CENTRAL JERSEY: State lawmaker seeks halt in IAS faculty housing project until court challenge resolved


A state lawmaker this week asked New Jersey’s top environmental regulator to stop the Institute for Advanced Study from building faculty housing on a section of the Princeton Battlefield until a court challenge to the project is resolved.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15) said Friday that he had written to state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin asking him to issue a stay on wetlands permits that the IAS needs for the 15-unit project.
Mr. Gusciora released a copy of the letter in which he says “a stay will allow the courts to resolve this matter without the threat of imminent destruction of the historic landmark and its environmentally sensitive wetlands.” He noted that four excavation trucks have been delivered to the property.
The IAS wants to build the project on its campus, in an area where fighting occurred during the battle of Princeton in January 1777. In particular, George Washington staged a winning counterattack there, in a victory that was seen as a turning point in the war.
Mr. Gusciora said he thought the IAS was “too ready to bulldoze our history” and felt it important to preserve an “important piece” of American history.
For its part, the IAS had no comment on Mr. Gusciora’s efforts, instead referring a reporter to a press release that it had issued Wednesday in which the IAS said it was moving ahead with the project.
DEP spokesman Larry Hanja said Friday that Mr. Martin’s office is preparing to issue a response letter to the assemblyman.
The Princeton Battlefield Society, the group suing to halt the project, welcomed Mr. Gusciora’s intervention.
“It is very positive that there’s now bipartisan support for stopping this destruction of one of the most historic places in the nation,” said public interest lawyer Bruce I. Afran, attorney for the Princeton Battlefield Society.
His group is seeking to overturn the approvals the Princeton Planning Board gave the project.
In his letter, Mr. Gusciora said that the Battlfield Society’s hydrologist Amy Greene “has identified new wetlands on the site that were not known to DEP at the time of its field investigation in 2000 and 2005.”
“I believe your office can issue a stay of the wetlands permits that date to 2000 on the basis of this evidence of new wetlands,” he wrote.
He wrote that federal law requires that once wetlands are confirmed, construction is halted and there has to be a historical survey and analysis done “as to adverse impacts on the historic site.”
The IAS project would occupy about seven acres of an overall 21-acre-portion of its property. This week, the Civil War Trust, a Washington D.C. group that preserves battlefields, announced it had offered the IAS $4.5 million to buy all 20 acres and then turn them over to the state to be added to Battlefield State Park.