Richard Levitt, the Northfield resident who filed a lawsuit to close the controversial LED billboard on the Margate Causeway, has been cleared of allegations that he disrupted wetlands on his own property.
According to investigation reports from both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Protection, a complaint alleging Levitt had illegally filled in wetlands on his bayfront property was filed in May by Richard Hluchan, an attorney for Jersey Outdoor Media, the company that erected the billboard.
“The upper wetlands boundary line onsite basically coincides with the (southeast) property line of the site,” according to the DEP’s report. “Measurements taken in the field indicate this to be true.”
Both reports found that the allegations may apply to an adjacent property owned by the city of Northfield and not the Levitts. The Army Corps report found that the work likely took place between 1979 and 1987. Their investigation was “closed administratively due to age and size” of the affected land, approximately 0.03 acres.
DEP Spokesman Larry Ragonese said nothing investigators found on Levitt’s property necessitated a violation.
“We literally went out there, checked out the maps and the records, and based on what we found, there was no reason to pursue the matter,” he said.
The DEP had issued a violation in April against the Moorestown-based Jersey Outdoor Media for unauthorized development in a wetland. In August, the DEP issued the company a Coastal Area Facility Review Act permit after developers revised their billboard’s site plan. A review of the new plan by Egg Harbor Township planners has repeatedly been delayed. Currently, that review is set to take place on Oct. 22.
“The sole purpose of this is very clear,” Stephen Hankin, the Levitts’ attorney, said of Jersey Outdoor Media’s complaint. “It was levied only to demotivate this public interest lawsuit, and it failed.”
Hankin said the Levitts’ original lawsuit is in the discovery phase, pending the EHT planners decision later this month. Meanwhile, he said his clients have filed an appeal of the DEP’s decision.
“If Egg Harbor Township grants the (developers’) request, we’re back in court,” he said. “If it denies, there’s no reason to go back in court at all, except to seek our fees under Environmental Rights Act.”
Chet Atkins, Jersey Outdoor Media’s president, said he wasn’t aware of the investigation’s findings and referred all specific questions to Hluchan. Atkins said he believes EHT planners will approve the new plan.
“If you do some research on the back of the property, there seems to be 800 square feet (in question),” he said. “But we don’t know anything about the investigation.”
Peter Boyer, another attorney for Jersey Outdoor Media, declined to comment about the DEP and Army Corps findings.
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