Closed council meetings cause discord in Glo. Twp.
By MEG HUELSMAN Courier-Post Staff May 20, 2008

GLOUCESTER TWP. Tensions between members of council and the township administration continue to hamper progress on a multi-million dollar renewable energy project at GEMS Landfill, Mayor Cindy Rau-Hatton said Monday.

The mayor's comments came hours before a council subcommittee was to hold a closed-door meeting to discuss details and options available for various solar energy projects at the landfill.

"Publicly, (council) said we would attend all the meetings," Rau-Hatton said. But the panel has excluded township business administrator Tom Cardis from the meeting and told the mayor she could attend but could not speak, Rau-Hatton said.

Only the mayor and one person on six-member council are Republicans. The rest are Democrats.

"I don't see any reason to have a closed meeting," said the mayor. "People are very interested in this and they have been coming to the meetings. We need to promote transparency in government."

Council President Glen Bianchini said there is nothing political involved.

In e-mail Monday to Rau-Hatton that was made available to the Courier-Post, Bianchini told the mayor the meeting was for "committee members only." Rau-Hatton would be permitted to attend, Bianchini wrote, but "the discussion will be with the members only."

"We need to go over all the information we have and plot out the next steps," Bianchini said of the meeting. "The meeting, it's closed. We're not trying to hide anything from anybody, but it's so we can work as a committee."

For nearly three months the nine-member subcommittee, made up of three Democratic council members and others, has discussed the feasibility of allowing a public or private entity to install a solar energy collection system atop the polluted landfill. The electricity generated could be used locally or sold back to local utilities.

So far, more than a dozen firms, three of which have made public presentations to council, have explained how converting the landfill, which was named one of the state's first Superfund sites in the 1980s, would earn and save the township money.

Rau-Hatton says she would like to lease the property to a private company interested in installing a renewable energy project at the site.

"We're not in the utility business," she explained, saying she would not support a proposal that would require the township to install and operate the site.

Bianchini, however, said he's open to exploring "all options" and would not discredit a plan that would require 100 percent public funding to support it.

"We have funding sources we could use," he said, citing the Camden County Improvement Authority as one available funding source. "Why would someone want to invest their money into this? They must be pretty sure the risk is in their favor. We need to put together a business plan and find out what is the best way to maximize our profits."

The next steps, officials agree, include drafting a request for proposal, potentially hiring an engineering firm and putting the project out to bid.

There is no official deadline, but Bianchini said he hopes to present township council with a more concrete plan by June 2.

Reach Meg Huelsman at (856) 251-3345 or mhuelsman@courierpostonline.com