Warehouse opponents won’t get help from their neighbors in PA

Mayor of Easton, Pa. says it’s not his place to oppose massive building planned just across the Delaware River
Credit: (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
File photo

Opponents of a plan to build a massive warehouse in Phillipsburg won’t be getting any help from the city leadership in Easton, Pennsylvania, just across the Delaware River.

Easton’s leaders should speak out against the plan, warehouse opponents argue, because the city would be impacted by added truck traffic and air and light pollution from the proposed 510,000 square-foot building, just as much as Phillipsburg itself, which is only 1,000 yards away in some places.

But Easton Mayor Sal Panto said his town doesn’t have legal standing to influence policies in another town in another state. He said he couldn’t speak for council members but was not going to speak against the warehouse himself.

“I’m not going to get involved,” Panto said in an interview with NJ Spotlight News. “It’s in a different city, and it’s not going to affect the City of Easton. I don’t like to get involved in other municipalities.”

Panto dismissed claims that truck traffic from the development in Phillipsburg, Warren County would choke streets and pollute the air in Easton, arguing that trucks serving the new warehouse would go directly to and from the nearby Interstate 78 rather than going through Easton.

Leaving it up to Phillipsburg residents

“I don’t think there will be more truck traffic in Easton; there will be more truck traffic in Phillipsburg, and residents there should make up their mind whether they want to approve it or fight it,” he said.

Local worries about the effects of runaway warehouse development are reflected in communities across New Jersey as developers scramble for space — some of it on previously undeveloped land — to feed voracious demand from logistics companies to store a mountain of goods ordered online.

More than 100 warehouses totaling 26.5 million square feet of rentable space are due to be built in New Jersey over the next three years, according to CoStar, an information service for the commercial real estate industry.

Panto’s comments follow a presentation to the council by Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental group, on July 14, when it argued that Easton’s leaders have grounds to ask New Jersey authorities to take a closer look at the warehouse plans even though such requests would come from out of state.

Fred Stine, Citizen Action Coordinator for the network, said Easton residents will have to put up with increased noise and air pollution as well as less recreational space and impaired views as a result of the warehouse, which was approved by Phillipsburg Town Council in May under a zoning change.

Because of the potential impacts to the region from the warehouse development, Easton’s elected officials have a responsibility to object on behalf of their residents, Stine said. He urged councilors to press Phillipsburg Mayor Todd Tersigni to order an environmental impact statement on the development. And Stine urged them to point out to the New Jersey Office of Environmental Justice that the warehouse would be built near a community that is “overburdened,” one of seven in Phillipsburg that is officially designated as such.

Urging Easton leaders to intervene

Stine also pressed Easton’s leaders to ask New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection to deny a request from Phillipsburg to withdraw 7.5 acres of the 43-acre site from its current protection under the Green Acres program that is designed to prevent development.

The critics’ attempt to win support from an adjoining community — albeit one outside of New Jersey — is the latest recognition that new giant warehouses have an impact outside a municipality where they are built. A bill sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) would require towns facing a warehouse application to seek the approval of neighboring municipalities, or else take the case to mediation at county or state levels.

Susan Ravitz, an Easton-area resident for more than 50 years, said Mayor Panto was probably right to say that he has no legal grounds to press for policy changes in other jurisdictions, but she argued that the mayor and councilors have a responsibility to express their opinions to outside officials in the interests of protecting their own town.

“The mayor is hired by us and so are city council members, and anything that is going to have a really negative effect on the people of Easton — they should speak out about it whether they have legal standing or not,” said Ravitz, 79. “It’s irresponsible if the council and the mayor do not say that they think it’s a bad idea for the town of Easton.”

Two members of the council did not respond to requests for comment.

Asked whether there’s much opposition in Easton to the Phillipsburg project, Panto said only three people spoke against it at the July 14 meeting, and two were not residents of Easton. He estimated that most of the town’s residents don’t even know the warehouse has been approved.

According to a lawsuit filed against Phillipsburg Town Council by five residents over the warehouse plan in June, the town’s approval of the project is inconsistent with both its 2004 master plan and with a 2013 plan to develop the riverfront. Almost 500 truck-parking spaces will result in a big increase in impervious surface, and would violate the DEP’s new stormwater standards, the suit says.

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