Here’s the latest news in the ongoing effort to preserve Princeton Battlefield. Looks like the Institute for Advanced Study might have ignored some important environmental restrictions, which could impact the construction that threatens the battleground:
Members of a Senate committee said they want to get to the bottom of whether wetlands are on a site where the IAS is preparing to build 15 units of faculty housing on about six acres of its land adjacent to Battlefield State Park.
Sens. Bob Smith (D-17), Linda R. Greenstein (D-14) and Kip Bateman (R-16), all members of the senate Environment and Energy committee, sent a letter to DEP commissioner Bob Martin asking him to put a hold on the project until the committee hears from the DEP on the wetlands issue. For its part, the DEP said it does not issue stays, something that was up to a judge to do.
The letter went out the same day that Bruce I. Afran, the lawyer for the Princeton Battlefield Society, and other advocates went before the committee arguing that there are wetlands on the development site, an area they say is of historic value given that fighting took place during the battle of Princeton in January 1777.
In his remarks before the committee, Mr. Afran said that Amy S. Greene, a hydrologist, was retained by the IAS to do a wetlands survey in 1990, a report that found wetlands in the middle of where the IAS is planning to build. A subsequent survey in 1999, by another firm for the IAS, found no wetlands in the same area.
Mr. Afran contended that the IAS did not disclose to the DEP the original 1990 survey indicating the presence of those wetlands when it sought clearance from the agency for its housing project.
To him, that represented “a pattern of deception” to conceal the information from the DEP, which, in 2000, granted the IAS a “letter of interpretation” saying there are no wetlands in the construction area.
Mr. Afran said that in 2011, the Battlefield Society had hired Ms. Greene to contest the IAS application before the then-regional Princeton Planning Board. Her survey found the same wetlands that she originally had identified in 1990. Ms. Greene also testified at Monday’s hearing to support her findings.
He also said that a 2012 soil report by the IAS engineer also found wetlands but that the IAS did not turn over the information to DEP.
For his part, Sen. Bateman said the DEP revisited the site a few weeks ago and claim it sticks to its original interpretation.
“This issue, I would think, would be either black or white,” he said. “Either the wetlands are there or they’re not.”
Yeah, you’d assume this would be a pretty straightforward question. Then again, you’d also assume people would have enough decency not to build faculty housing on an important Rev War battleground.
Those disappearing wetlands aren’t the only thing shady about this whole affair:
The Battlefield Society came close to defeating the project when it went before the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission in January. A commissioner, Mark Texel, director of the state Park Service who is Mr. Martin’s representative on the board, initially abstained from the vote, which led to the development failing.
He changed his mind a month later, moved to have the DRCC reopen the matter and then voted for it. At Monday’s hearing, Mr. Afran claimed that Mr. Texel did so based on “political pressure.”
Mr. Afran claimed that in September Mr. Texel, in the presence of Mr. Afran and two other people, said he was sorry for the revote that he had asked for but explained that he had gotten a call from Mr. Martin’s office.
“He made it clear to us that he was pressured into that revote decision by the commissioner’s office,” Mr. Afran told reporters after the hearing.
“We’re disputing that characterization of the conversation, and it’s just hearsay,” said DEP spokesman Larry Hanja.
Note also that the IAS turned down a $4.5 million offer from the Civil War Trust to secure the land in question. These guys are serious. Good thing the Princeton Battlefield Society is showing just as much tenacity as the people who are out to churn up priceless historic ground.