Pallone joins Campbell in calling for public hearings

Park service told to button up historic buildings; SSH plans to seek injunction

Staff Writer

Pallone joins Campbell in calling for
public hearings

Park service told to button up historic buildings; SSH plans to seek injunction


Staff Writer

It’s been a long week for the National Park Service. First, Commissioner Bradley Campbell of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection chastised the NPS for not making public the full details of a redevelopment proposal for Fort Hancock on Sandy Hook and called for public hearings on the project.

Now, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., is chiding the NPS for not protecting the historic buildings in its care from the elements and has joined Campbell in calling on the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) to hold public hearings on the proposal.

"This has caused considerable concern among my constituents. I ask that you conduct public hearings to assess its impact on historic preservation," Pallone wrote to John Nau III, chairman of the ACHP, which is the major policy adviser to the government in the field of historic preservation.

In a letter dated Monday, Pallone also took Sandy Hook Acting Superintendent Richard Wells to task for the NPS’s neglect of the historic structures.

"I am writing to ask that you take necessary steps to protect the existing structures at Fort Hancock from continued weather-related damage," Pallone wrote. "If the most vulnerable buildings, including the Officers’ Club, are not sealed off, any efforts to preserve their historic qualities will be severely hampered."

Still another salvo came from the attorney for Save Sandy Hook, a citizens group formed to oppose the project, who called on the NPS to cancel the lease it signed July 9 giving Sandy Hook Partners (SHP) the right to rehabilitate and adaptively reuse 36 historic buildings at Fort Hancock or face legal action.

"We demand the NPS cancel its lease with the private developer immediately," said Paul P. Josephson, who also called on the state’s "entire Congressional delegation to join Campbell and Pallone in halting this brazen, ill-conceived land grab."

Josephson, of the law firm Hill Wallack, Trenton, said that within the next few weeks he will file a civil action on behalf of SSH in federal District Court seeking an injunction to block work on the redevelopment project and cancel the lease.

In his letter to Wells, Pallone said a staff member recently toured Fort Hancock and did a visual inspection of the buildings. Many were in a state of serious disrepair "with only minimal protections from further damage," he said.

"Since historic preservation is a primary duty of the park service’s stewardship of Fort Hancock and the driving force behind the lease you signed with Sandy Hook Partners," Pallone said, "you need to take immediate action to provide further protection for the buildings."

Last week Campbell, acting in his capacity as the State Historic Preservation Officer, asked the ACHP to "promptly conduct public hearings and initiate a meaningful process to hear and act on public concern" about the redevelopment proposal.

"I am requesting that the ACHP fully engage in this consultation process to ensure that the public has had an adequate opportunity to comment on this undertaking, as well as to convey their concerns to the council," he said in a letter to Nau.

Campbell said public concern centers on the process "and what members of the public view as less than full disclosure:" by the NPS. "I see no evidence that there has been any substantive public involvement," he added.

"There’s been a tremendous amount of public involvement in the process since its inception," countered Wells. "We had the three public hearings, six open houses. We have listened to and heard public concerns and have modified the project in response. So we have had substantial public involvement.

"The NPS is making every effort to involve as many people and organizations as we can. We’re trying to do the right thing," he said.

In fact, Wells said, the ACHP has been involved in the redevelopment project since 2000 at the invitation of the park service.

"The ACHP recognizes the significance of this place and the magnitude of the project and that it deserves everyone’s attention, and we welcome that," he said. "We invited them."

Campbell told Nau that adaptive reuse or a public/private partnership "may be an appropriate means to secure needed restoration," but the SHP proposal "won’t succeed without full disclosure and more robust engagement with the affected public.

"Without such a process," he said, "the fate of the historic district will be mired in litigation and controversy."

"That’s good news," said Mary Lou Strong about the involvement of the ACHP. A supporter of the project and chairwoman of the Middletown Landmarks Commission, Strong added, "It’s the first sensible thing that’s happened. The news has been dominated by Save Sandy Hook and their point of view."

Developer James Wassel, head of SHP, shrugged off the news of Campbell’s action, saying if the DEP chief would take a look at his $75 million project, he would approve.

"Where has he been? He won’t come to visit when it’s requested, but he sits in Trenton and makes comments that there has been no public involvement," said Wassel, Rumson. "Meanwhile there’s been many public meetings,

"This doesn’t mean anything. We’re moving forward.

"I believe the Campbell letter was written at the request of somebody who is in opposition to what we are doing," he continued Monday. "It’s just another tactic by the opposition to try to dissuade investors and stall things."

According to Josephson, the NPS has not responded to a letter protesting the lease signing from SSH.

"We’re preparing to draw up papers seeking an injunction to stop any activity on the site," he said.

"Part of my job in representing this group is to reach out to every state and federal official I know and to get them involved in this matter. I’m reaching out to Senators Jon Corzine and Frank Lautenberg [both D-N.J.], and I’m looking for any public official who has a say in this matter to weigh in on behalf of the public on this.

"There has not been enough scrutiny here," he said. "There’s been the perception of scrutiny. We’re going to keep the pressure on the NPS on all fronts."