Secaucus files suit against Sports and Exposition Authority

The town allegedly isn't getting paid its 30 percent, mandated under state law

Town attorney Kenneth Porro explains the lawsuit at the Sept. 28 council meeting.
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Town attorney Kenneth Porro explains the lawsuit at the Sept. 28 council meeting.

The Town of Secaucus has filed suit against the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA) to recover its share of payments under the state Transportation Planning District (TPD) Act. The town filed the lawsuit in Hudson County Superior Court on Sept. 27.

The NJSEA governs development in the Hackensack Meadowlands, where Secaucus is located. Nearly 88 percent of the town falls under the jurisdiction of the NJSEA.

The TPD Act assures that private property owners contribute to the transportation infrastructure improvements needed to support additional development projects by paying a development fee. This does not include private homeowners, but rather developers and businesses.

According to Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli, the TPD Act requires that the NJSEA return 30 percent of those fees to the municipality where the development is located. But he said that hasn’t been happening and Secaucus hasn’t been getting its share.

Funding for transportation projects

“The Act, passed in 2008 and reaffirmed in 2015, has resulted in millions of dollars of fees collected from Secaucus developers by the NJSEA which they have unilaterally spent, without any input from the Town,” Gonnelli said in a statement.

The suit alleges that, from the inception of the TPD Act, the NJSEA has not sought or consulted with Secaucus as to the allocation of the town’s share of the TPD funds and has “unilaterally” determined how the money is allocated. According to the suit, the NJSEA has collected nearly $16 million to fund various transportation projects in the Meadowlands since 2008.

Gonnelli called out the head of the NJSEA, Vincent Prieto, by name. Prieto is a Secaucus resident with whom Gonnelli has faced off regarding the 2020 Meadowlands Master Plan.

“NJSEA CEO and President, Vincent Prieto, was the Speaker of the Assembly and the sponsor of the legislation,” Gonnelli said. “He assured the municipalities in the Meadowlands District that the Act was designed to provide a balance by permitting the NJSEA to retain 70 percent of funds collected for regional priorities and earmarking 30 percent to be returned to the towns for transportation related projects within the municipality. More recently, Prieto reversed this position and claims that the towns’ share can be administered by NJSEA, with no consent required.”

As a result, the town is filing suit.

“[This] lawsuit will resolve which of Mr. Prieto’s policies is lawful,” Gonnelli said. “I would like to express my gratitude for my colleagues on the Meadowlands Mayor Committee who voted unanimously to support this initiative.”

The town’s fair share

Town attorney Kenneth Porro, who is representing the town in the case, explained the purpose of the suit at the Sept. 28 town council meeting,

“As the Mayor and Town Council have authorized, there is a pending matter by the Town of Secaucus against the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority with regard to development fees,” Porro said. “The development fees are charged for new development within the municipality. And Secaucus had quite a few developments and fees, which the statute says [the town] was to get 30 percent of those collected fees. Unfortunately, that account has not been receiving, based on our information, that 30 percent.”

Porro continued: “So we brought a formal lawsuit against the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, respectfully demanding our 30 percent share. That was filed on Monday. It has been served, and I will keep you posted.”

The town had completed transportation projects with the money in the past, such as putting in a bike lane on Meadowlands Parkway.

“I think we have one million dollars that we are waiting for,” Gonnelli said at the meeting. “[NJSEA] used that money to pay for a traffic light. We’re okay with them doing that with the 70 percent, but the 30 percent is for the municipality.”

The funds the town is waiting for could be used for bike lanes, traffic lights, speed bumps, or anything to do with transportation. According to Gonnelli, the town wanted to put in a traffic light on Wood Avenue but couldn’t afford to. The money could support that and help pay for paving on Meadowlands Parkway, Secaucus Road, and Enterprise Road.

The NJSEA does not comment on pending litigation, according to a spokesperson.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.