Grapevine: Dream on

September 24. 2012 3:00AM

By NJBIZ STAFF

Objections by a top federal agency had loomed over the American Dream Meadowlands projects as recently as midsummer, but a source said those concerns were erased with the help of two North Jersey congressmen.

The source said Bill Pascrell Jr. and Steve Rothman "intervened" last month as the Environmental Protection Agency was still weighing its concerns over the massive retail and entertainment project. Since last year, the EPA had questioned a plan by the developer, Triple Five, to expand the project onto a nearby tract of wetlands, even as state regulators approved the plan weeks earlier.

But the EPA roundly dropped its objections on Aug. 17, telling the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a letter that Triple Five had addressed its concerns. That same day, Pascrell's office issued a statement cheering the decision and alluding to a recent meeting and tour of the site that he had with EPA officials.

Completing the $3.7 billion project, once known as Xanadu, has been a top priority for the Chris Christie administration. Another source noted that Pascrell and Rothman, as Democrats in a Democrat-controlled federal government, have helped with "logistics" in Washington, while the Republican governor guided the project in New Jersey.

Power struggle

Jersey Central Power & Light took quite the public relations beating last year after Christie blamed the state's second-largest utility for its response to Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm. Now, a new report commissioned by the Board of Public Utilities is piling on, charging JCP&L with spending too much time trying to save face.

The report says JCP&L's first two Irene press releases — issued Aug. 25 and Aug. 28 — "gave no indication that restoration could take several days or longer. Advice to customers appeared to have secondary importance." But to be fair, while the press releases did wax on about the utility's storm preparation, the Aug. 25 release was issued three days before the storm hit New Jersey, and a third release — also issued Aug. 28 — did say some customers could wait "several days" for power.

Ron Morano, a spokesman for the utility, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., said it has been cooperating with the BPU, and is committed to continued cooperation and improvement. He also noted one claim in the report appears to be erroneous.

The report criticizes a radio spot that ran after Irene as being focused "mostly on preserving corporate image," and promoting a $200 million investment in ongoing projects. Morano said the number $200 million refers to the utility's 2012 investment program, which wasn't announced until February of this year.

Saving careers, not lives

Christie doesn't just travel to stump for candidates; the candidates also come to him.

Bill Maloney, the Republican candidate for governor in West Virginia, will be feted at a special reception Sept. 26 at The Bernards Inn, in Bernardsville, according to a flier promoting the event. Christie is billed as a special guest.

The flier invites people to join a bunch of well-connected Garden State Republicans at the event: James Bellis, Kevin Feeley, Edward Foley III, Jon Hanson, Steve Holmes, Bob Mulcahy, William Palatucci, Peter Simon, Ray Trevisan, Finn Wentworth and Mark Yeager.

Christie may leave the night's festivities wondering when he'll have his shot at politician-turned-hero fame. Everyone by now has heard about Cory Booker saving a woman from a fire in Newark, but Maloney apparently has a bit of a heroic streak, too. The candidate, who founded a drilling company, helped rescue those 33 trapped miners in Chile in 2010. "Convinced their expertise could aid in the rescue of the miners, Bill and his drilling colleagues took action and were the driving force behind rescue 'Plan B,' which helped to free the miners," according to Maloney's campaign website.

Talks still have a pulse

According to Somerset Medical Center spokeswoman Kathleen Roberts, the community hospital is still "in discussions with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital regarding a partnership between the two organizations."

Last week, sources told Grapevine an agreement between the two providers was looking unlikely, and several other hospital systems were interested in acquiring the only acute-care hospital in Somerset County.

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Sharon Waters at sharonw@njbiz.com.


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