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Regulators moving forward on environmental reviews of Xanadu water park

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State and federal regulators say they're making important progress with environmental reviews that would allow a developer to revitalize the former Xanadu project, the massive retail and entertainment complex, as American Dream Meadowlands.

At the state level, Thursday marked the end of a public-comment period for a study on whether the developer, Triple Five, could build indoor water and amusement parks on a tract that includes 5.5 acres of wetlands. Comments on the project were "minimal," Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna said today.

A DEP hearing officer is now preparing a report based on the study and the comments, marking one of the last steps needed before a permit can be issued, Hajna said. He was unable to provide a timeline for the report, but said "everything is moving forward." The report will be made public once it's complete.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing the final piece of the developer's plan to mitigate the wetlands disturbance, said Ken Wells, chief of public affairs for the federal agency. The proposal calls for paying for mitigation at an offsite wetlands location in exchange for disturbing the tract at the project site, in East Rutherford.

"We just received the last part of the mitigation proposal last week," Wells said today. "So we're in the process of reviewing that information, and we hope to be able to issue the public notice very shortly."

The notice would open the proposal up to additional public comment, he said, noting that it's "a key part of the regulatory process in order for them to move forward with the project."

Triple Five's plans also are subject to review by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Dan Montella, the wetland protection team leader for the agency's New York region, said the agency objected to the developer's plan last year because its wetlands mitigation plan hadn't been fully addressed at that time.

The agency also raised concerns about other issues, including whether the project can be reconfigured to minimize the use of fill at the site, Montella said. The agency is awaiting the Army Corps of Engineers' upcoming findings before issuing an updated position.

Triple Five, of Edmonton, Canada, has said the amusement and water parks are key to rebooting the long-stalled project. The developer has said it would take nearly $2 billion to complete its plan, which also includes some 1.7 million square feet of retail space.

Aside from the environmental review process, the company also has spent several months working to secure a full slate of financing for the project.

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