When Gov. Chris Christie took office, he and new Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin promised a "friendlier" DEP. The unanswered question was just how friendly the agency charged with safeguarding the environment would be to developers.
Well, the case of the mammoth, out-of-place, 60-foot electronic billboard on the Margate Causeway has made the answer clear: Way too friendly.
The developers - Jersey Outdoor Media owns the billboard on land leased from Hackney's Boat Yard Inc. - told Egg Harbor Township officials they did not need DEP permits.
They did. But EHT accepted their assurances.
As it turns out, the applicants needed both a wetlands permit and a Coastal Area Facilities Review Act permit. But they built the towering steel structure without them, illegally filling in wetlands, according to an initial citation by the DEP and a lawsuit challenging the billboard filed by Richard Levitt of Northfield.
So what happened to the developers? Virtually nothing.
Under an agreement reached with the DEP, they have been granted the required state permits as long as they move the sign 24 feet to the west, mitigate 11 square feet of disturbed wetlands at the previous site, and ensure that no additional wetlands are disturbed.
The DEP had planned to reject the billboard permit application before reaching this new agreement, according to a draft letter obtained by Levitt and his attorney. One of the factors in granting a CAFRA permit is scenic compatibility. And that draft rejection letter notes that in addition to wetlands violations, the billboard "is not visually compatible with existing scenic resources, as it towers over the few wooden billboards in the area. Also, the nearest marina building is approximately 40 (feet) in height. The LED billboard runs 24 hours a day, disturbing the residential neighborhood to the northwest of the site."
But the agreement allowing the billboard at a site 24 feet away does nothing to mitigate the fact that the sign would still tower over the marshes and existing structures, sullying the view for miles around. It will remain an eyesore and an affront to the natural surroundings.
Furthermore, the DEP says it plans no enforcement action against the developers for the initial violations, which were pretty darn serious, if you ask us. So was the misrepresentation to EHT about not needing a CAFRA permit.
And lest you wonder what the big deal is about one sign: If this billboard at Hackney's is allowed, you can bet it won't be the last 60-foot electronic billboard on the formerly scenic causeway. The road is going to be lined with them.
Welcome to the new era of environmental "regulation" in New Jersey.