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EPA LIFTS OBJECTIONS TO HARTZ MOUNTAIN'S APPLICATION FOR DEVELOPMENT OF WETLANDS NEAR MILL CREEK IN SECAUCUS, N.J.

 NEW YORK, July 1 /PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has informed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that it is lifting its objections to the proposal from the Hartz Mountain Development Corporation to develop an area of wetlands in the Hackensack Meadowlands near Mill Creek in Secaucus, N.J. The Agency's decision is based on the understanding that certain corrective actions, which have been agreed to by Hartz, will be incorporated in any permit or modification for work on this site. The corrective actions will offset the impact of the fill for the proposed Villages at Mill Creek development project, which involves the construction of approximately 2,000 housing units in the area.
 Acting EPA Regional Administrator William J. Muszynski said, "Specifically, the corrective actions will limit the development to only the southern portion of the proposed site and, as compensation, Hartz has agreed to carry out a multi-function mitigation program on a total of 244.6 acres, located on four sites in the Hackensack Meadowlands."
 EPA's involvement in the proposed development stems from the process initiated by a May 30, 1991 letter from EPA informing the Hartz Mountain Development Corporation of EPA's intention to prevent the filling of these wetlands. The letter offered Hartz an opportunity to address EPA's concerns about the project. Meetings and consultation between the Agency and Hartz Mountain have been continuous since June 1991.
 The current proposal from Hartz is to reduce the amount of fill and restrict development to only the southern part of the proposed site. While potentially allowing up to 68 acres of fill, the proposal maximizes the expanse of wetlands north of the proposed development since there is a large wetlands area across Mill Creek in that direction. The result is the preservation of the landscape which is seen by EPA as most critical in preserving the Mill Creek ecosystem. The current proposal by the applicant preserves a large, continuous parcel of wetlands north and east of the site in an area adjacent to recently enhanced wetlands and open waters.
 EPA, in consultation with other federal agencies, has reassessed the site's ecological values based on the additional data that have been collected by EPA. "This was done so that full replacement for every function lost as a result of the proposed fill would be ensured by suitable mitigation measures," Mr. Muszynski emphasized. EPA has performed ecological studies on the site in order to provide information on its value as a fish and wildlife habitat. EPA studies show that the northern area is used by more wildlife owing to its proximity to an existing high value mitigation site which lies east of Mill Creek between the Hackensack River and the project site.
 The mitigation site was enhanced by Hartz as a requirement for an earlier permit that was issued for the Harmon Meadow development. In the northernmost part of the proposed Mill Creek project area, EPA staff observed a "spillover" of wildlife from the adjacent, enhanced marsh (mitigation site). Consequently, more wildlife species utilize the area, making it of higher value than other parts of the project site toward the south.
 This wetland is also especially valuable because of its ability to cleanse waters of nutrients and toxics. Waters flowing through these wetlands eventually travel to waters offshore of New York and New Jersey. This natural water purification process has a positive impact on the fishing and shellfish industry.
 BACKGROUND
 The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a conditional permit on May 16, 1991 to the Hartz Mountain Development Corp., Inc. to fill this wetland tract under the federal Clean Water Act. Under Section 404(c) of the Act, EPA has the power to prohibit the filling of wetlands and waters of the United States. On May 30, 1991, EPA announced its intention to initiate the 404(c) process to restrict or prohibit the placement of the fill on the project site in Secaucus for the proposed Villages at Mill Creek.
 The reasons cited by EPA for initiating this 404(c) process were possible unacceptable adverse impacts to fish and wildlife, and secondary impacts to offshore waters which could affect fishing and shellfishing. EPA stated at that time it was possible that less damaging practicable alternatives exist.
 Since then, EPA has consulted continuously with Hartz to reach agreement on modifications to the proposed federal permit that would conform with EPA's intention to prevent the filling of the most vital areas of the wetlands potentially impacted by the Corporation's development project.
 During the first two stages of its adjacent project, called Harmon Meadow Development, Hartz Mountain filled in 127 acres of wetlands along Mill Creek and Cromakill Creek. Hartz Mountain had proposed to fill approximately 76 acres of 131 adjacent acres for a development called Villages at Mill Creek.
 Estimates indicate that the Hackensack Meadowlands area may originally have had up to 20,000 acres of wetlands. Today, only 7800 acres remain.
 -0- 7/1/93
 /CONTACT: Rich Cahill, 212-264-2515, for the EPA/


CO: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Hartz Mountain DevelopMENT
 Corporation ST: New Jersey IN: ENV SU:


LR -- NY056 -- 7724 07/01/93 12:18 EDT
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Date:Jul 1, 1993
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