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Township of South Brunswick v. New Jersey Turnpike Authority

Decided: June 17, 1974.

TOWNSHIP OF SOUTH BRUNSWICK, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
NEW JERSEY TURNPIKE AUTHORITY, A PUBLIC BODY, CORPORATE AND POLITIC OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT. TOWNSHIP OF MONROE, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, V. WILLIAM T. CAHILL, GOVERNOR OF STATE OF NEW JERSEY, RICHARD J. SULLIVAN, COMMISSIONER OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND THE NEW JERSEY TURNPIKE AUTHORITY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



Handler, Meanor and Kole. The opinion of the court was delivered by Handler, J.A.D.

Handler

[129 NJSuper Page 129] By chapter 28, Laws of 1972, N.J.S.A. 27:23-23.3 et seq., effective May 25, 1973, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (Turnpike Authority) became authorized to construct an extension to the New Jersey Turnpike from the area of the New Brunswick Interchange 9 of the Turnpike, in a general southeasterly direction, to a point in the vicinity of Toms River and the Garden State Parkway. The Turnpike Authority was prohibited from initiating the project unless the Governor, upon reviewing an environmental impact statement after consulting with the Commissioner of Environmental Protection, declared that the environmental impact statement "adequately provides for minimization of any adverse environmental impact of such project and that such project is in the best interests of the people of this State." N.J.S.A. 27:23-23.4. The statement on the project was to be prepared in accordance with guidelines to be established by the Commissioner of Environmental Protection. N.J.S.A. 27:23-23.5.

On August 22, 1972 the Commissioner of Environmental Protection promulgated detailed guidelines governing the preparation of the environmental impact statement for the Turnpike extension project. These guidelines were established in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act of 1968, N.J.S.A. 52:14B-1 et seq., and were incorporated into the New Jersey Administrative Code, N.J.A.C. 7:1A-1.1 et seq. The guidelines directed generally that the environmental impact statement "provide the information needed to evaluate the effects of a proposed project upon the environment." N.J.A.C. 7:1A-1.1(a).

Thereafter the Turnpike Authority engaged several consulting firms to prepare an environmental impact statement. Their initial draft statement dealt with one major route for the extension, referred to as the Red alignment. There were also included several partial alternate routes, but since these alternates were not recommended for the project, no separate study of their impact on the environment was presented.

On October 5, 1972 the Turnpike Authority received authorization from the Commissioner of Environmental Protection to print and circulate the draft statement and to hold public hearings. These hearings were held in Monmouth County on December 12, 1972, in Ocean County on December 13, 1972, and in Middlesex County on December 14, 1972. At these hearings the Red alignment was presented, but in addition two other major routes, designated as the Blue and Green alignments, were also brought before the public. Shortly thereafter, a supplementary environmental impact statement covering the Blue and Green alignments was released. No further public hearings were held concerning the content of this abbreviated supplementary statement.

On January 9, 1973 the Turnpike Authority selected a different route, referred to as the Yellow alignment, for the proposed expressway. No separate or additional environmental impact statement was prepared with respect to the Yellow alignment nor were public hearings held on this proposal. On

April 4, 1973 the Commissioner of Environmental Protection recommended to Governor Cahill that he approve the Expressway Project and the recommended Yellow alignment, subject to 12 conditions. On April 13, 1973 Governor Cahill approved this recommendation with the conditions in accordance with the Commissioner's advice.

The separate appeals taken by the Township of South Brunswick (South Brunswick) and the Township of Monroe (Monroe) focus upon the asserted invalidity and inadequacy of the environmental impact statement. For that reason they are treated in a single opinion. It is argued, although not identically by each appellant, that the environmental impact statements did not comply with administrative environmental guidelines; it is also contended that the statements did not apply to major portions of the approved alignment and were not, therefore, statements on the project; further, it is asserted that the Turnpike Authority did not make information on this final alignment available to interested members of the public and failed to hold a public hearing thereon.

At the outset we consider whether the Turnpike Authority, in compiling the initial draft, supplementary and final environmental impact statements, has complied with the statutory criteria contained in N.J.S.A. 27:23-23.4 and 23.5, and the administrative guidelines, N.J.A.C. 7:1A-1.1 et seq., promulgated pursuant thereto.

N.J.S.A. 27:23-23.4 states:

The authority may not acquire any land, erect any structure, nor alter the landscape for the purpose of carrying out the project * * * unless and until the Governor, upon reviewing the environmental impact statement * * * and upon consulting with the Commissioner of Environmental Protection, shall declare that such statement adequately provides for the minimization of any adverse environmental impact of such project and that such project is in the best interests of the people of this State.

N.J.S.A. 27:23-23.5 provides in part:

The authority shall submit to the Governor an environmental impact statement on the project described in section [3] in accordance with guidelines to be established by the ...


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