The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has denied Senator Joe Pennacchio’s legal requests for public records related to the decision to issue advisories for Lake Hopatcong and Greenwood Lake for harmful algal blooms (HAB), according to Senator Joe Pennachhio.
This denial of the request is lending credence to the suggestion that the Murphy Administration intentionally utilized the local economic pressures associated with lake closures to create a false sense of urgency for nearby communities to create expensive new stormwater utilities permitted through the “rain tax” recently enacted by Murphy, Pennachhio said.
“If the decisions to issue the advisories that have effectively closed Lake Hopatcong and other New Jersey lakes for much of the summer were based purely on public health concerns, there’s no reason for the Murphy Administration to deny public record requests for internal documents containing discussions of the rationale behind those actions,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “The fact that the Governor’s staff refuses to share the deliberative documents that we requested leads us to believe that they have something to hide. Perhaps they don’t want the public to see the political underpinnings of their economically damaging decision to close Lake Hopatcong and Greenwood Lake to recreation, unnecessarily, during prime summer months.”
A request for documents was submitted to the NJDEP in early August pursuant to New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act.
The requested documents include all emails (including attachments), texts, letters, or other correspondence which relate to or reference the issuance or potential issuance of advisories related to Lake Hopatcong or Greenwood Lake from January 1, 2019, to the present. Further, the submission asked for any documents containing plans, strategies, or other potential actions to be taken concerning stormwater runoff into Lake Hopatcong or Greenwood Lake, including, but not limited to the potential formation of stormwater utilities or other stormwater management measures.
In a response denying the requested documents, the NJDEP asserted that the records are “intra-agency advisory, consultative, and/or deliberated material,” and therefore the law does not strictly require the Murphy Administration to disclose them.
“The Murphy Administration isn’t saying that documents containing internal discussions about the lake closures and its push for local stormwater taxes do not exist, they’re just saying they have no intention of being transparent with lakeside homeowners and businesses who have an interest in knowing the truth,” said Pennacchio. “If everything the Governor has done with the lakes is on the up and up and based purely on science, there’s no reason for his administration to keep those internal communications private. Governor Murphy must order his staff to release the documents immediately to prove they have not been playing politics with people’s lives and livelihoods.”
Pennacchio concluded by noting his long personal connection to the impacted lake communities.
“I’ve had a presence around these lakes for 40 years,” Pennacchio added. “The people who live in the lake communities are much more than just my constituents, they are my friends. To see the harm that has befallen them as a result of the various advisories and closures is beyond painful. For the Governor to continue withholding critical information is completely unacceptable and an affront to the lake communities that were decimated this summer.”