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Recycling site foes champion new tactic

Wednesday, January 13, 2010
STAFF WRITER

TRENTON -- A waste-hauling company has won the latest battle in its effort to build a recycling center on Breunig Avenue, but a recent court decision has given new ammunition to opponents of the plan.

The Department of Environmental Protection last week agreed to add Central Jersey Waste & Recycling's planned single-stream recycling center to Mercer County's solid-waste management plan.

But an appellate court decision, handed down less than a month ago in a similar case in Middlesex County, may have set a precedent on where the authority lies to approve recycling centers.

The decision potentially gives Mercer County's freeholders the power to block such facilities, according to opponents of the Central Jersey Waste project.

The court ruled that the Middlesex County freeholder board "had discretion to decide whether to include a new Class A recycling facility in its solid waste management plan." The judges dismissed a recycling company's effort to overturn the freeholder board's rejection of a proposed facility.

Stuart Lieberman, an attorney for the Eyes on Trenton neighborhood association, said the decision means freeholders may reject a recycling facility because of the kind of objections his clients have raised.

The court ruled that freeholders may vote an application down "where there is opposition by the host municipality, where there's concern about pollution and where there's concern about traffic," Lieberman said. "It's the same set of facts in a different location."

The situations are different in that Middlesex County's Solid Waste Advisory Council (SWAC) recommended rejecting the facility and the freeholders agreed. In Mercer County, Central Jersey Waste's application was supported administratively by the SWAC, and the freeholders did not participate in the approval process.

Nonetheless, Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer cited the court decision yesterday as he criticized Mercer County's freeholders for not blocking Central Jersey Waste's application.

"The freeholders should have acquiesced and showed some real compassion for those people who have to live with this facility," he said. "They turned a deaf ear, and it's unconscionable."

Freeholder and SWAC member Keith Hamilton defended the board, saying the freeholders were not made aware of the Central Jersey application until after it had already gone before the SWAC and was in the pipeline for DEP approval.

Hamilton said he did not attend the SWAC meeting last August where the application received initial approval, citing a family emergency.

"Had I been able to attend that meeting, the outcome may have been different," he said.

Hamilton, who is also a mayoral candidate in Trenton, said the application could have gone through the SWAC or the freeholders, and in this case it went through the SWAC.

In light of the appellate court decision, he plans to bring the matter before the board, which could hold a public hearing and vote on the recycling center, he said.

"The freeholders could hear all the evidence and could make the decision to pull it out of the solid waste management plan," he said. But, he added, "they are not at a point to make that decision because I don't believe they have all the data they need."

Lieberman argued that the DEP should immediately rescind its decision to allow the recycling center, so that the freeholders may exercise their legal authority to accept or deny the application.

"The law needs to be followed and they need to have a hearing," he said.

Frank Boenning, an attorney for Central Jersey Waste & Recycling, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Contact Meir Rinde at mrinde@njtimes.com or (609) 989-5717.