Army Corps completes Rt. 92 draft

By: Sharlee Joy DiMenichi , Staff Writer
South Brunswick Post, 12/31/2003

State agencies reviewing preliminary document.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed a draft of an  environmental study that could determine the fate of a proposed limited-access highway linking Route 1 and the N.J. Turnpike.

The study -- currently dubbed a draft preliminary environmental  impact statement -- reviews the environmental impact of Route 92, a  proposed 6.7-mile toll road that would connect the Turnpike at Exit 8A  with Route 1 at Ridge Road.

The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting the review because federal  and state environmental agencies disagree over whether permits should be  issued for the filling of wetlands. The federal Environmental Protection Agency refused to issue permits in 1998, saying there were less  environmentally disruptive alternatives, while the state Department of  Environmental Protection issued permits in 1999.

Army Corps of Engineers project manager Koko Cronin said the corps  would not issue a recommendation on the roadway until all the  cooperating agencies finished reviewing and commenting on the  preliminary draft of the environmental impact statement.

Cooperating agencies that agreed at the beginning of the Army Corps of Engineers' review to provide feedback on the report include the state  Department of Transportation, the N.J. Turnpike Authority and the state  Fish and Wildlife Commission, Ms. Cronin said.

She said corps officials are still analyzing the comments of  cooperating agencies and would not release or summarize the report or the agencies' comments.

Officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection said  the agency is reviewing all alternatives and has not made a decision on  whether the highway should be built. The permits had been issued by  then-Commissioner Robert Shinn under then-Gov. Christie Whitman. The  administration of Gov. James McGreevey has not taken an official  position since taking office in January 2002. Environmental Commissioner  Bradley Campbell was not available for comment.

According to a Dec. 10 letter to the Turnpike Executive Director  Michael La Polla, Mr. Campbell and Transportation Commissioner Jack  Lettiere said the state departments' "primary objective is to ensure  that each alternative is fairly considered and fully appraised." The  letter said "it would be premature to identify a preferred alternative"  and that the commissioners "urge that we begin the public process with a  document that analyzes and presents all of the alternatives on an equal  footing."

The letter was given to the Post by the DEP. The DEP also provided a  copy of the comments it has forwarded to the Turnpike Authority, which  as applicant is responsible for collecting comments from the cooperating  agencies.

The DEP asked that public transit alternatives be explored "during  final design" and that these include "improvements to existing services and the development of new services and routes, particularly along the east-west local/secondary roads in the study area."

The DEP also recommended exploring methods to mitigate contamination  by runoff from the road and suggested protecting environmentally  sensitive areas from indirect damage from the road. It said that while  no interchanges are planned for environmentally sensitive areas,  "interchanges near/adjacent to these areas," such as the proposed  Perrine Road interchange, "would indirectly enhance access to the  Environmentally Sensitive planning Area." It is asking that, should the  road be built, the Turnpike Authority "work closely with (the state  Office of Smart Growth) and local municipalities to insure that this  indirect enhancement of access will result in positive effects to ...  the environment."

DEP officials said the agency's comments should not be taken as an  endorsement of the road and only as an indication that the agency wants to ensure that all alternatives are examined.

Staff of the other cooperating agencies did not return repeated phone calls.

The road is opposed by the governing bodies in South Brunswick,  Franklin, Montgomery, Rocky Hill, Hillsborough and the Hopewells. It has  been endorsed by Plainsboro, Cranbury, Monroe, West Windsor, North  Brunswick and the Princetons.

South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese said any study of the environmental impact of the proposed highway should demonstrate how it will affect the township's water supply. He said the route runs through a recharge area for an aquifer that provides water for the township.

"You don't want it to contaminate it (the aquifer) with oil drippings or gas drippings from trucks or other vehicles," Mayor Gambatese said.

Mr. Gambatese said that because the wetlands allow water to percolate through the ground into the aquifer, the road might reduce
South Brunswick's water supply.

"Eventually the aquifer will go dry," Mayor Gambatese said.

Noelle Mackay, deputy director of the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association, said that the wetlands control floods and pollution and that building a road through them could result in a significant environmental loss for the area.