Wilderness group says Hook plans are ill-conceived

SANDY HOOK — A national watchdog group told the National Park Service (NPS) this week it has failed to adequately study the environmental impact of a proposed development on Sandy Hook and has relied, instead, on an assessment that is slanted in favor of the developer.

In a letter to park service officials, Scott Silver, executive director of Oregon-based conservation group Wild Wilderness, said the agency hasn’t adequately assessed “the full cumulative impact to the environmentally sensitive wildlife and vegetation resulting from commercializing 32 to 78 structures.”

“An environmental impact statement/study is absolutely necessary for Jersey’s northern-most barrier island. The submitted Environmental Assessment [EA] is cursory and reaches conclusions based on partisan conjectures,” Silver wrote in a Nov. 20 letter to Sandy Hook Unit Superintendent Richard Wells and Northeast Regional Director Marie Rust.

The EA for the proposed development at Fort Hancock was carried out by the NPS in conjunction with private developer Sandy Hook Partners (SHP), which was chosen by the NPS to rehabilitate and lease out 36 historic buildings for a mix of uses.

Wild Wilderness is a 14-year-old recreation/conservation organization with supporters in all 50 states, according to Silver. The group’s Web site is www.wildwilderness.org.

The group focuses on issues involving public land management and, according to Silver, it “strives to dissuade wayward land managers in the ideologically-driven NPS from commercializing, privatizing and motorizing our beloved crown jewels.”

In the letter, Silver termed plans for private development at Fort Hancock “a prime example of the kind of ill-conceived, special-interest-serving, public-private partnership that is destroying America’s National Park System.”

The SHP redevelopment proposal involves public buildings and spaces being commercialized and privatized, Silver noted. Because the project will bring added traffic into the park, “that is entirely unrelated to the purposes of the park,” Silver said the project is also an example of “motorization.”

He called the NPS’ proposal to allow SHP to rehabilitate and lease out 36 buildings “amongst the worst NPS management decisions we have been forced to oppose in our organization’s 14 year existence.”

Silver claimed the NPS is using the development “as a test bed for similarly inappropriate developments in other units” and the development should “not be permitted to occur as it is currently envisioned.”

He said the park service didn’t give the public the address to which they could mail comments on a programmatic agreement governing the historic preservation aspects of the project. The agency should renotice and extend the comment period, he added.

He also criticized a public meeting held to discuss a traffic impact study of the development as “flawed” because a traffic expert arrived too late for adequate testimony.

He said the NPS has failed to fully disclose to neighboring communities and their residents the use of each building, the number of occupants in each, estimated car trips that will be generated and the infrastructure required for the development.

“The process has been flawed from the onset, has lacked objective nonvested oversight and has moved forward without consideration of the public’s participation and/or concerns,” Silver said.

“The project is inconsistent with the intent of the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916 that states, ‘No natural curiosities, wonders or objects of interest shall be leased, rented or granted to anyone on such terms as to interfere with free access to them by the public.’

— Gloria Stravelli