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Ramapough Lenaape Nation v. Township of Mahwah

State Judge Dismisses Township of Mahwah’s Restraining Order Against Ramapough Lenaape Nation

Update: June 20, 2017 – The Ramapough Lenape Nation – a State-recognized Tribe that owns land in Mahwah, NJ – won an important victory in Court when Judge Powers filed a June 15, 2017 decision vacating the Township of Mahwah’s temporary restraints and Order to Show Cause to prevent the ceremonial use of the Tribe’s property.

On June 13, 2017, the Nation’s legal team, including Aaron Kleinbaum of the Eastern Environmental Law Center, Mahwah attorney Thomas Williams, the Sussman & Associates Law Firm’s Valeria Georghiu, along with the support of the National Lawyers Guild, appeared in Court against the temporary restraining order before Judge Charles E. Powers of the New Jersey Superior Court, Law Division. The courtroom was packed, with over forty Tribe members and supporters. Judge Powers issued his decision in favor of the Tribe two days later.

 Judge Powers also dismissed the Township of Mahwah’s request for a permanent restraining order that would have forced the Ramapough Tribe to destroy structures on their own property and effectively abandon their ceremonial use of the property and attempts to raise awareness about opposition to the Pilgrim Pipeline and create educational and environmental-sustainability programs for their members and the public.

Aaron Kleinbaum, EELC’s executive director, said, “The Township of Mahwah has tacitly approved of ceremonial use on the Tribe’s property for decades and has been aware of the increased use of the property since last year. As Judge Powers noted in his decision, the Township waited six months from the time the Tribe began holding more prayer ceremonies at the property before issuing citations, demonstrating the lack of immediate and irreparable harm necessary for a restraining order.”

Karenna Gore, Director for the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, said, that the Ramapough Tribe members are “a people who have lived, prayed, and performed ceremonies in this region since long before the establishment of the United States of America. Many of them have also served our country since the days of the American Revolution, including by providing shelter, food and care for their neighbors and risking and giving their lives in the United States military.”

http://www.northjersey.com/story/news/bergen/mahwah/2017/06/19/judge-strikes-down-restraining-order-against-ramapoughs/410079001/

http://www.nj.com/bergen/index.ssf/2017/06/judge_throws_out_restraining_order_against_ramapou.html

https://patch.com/new-jersey/mahwah/judge-sides-ramapoughs-lifts-temporary-restraining-order

Read the briefs filed by the attorneys representing the Ramapough Lenaape Nation:

May 31, 2017: Defendant’s Reply to Notice of Motion to Vacate TR

June 15, 2017: Brief in Support of Defendant’s Opposition to OSC

Read Judge Powers’ decision:

June 15, 2017:  Judge’s Order

 


Update: June 13, 2017 – Dozens of Ramapough Lenape tribe members and supporters appeared at Superior Court on Tuesday, June 13, as the tribe’s legal team,which includes attorneys from EELC, argued against the temporary restraining order that the Township of Mahwah had filed against the tribe. The order, according to the attorneys, should be overturned as it hinders the tribe’s constitutional right to freely exercise religious ceremonies and meetings.  Judge Charles E. Powers is expected to issue a ruling on the motion within a few days. Read more here.

Tribe members and supporters outside of the courthouse.

 


On June 13, 2017, the Honorable Judge Powers of Bergen County will hold a hearing at the Hackensack Courthouse requested by Members of the Ramapough Lenape Nation – a State-recognized Tribe that owns land in Mahwah, NJ.  The Ramapoughs have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights by assembling and holding religious ceremonies on their land, Sweet Water, for over a quarter of a century. Recently, they have added their voices to the chorus protesting the Pilgrim Pipeline, an oil pipeline that threatens drinking water.  The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued a report stating that it took no issue with the Tribe’s activities. However, on May 10, 2017, at the Township of Mahwah’s behest and without the Tribe’s lawyers present, a New Jersey state court signed a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Tribe members from continuing to assemble and conduct religious activities on their property.

On May 31, 2017, the Nation’s legal team including Aaron Kleinbaum of the Eastern Environmental Law Center, Mahwah attorney Thomas Williams, the Sussman & Associates Law Firm’s Valeria Georghiu along with the support of the National Lawyers Guild filed a motion seeking to allow the Tribe to continue its religious activities and assembly at Sweet Water. Aaron Kleinbaum, EELC’s executive director, said, “The Ramapough’s are exercising their first amendment rights by protesting plans for an oil pipeline.  Township of Mahwah’s effort to shut them down flouts New Jersey and federal law protecting against police harassment, obstruction of religious freedom, and constitutional rights to peacefully assemble on private property.” The court will hear arguments on June 9.

The Eastern Environmental Law Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit public interest law firm, located in Newark, New Jersey, working on behalf of environmental and conservation organizations to protect communities, open space, wildlife, and the natural heritage and public health of the eastern United States for generations to come.

EELC helps broker agreement between Bergen SWAN and Suez Water Company

Oradell Reservoir

Last month, EELC helped Bergen SWAN negotiate two agreements with the Suez Water Company, which protect the environment and protect the quality of the Oradell Reservoir’s drinking water supply.

The first agreement involves Suez’s proposed sale of its former headquarters property in Harrington Park. Both the north and south sides of the property border the Reservoir. After negotiations led by EELC, Suez agreed to preserve a large part of the north side as an open space which will serve as a buffer for the Reservoir, and also agreed to add more plantings of native species to the south side, improving its capacity to act as a buffer.

The second agreement involves Bergen County’s proposal to replace culverts on a bridge crossing on Suez property in Closter Borough. After negotiations led by EELC, Suez agreed to require the County to reduce net impervious cover in the area by 0.16 acres, remove invasive species on the shoreline, plant and maintain extensive new native species, and install and maintain inlets that will prevent trash and debris from entering the waterway.

View: Harrington Park letter exhibit

EELC’s  letter on Harrington Park property sale 

EELC’s  letter on Closter culvert replacement 

EELC’s Amicus Curiae motion granted in Meer Tract case

On May 17th, Judge Caposela in Passaic County Superior Court granted EELC’s motion to allow the New Jersey Highlands Coalition to participate as Amicus Curiae, in a case involving the Meer Tract. The Meer Tract is located at Federal Hill, an historically and environmentally important 180-acre property preserved as open space in the Highlands Region, in Bloomingdale Borough.

The Meer Tract provides a significant quantity of clean drinking water to the state every day, and also serves as critical wildlife habitat. The New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council, the state body that oversees Highlands development, has scored the Meer Tract as one of the most valuable remaining open spaces in Passaic County.

Tilcon New York Inc. has set forth a plan to clear 45 acres of the Meer Tract for quarrying, which will significantly degrade the quantity and quality of drinking water from this property, and devastate its habitats. The burden of replacing the Meer Tract’s water supply, of course, will fall on New Jersey taxpayers.

As Amicus Curiae, the New Jersey Highlands Coalition will be able to advise Judge Caposela on the environmental impact of Tilcon’s plan, which Judge Caposela has already stated is an issue of “extreme public importance.”

Read EELC’s brief here: FEDERAL HILL brief 5.3.17 530pm

Bipartisan officials cite need for FERC reform, call on NJDEP to reject PennEast Pipeline

EELC and its clients New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association support Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman in calling upon NJDEP to reject PennEast’s application for state permits. Read more here.

 

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New Jersey Appeals Court backs EELC over Highlands water discharge permit

Update:  May 4, 2017 – EELC is pleased to have won a New Jersey appellate court ruling which held that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection should not have issued a permit for a proposed water treatment facility to discharge into a Highlands creek. The Court stated that NJDEP must respect the resource protection goals of the Highlands and consult the Highlands Council.  EELC, the NJ Highlands Coalition, the Township of Readington, the Raritan Headwaters Association, and the NJ Sierra Club hailed the decision as a significant environmental policy victory for the Highlands region. Read the press release and articles about this victory here and here.

 The Fight for Pristine Drinking Water in the NJ Highlands

View of farms in the NJ Highlands which stretch 60 miles from Phillipsburg in southwest New Jersey to Oakland in the northeast. The Highlands lie in the counties of Bergen, Hunterdon, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren and include more than 88 New Jersey towns. The New Jersey Highlands are part of the Appalachian range which runs from Maine to Georgia. Photo courtesy of EELC client, the Highlands Coalition.

Eight years after the NJ Department of Environmental Protection revoked a sewage permit for a wild trout stream in the Highlands region, the agency suddenly reissued the discharge permit to the surprise of environmental organizations. The Highlands is an area stretching across northern New Jersey that is protected by the NJ Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, state legislation passed in 2004.  The permit allows the discharge of 100,000 gallons of treated sewer water daily into the Northern branch of the Rockaway Creek, which is a designated wild trout stream and home to 20 other fish species.  NJDEP first issued the permit in the 1990s, but revoked it in 2006 after the stream gained new protections.  On April 7, 2015, EELC appealed this right to discharge sewage into a protected stream on behalf of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, the Raritan Headwaters Association, the Township of Readington, and the Sierra Club.under the New Jersey Highlands Act, and after the permit went for years unused. Then, in an unexpected move, NJDEP reissued the permit in 2014.

From pristine forests to working farms, New Jersey’s Highlands Region contains some of the state’s most important natural resources. It supplies 5 million New Jerseyans, over half the state’s population, with reliable drinking water. That amounts to 770 million gallons daily! The disappearance of safe drinking water with increased and unplanned development would jeopardize the health of our citizens and our economy. Elliott Ruga, Policy Director of the Highlands Coalition, points out that, “Protecting these scarce and critical resources is in everyone’s best interest.” He adds that safeguarding the fresh drinking water, hiking trails and archaeological sites in the Highlands benefits everyone. Elizabeth Water Company, which sources its water downstream of the proposed site, is concerned that “dangerous discharges” from the project could have significant detrimental effects to those drinking the water.

Stringent environmental rules and regulations have emerged over the years to safeguard the Highlands’ resources. In 2004, the State created the Highlands Council to implement the Highlands Act, which prohibits sewage discharges in “protection zones.” A Regional Master Plan (RMP), enacted in 2008, carefully guides construction in the Highlands. Tewksbury demonstrated its commitment to environmental preservation by adopting a Conformance Plan in 2012, requiring the town’s future development to abide by the RMP’s protocols.

In 2014, the NJDEP instantly undid years’ worth of regulatory progress. Its decision was legally flawed. Aaron Kleinbaum, Executive Director of EELC, says that discharge from the development site would “undermine the resource protection goals of the Regional Master Plan,” which mandates maintaining or improving water quality. The agency ignored the Highlands Act’s requirements for regional planning. Explaining why the Highlands Coalition chose to engage EELC on this matter, Mr. Ruga writes, “It is beyond the pale that NJDEP, contrary to its own regulations, contradicting municipal zoning and ignoring the consent of the Highlands Council, has approved a sewerage discharge permit that defies all contemporary standards for land use in New Jersey. Truly, we have no choice but to challenge the approval in Court.” (Highlands Coalition, April 10, 2015 press release.)

Equally concerning is that the agency, which should protect drinking water, has lost the public’s trust by violating the protections afforded by the Highlands Act. The agency’s action has set a bad precedent for the public who invest time and money into environmental progress consistent with the RMP and the Highlands Act, only to face roadblocks and hurdles. Ruga adds that a legal victory over NJDEP is critical because “whenever a permit is authorized, it gives momentum to the developer.” If

NJDEP issues one permit, it will issue many more. The New Jersey Appellate Division heard oral arguments in October. Now, EELC and its clients await the Court’s decision.

Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Danis testifies before Congress

EELC’s Jennifer Danis testified before Congress that proposed federal legislation fast-tracking natural gas pipeline approvals would jeopardize health and safety.  Danis was on Capitol Hill representing clients New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association.

Read the press release and Danis’ complete testimony here.

DEP deals another blow to PennEast pipeline project

EELC is proud to have helped our clients’ continued fight to protect New Jersey’s exceptional resources. Read about the latest setback to the PennEast project here.

New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association

 

55 acres to be preserved in Harrington Park

EELC provided legal assistance to Bergen Save the Watershed Action Network (SWAN) and the Hackensack Riverkeeper to preserve 55 acres of valuable watershed property.  The land, owned by United Water — now Suez — in Harrington Park, borders the Oradell Reservoir and falls under the Watershed Protection and Moratorium Act, which protects lands which serve as buffer zones for public water supplies. 

Read the northjersey.com article here. 

 

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Highlands Coalition Director invites you to breakfast with EELC on April 19th

I’d love to share with you some good food, good talk, and good work by our friends at the Eastern Environmental Law Center at my home in mid-April.   I’ll be cooking eggs collected from our own chickens (you can visit them and guess who laid your breakfast egg!) and enjoying the early spring flowers, first thing Wednesday morning April 19th at 8 am, and I hope you can join us.  For the non-egg eaters, I will have other delicious options and good, strong coffee available (tea too, if you insist!)

View of farms in the NJ Highlands which stretch 60 miles from Phillipsburg in southwest New Jersey to Oakland in the northeast. The Highlands lie in the counties of Bergen, Hunterdon, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren and include more than 88 New Jersey towns. The New Jersey Highlands are part of the Appalachian range which runs from Maine to Georgia. Photo courtesy of EELC client, the Highlands Coalition.

View of farms in the NJ Highlands which stretch 60 miles from Phillipsburg in southwest New Jersey to Oakland in the northeast. The Highlands lie in the counties of Bergen, Hunterdon, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren and include more than 88 New Jersey towns. The New Jersey Highlands are part of the Appalachian range which runs from Maine to Georgia. Photo courtesy of EELC client, the Highlands Coalition. Read More

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EELC fights in courts for flood ordinances and public waterfront in Hoboken

North Pier and adjacent land planned for Hoboken’s public waterfront parkway in a Developer’s Agreement between Hoboken and Shipyard Associates, who received approvals for a 1160-unit development on six other parcels as part of the Agreement. Photo courtesy of FBW.

North Pier and adjacent land planned for Hoboken’s public waterfront parkway in a Developer’s Agreement between Hoboken and Shipyard Associates, who received approvals for a 1160-unit development on six other parcels as part of the Agreement. Photo courtesy of FBW.

Waterfront communities throughout New Jersey are debating how they can protect themselves from the type of high-level flooding and tidal surges they experienced with Hurricane Sandy as they plan for climate change and the increasing storms and sea level rise it brings. Hoboken, with piers and development directly on the tidal Hudson River, has been in the vanguard of waterfront municipalities seeking to amend their ordinances to protect waterfront open space and incorporate updated coastal hazard maps and federal and state coastal regulations.   EELC, along with its ally, N.J. Appleseed, and their client Hoboken’s Fund for a Better Waterfront are fighting a complicated legal battle to protect municipal ordinances from developers who do not want flood ordinances to apply to high-rise projects built on piers.  The amended Hoboken ordinances prohibit buildings on piers and below the mean high tide mark, referencing new federal coastal maps showing areas of high hazard in heavy storms.  Alongside this story of municipalities adapting to increasingly destructive storms and climate change, is the tale of a citizen’s group realizing a vision for a continuous public park along Hoboken’s Hudson Waterfront, an area for walking, boating, and enjoying the spectacular views of the river and Manhattan.   
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