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Attorneys seek state records on bridge project

BY LIZ SHEEHAN
Correspondent

Law firm: Four-lane roadway would destroy character of towns

An attorney for Citizens for Rational Coastal Development, a local group that opposes the N.J. Department of Transportation's (DOT) proposal to demolish the existing 75-year-old drawbridge that connects Sea Bright and Highlands and replace it with a fixed bridge, that is 38 feet higher, said Monday that his firm will seek all documents relating to the project's planning process from the N.J. Department of Transportation, the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, and the boroughs of Sea Bright and Highlands.

Joshua Levy, an attorney in the law firm of Lieberman & Blecher, the firm hired by the local group, said that the information would be requested under the state's Open Public Records Act and would extend back 15 years.

"The project will affect a lot of people," Levy said, adding that the information is being sought to find what the state considered and what actions were taken in deciding on the final proposal for the bridge.

He said the law firm is working with the state on the request, including how much will be charged to obtain the information. The state is asking to be paid more than just the cost of copying the information, Levy said, and wants to charge also for administrative costs.

A press release issued by the group and Stuart Lieberman, a partner in the law firm, said Citizens for Rational Coastal Development hired the law firm "to file the necessary legal action" concerning the proposed bridge demolition.

The group, the statement said, is "not opposed to the rehabilitation of the Twin Lights Bridge in order to enhance both access to Sandy Hook and public safety. They are advocating for a project which honors the existing viewscape and that is sensitive to the environment."

Lieberman also said in the press release that his clients believe that a proposal to widen Ocean Avenue in downtown Sea Bright and the construction of the new bridge would leave the DOT "poised to create what amounts to a superhighway through Sea Bright and Monmouth Beach that would destroy the unique character of these communities and local neighborhood."

The replacement of the existing bridge with one that will be 30 feet higher has met with resistance from both Sea Bright and Highlands. The borough councils in both towns passed resolutions opposing the proposed new bridge.

The Sea Bright resolution states, "The information regarding the need for the destruction of the Highlands to Sea Bright Draw Bridge that was provided to the public by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, has been called into question and is reportedly different from the information provided to the government."

Both boroughs retained Janine Bauer, an attorney who concentrates in transportation and environmental land use law, to represent them in their quest to block the demolition of the bridge.

On Tuesday, Bauer said that she would be submitting information to the DEP concerning the DOT's request for a permit to replace the bridge.

In January, Amy Cradic, assistant commissioner of the DEP, said in a letter to the DOT that the department was "temporarily denying" the permit to remove the drawbridge and replace it with a fixed span.

Cradic said she was "clear that the existing bridge fails to provide a safe and reliable crossing," and that "NJDOT has demonstrated to my satisfaction, that rehabilitating the existing bridge … is simply not economically and technically feasible."

But she said she wanted "additional justification on NJDOT's preferred 65-foot-high replacement bridge," as the only "feasible and prudent alternative to addressing the existing problems with the Route 36 Bridge."

An advisory board of the DEP, the N.J. Historic Sites Council, has recommended that the DEP deny the DOT's application to replace the existing bridge because the new bridge would have an adverse effect on the views of and from the Twin Lights, which is a National Historic Landmark.

The council also said the DOT's permit application "failed to demonstrate" that rehabilitating the existing bridge would not be "prudent and feasible, thereby avoiding the adverse effect to Twin Lights."

In her letter, Cradic said she wanted information about why one alternative submitted by the DOT, a 55-foot-high movable bridge, would not be "a feasible and prudent alternative."

She also asked for specific information "on the effect of the Twin Light's viewshed of both the 55-foot-high and 65-foot-high replacement bridge, and on the NJDOT's current policy with respect to the construction of new movable bridges."

Cradic asked the DOT to submit the information she requested within 60 days.

DEP Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson will make the decision on the DOT's permit request.

On Tuesday, Darlene Yuhas, a spokeswoman for the DEP, said the commissioner's decision would be announced shortly.

Shirley Olman, Highlands, a member of the citizens group, said Monday that the organization will respond when Jackson's decision is made.