse its property and visit Laurelwood as often as possible.

Anyone else out there following this logic?! We welcome your comments here.