LINDEN—Just a few months after City Council President Robert Bunk derailed construction of a $5 billion, 500-megawatt electrical power plant that would create 1,800 jobs, he led the council to unanimously approve the deal last week and announced that he is running for mayor.
Bunk selected Councilwoman Michele Yamakaitis as his running mate to replace him as City Council president.
Councilmen Richard Koziol and Eugene Davis are expected to seek re-election with Bunk, but party bosses are looking for challengers to face Councilman Jack Sheehy, the Democrat who ousted Ralph Strano in the 2006 primary election, and Councilman Joe Harvanik, an independent who unseated Thomas Boland three years ago.
In 1992, the year he retired as a city police officer, Bunk was elected councilman in the Eighth Ward, which is now represented by Yamakaitis.
When George Milkowski died in 1997, Bunk was appointed to succeed him as elected City Council president and he was re-elected three times running alongside former Mayor John T. Gregorio.
Gregorio was defeated in 2006 by Mayor Richard Gerbounka, who wanted the governing body to authorize the project in October.
Environmentalists charged that Bunk betrayed the citizens in order to extort money from the PurGen coal-burning electric generating project.
“He used us to cut a deal with the developer. It’s a dirty deal for dirty power,” said Jeff Tittel. “There’s no such thing as clean coal. It’s not only a bad idea, it’s dangerous.”
“They sold out the people of Linden and for a few cents on the dollar,” said Tittel. “They are going to get $2.5 million on a $5 billion plant. It’s being taxed less than your dog house and it’s going to need (government spending on) emergency services because it’s such a dangerous facility.”
Claiming the facility will require “massive taxpayer subsidies,” Tittel said if property taxes on the plant were assessed the same way as they are on homeowners, city revenue would exceed $100 million a year as opposed to the projected $4 to $5 million.
Councilman Derek Armstead, who voted to fast track the plant in October, questioned why Bunk and the others delayed a project that will create 1,800 construction jobs and permanent employment for another 150 workers.
Construction workers also faulted Bunk for putting off vital job creation during an economic crisis that has caused hundreds of Linden homeowners to face foreclosure, instead of asking for developer fees up front.
Other critics maintain that the project is a raw deal for taxpayers.
“For $5 billion you could put a solar panel roof on every roof in Union County and it would generate about three times more power,” said Tittel, who argued the process will also yield significant amounts of arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxins that threaten public health.
“The City of Linden is obligating itself and the taxpayers to support a proposal that is not real and that will likely change over time,” said Mike Pisauro, New Jersey Environmental Lobby.
“Linden has already been subjected to too much pollution and toxic contamination from dirty fuel sources,” said Rachel Kohl, Environment New Jersey. “On a daily basis, residents have to deal with the negative health impacts that come from this pollution.”
Linden activist Beatrice Bernzott, of the Tremley Point Alliance said people “within ten miles of the proposed coal plant will be living with the threat of instant death.”
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