American Dream Mall Hurts Environment

American Dream Mall Hurts Environment Date : Fri, 20 Jul 2012 11:36:50 -0400

For Immediate Release
July 10, 2012 Contact:Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club, 609-558-9100

American Dream Mall Hurts Environment

The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) has released a draft permit allowing for even more wetlands fills for the American Dream/Xanadu megamall.Over seven acres of wetlands has already been filled for this project, and under this draft permit the project owner Triple Five would be able to fill in five more.The company could move forward with the expansion plan while providing inadequate, taxpayer subsidized mitigation.In preparing the permit, other on-site alternatives were not properly examined and impacts to the entire site and Meadowlands wetlands system were not properly studied.This project will increase traffic and flooding while taking business away from existing stores and Sierra Club is urging ACOE to deny the permit.

"The Army Corps of Engineers should be stopping this project, not issuing a draft permit.More people are going to be impacted by flooding and sitting in traffic as a direct result of this project.Instead of rejecting it, the state and federal governments are approving subsidies and taxpayer-backed mitigation measures," *said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club*. They are increasing the retail on the site by another 25% adding 640,000 square feet to the 2.3 million square feet from the original size. The draft permit would allow the expanded project to fill in an additional 5.47 acres of wetlands, bringing the total impact to Meadowlands wetlands to over 12 acres.Almost a quarter of the project is located in wetlands, causing a tremendous negative environmental impact.If considered together, the 12.5 acre disturbance would trigger the need for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval.Increased flooding will result from more fill and those impacts have not been properly studied. The mitigation plan does replace the wetland values and flood storage capacity lost due to this project, a key reason why the permits should be denied.The mitigation plan includes the enhancement of 5.41 acres of existing wetlands at the Evergreen mitigation bank.However no new wetlands will be created to compensate for the destruction of priority wetlands on site.This is not adequate or proper mitigation.The mitigation compensation ratio is only one-to-one acre.

"For mitigation the developer is proposing to kill invasive phragmites on site with an herbicide called Rodeo and plant Spartina or salt grass.That is not creating a new wetland; that is a Ponzi scheme," *said Jeff Tittel*. Also phragmites holds metals in their roots and stems, while Spartina respires them back into the environment.Mitigation is proposed on a site that has known mercury contamination, which may violate federal standards. The Division of Fish and Wildlife has expressed concerns about the release of these metals through the mitigation plan. The mitigation plan also includes the deed restriction of the 138 acre Walden Swamp by the Meadowlands Commission.The land is already owned by the Commission and is in a conservation area and not zoned for development.Both EPA and Fish & Wildlife had raised serious concerns and did not sign off on this mitigation plan.

"The Meadowlands Commission is giving up its rights on the Walden Swamp property for no cost, subsidizing the American Dream mitigation plan.The agency is giving up its rights without receiving any compensation from Triple Five.This is corporate welfare at its worst," said Jeff Tittel. This site does not do an adequate job in handling stormwater currently.Given the importance of protecting water quality in the Meadowlands, stormwater management on site has to exceed Best Management Practices (BMPs).The entire site needs to be retrofitted to properly manage stormwater, control potential flooding, and maintain water quality. The American Dream will significantly increase traffic in the region.The applicant projects the complex will generate more than 200,000-220,000 cars a day, gridlocking an area of the state already overburdened with traffic.That is the equivalent of 12 lanes of traffic moving at capacity for 10 hours.Sierra Club does not think that these projections are high enough. For example the applicant's analysis states that the amusement park will not impact rush hour traffic since it does not open until ten am.However people will be coming to get breakfast or go shopping beforehand, adding traffic to the morning rush hour.The applicant has yet to produce a plan for how our infrastructure system will handle that significantly increased stress.On an average day, traffic coming to the American Dream would be triple the amount if all three existing facilities in the Meadowlands- the Racetrack, MetLife Stadium, and Izod Center- held an event at the same time.The roadways currently cannot handle the traffic created when those facilities have simultaneous events and this project would create those conditions every day.

"What happens to the traffic in the region if on a Saturday shoppers are coming to the American Dream, the circus is at the Izod Center and there is a Saturday football game for high school or college students at the Meadowlands?" asked Jeff Tittel. This additional traffic will significantly add to air pollution in the area.This project could potentially put New Jersey in violation of our State Implementation Plan under the Clean Air Act since we are moving forward with a large trip generating project without any trip reduction programs in place or any significant program to develop mass transit. Right now the developer is expecting New Jersey Transit (NJT) to increase service to the Meadowlands complex but there has been no firm commitment from NJT as their funding has been significantly reduced and fare hikes in recent years have been over 20 percent.Before the Army Corps of Engineers issues permits for this project, there needs to be a finalized transportation plan in place to address the substantial increase in traffic in the region as a direct result of this project. There are alternatives on site that would have less impact on priority wetlands.Areas to the west, northwest, east, and northeast sides of this existing mall building would be more appropriate for the expansion.These sites are already filled and would not require the additional loss of wetlands.

"The only purpose for putting this project in the wetlands on the south side of the site is for highway visibility, which is not a recognized reason to fill in wetlands, especially when there are more appropriate alternatives that avoid these impacts.We should not be filling in wetlands here so that people in Manhattan can see the mall's waterslide," said Jeff Tittel. A poll came out in June showing that 58% of New Jersey residents do not want tax money to be used to help out the American Dream mall. However Triple Five, the Canadian based company developing the mall has asked for tax-free financing that could be as much as $800 million. Triple Five already has received $350 million because of a no subsidy cap that was passed in June. In total they could receive $1.15 billion through subsidies and government financing. Triple Five is looking to raise $1.9 billion for the project placing unnecessary burdens on tax payers to pay for this monstrosity. The company is looking to raise between $200 million and $300 million from bonds with towns such as East Rutherford and $400 million in bonds from Bergen County. They also are looking into raising between $150 million and $300 million in tax free bonds from the 8,000 parking spots on site. The tax payers are getting hit three times by subsidies: we are not getting paid for the lease of this land, direct tax breaks, and now we are going to have to pay to park.

"This is not only bad for the environment, but they are looking for tax payers to fund this environmental mess. A billion dollars worth of subsidies have been given when there is supposedly no money for police, firefighters, education or money to buy open space. The public doesn't want it, but the pay-to-play machine does.The Army Corps needs to stand up for the environment and deny these permits," said Tittel.

 --  Kate Millsaps Program Assistant NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club 609-656-7612