On June 19, 2015, the Hon. Anne McDonnell, P.J.Ch. of the New Jersey Superior Court dismissed the longstanding lawsuit which dates back to 2007, concerning the repair and renovation of Willow Grove Dam. N.J.D.E.P. had sued Salem, Cumberland County and Willow Grove Lake’s owner The Nature Conservancy concerning a rural Pittsgrove Township dam that straddles the Salem-Cumberland County line.
The principle basis for the dismissal of the case was that Salem and Cumberland Counties, after obtaining federal grant funds to pay the majority share of engineering and repair costs, took action to repair the Dam, even though both counties denied that N.J.D.E.P.’s claims under the Safe Dam Act of New Jersey had merit. N.J.D.E.P. thereafter agreed to the dismissal of the lawsuit that would have assigned responsibility for repair expenses and established relative rights and obligations for future monitoring and repair of the Dam into the future.
Salem County Freeholder Ben Laury, an Elmer resident, as Chairman of the Public Works Committee, spearheaded federal grant search efforts for the County of Salem, with the assistance of Mike Zumpino of Triad Associates. Freeholder Laury, County Engineer James McKelvie and County Superintendent of Bridges, Bill Miller, worked out all technical aspects of Salem County’s part of the bi-county project.
The present administration of Salem County government shifted course two and a half years ago and refuted a legally un-enforceable settlement of the litigation that would have required the taxpayers of Salem County to fund the entirety of its multi-million dollar share of the Dam renovations which ultimately have been funded by federal grant funds.
Salem County’s Counsel, Michael M. Mulligan, Esq., argued consistent with a similar factual scenario in N.J.D.E.P. v. Gloucester County, et al., involving Lake Bassgalore just southeast of Swedesboro, that no liability may be proved against it because on Willow Grove Road, a public right of way, and a Salem County bridge were its legal interests in Willow Grove Dam.
Cumberland County Freeholder James Sauro and Cumberland County Counsel Theodore Baker, Esq., led the protection of Cumberland County interests throughout recent case developments.
Freeholder Director Julie Acton commented that:
“This is a private lake, and a county bridge and an old rural right of way for Willow Grove doesn’t make us the Dam owner. I understand that the NJDEP had a job to do, but I am proud that Salem County stood its ground and argued rationally based on the legal precedent that it should not be held responsible under the Safe Dam Act. Without federal funding for the project being secured by Freeholder Ben Laury, we would have stood our ground to protect the best interests of the taxpayer.”