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Municipal Sanitary Landfill Authority v. Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission

Decided: July 24, 1972.

MUNICIPAL SANITARY LANDFILL AUTHORITY, A JOINT VENTURE OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, APPELLANT
v.
THE HACKENSACK MEADOWLANDS DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION, AN AGENCY OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, RESPONDENT



Collester, Mintz and Lynch. The opinion of the court was delivered by Lynch, J.A.D.

Lynch

Appellant Municipal Sanitary Landfill Authority (MSLA), which conducts a private landfill operation within the jurisdiction of defendant The Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission (Commission), challenges the adoption by the Commission of rules and regulations governing the location, construction and operation of sanitary landfills within the district.

Appellant's contentions are that: 1) the Commission had no power to promulgate the regulations; 2) the Commission is a "competitor" of defendant and, therefore, the Legislature did not intend to give it the power of regulation of plaintiff's operation; 3) the regulations are discriminatory; 4) the fees imposed in ยง 15 of the regulations are unreasonable; 5) the regulations are void for vagueness; 6) the Commission did not support its regulations by evidence at the public hearing prior to their adoption.

The Commission was established by the enactment of the Hackensack Meadowlands Reclamation And Development Act (L. 1968, c. 404), to oversee the orderly development of the Hackensack Meadowlands. N.J.S.A. 13:17-1, 5. The statute recites that there are approximately 21,000 acres of salt water swamps, meadows and marshes commonly known as Meadowlands in the lower Hackensack River basin; "* * * that extensive portions of this area have so far resisted comprehensive development because of their low elevation, exposure to tidal waters, unfavorable soil composition, and, in some instances, their distribution among many municipalities; that this land acreage is a land resource of incalculable opportunity for new jobs, homes and recreational sites, which may be lost to the State through piecemeal reclamation and unplanned development; * * *." N.J.S.A. 13:17-1. The statute further states "* * * that these areas need special protection from air and water pollution and special arrangements for the provision of facilities for the disposal of solid waste; * * *" (emphasis

added)*fn1 and that it is the purpose of the Act to meet the cited needs and accomplish the objectives of redevelopment "by providing for a Commission transcending municipal boundaries and a committee representing municipal interests which will act in concert to reclaim, plan, develop and redevelop the Hackensack meadowlands; * * *."

The over-all duty imposed upon the Commission, then, is to "reclaim, plan, develop and redevelop the Hackensack meadowlands." That is its raison d'etre. A very substantial portion of the Meadowlands is occupied by what are euphemistically called "sanitary landfills," and in more common parlance, garbage dumps. 30,000 tons of garbage per week are deposited in those landfills. It is recognized, and the Commission found below, that a landfill operation "* * * is not a desirable use of the land. Sanitary landfills conducted on virgin land forever ruin the possibility of preserving the site for conservation. Additionally, such landfill operations can have an adverse effect on the ecological balance of the surrounding area. A sanitary landfill operation also has severe limiting effects on future development of the property. Problems of settlement, gas generation, and fires make it difficult to construct structures on former landfill sites." Clearly, then, landfills are a substantial impediment to the Commission's fulfillment of its task to redevelop the meadowlands. It is inconceivable that the Commission, having been mandated to "reclaim, plan, develop and redevelop" the meadowlands should not have the power to regulate that substantial part of them which presents one of the greatest obstructions to reclamation and redevelopment. If it had no such right, the objective of this important legislation would be completely frustrated and largely meaningless. The statute cannot be so construed.

(1)

Plaintiff's contention that the Commission has no power to promulgate the regulations.

While appellant's Point I asserts that the Commission "had no power to promulgate the regulations," the argument retreats from that position by saying: "MSLA does not contend that the Commission was not granted any power to regulate sanitary landfills; however the regulations, as adopted, regulate aspects of sanitary landfill operations specifically delegated to other agencies. To the extent that the Commission's asserted powers overlap the powers expressly delegated to others, the Legislature should be assumed not to have delegated such concurrent powers to the Commission." It is then asserted that concurrent power to regulate landfill operations has been granted by the Legislature, respectively to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) under N.J.S.A. 13:1D-1 et seq. and to the Board of Public Utilities (PUC), pursuant to N.J.S.A. 48:13A-4 and 6. The position taken amounts to a contention that, so long as there has been a concurrent grant of powers of regulation to the DEP and the PUC, the grant of similar powers to the Commission must be negated. In other words, it is claimed that the Commission's authority over landfill operations has been preempted by the named State Agencies. Such a position misconceives the law. In an analogous situation of asserted "preemption" (whether state statutes had preempted the municipal power to regulate "blockbusting"), Chief Justice Weintraub said in Summer v. Teaneck , 53 N.J. 548 (1969):

A municipality may not contradict a policy the Legislature establishes. * * * Hence an ordinance will fall if it permits what a statute expressly forbids or forbids what a statute expressly authorizes. Even absent such evident conflict, a municipality may be unable to exercise a power it would otherwise have if the Legislature has preempted the field. This follows from the basic principle that local government may not act contrary to State law. But an intent to occupy the field must appear ...


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