Money & Politics: Questions About Ciba-Giegy Tract

Campaign contributions from two huge pharmaceutical interests raise questions concerning the environment and political money.



In the fall of 2000 two giant pharmaceutical interests made two of the largest political contributions in the history of Ocean County. People concerned with the quality of the environment around Barnegat Bay and its tributaries should stay alert to the possible ramifications of these gifts.

According to New Jersey’s Election Law Enforcement Commission, Agnes Varis, President of Agvar Chemicals, of New York, and Harold Snyder, who is a board member of Teva Pharmaceuticals, the largest drug manufacturer in Israel, made a combined total of $55,000 in contributions to the Ocean County Democratic Committee Political Action Committee. Neither of these individuals lives in New Jersey, and neither of them has previously made a political contribution of comparable size to any state or county political entity in New Jersey.

Although is it impossible to know with certainty what goes on behind the curtain of political fundraising, these contributions bear the outward appearance of an effort to curry favor with Ocean County Democrats for some kind of special treatment in relation to the 1350-acre Ciba-Geigy site. Decades of controversy concerning this site are coming to a head as the land surface of Dover Township nears complete build-out.

The Ciba-Geigy site is today – as it has been in the past – at the heart of more than one critical environmental issue in Ocean County. Several hundred acres comprise a superfund site that is at least partially in the process of a cleanup approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The remaining 1000 non-superfund acres are mostly forested open space and are certified as clean by the EPA. Debate has swirled within Dover Township and within Ocean County concerning the related issues of zoning and open space acquisition for this site.

On account of its wildlife value, its sheer size, and its proximity both to the Toms River and to Route 37, the uncontaminated portion of the Ciba-Geigy tract is by far the premier open space acquisition target in Dover Township. No other tract comes close to it either in acreage or in the adverse impact that its development could have on water quality, air quality, and traffic in the region.

Given Ciba-Geigy’s justly infamous past abuses of this site and of the surrounding environment, rezoning it for some use other than another pharmaceutical facility would certainly be sound public policy. After all that the people of Ocean County have suffered in the last four decades – including a pipeline that polluted our land, Barnegat Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as a superfund site that polluted our groundwater – we certainly have a reasonable right to protect ourselves against the possibility of another case of polluting déjà vu.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the present situation is that the most prominent Democrats in Dover Township have been conspicuously cool in their public comments regarding the conservation or rezoning of the Ciba Geigy tract.

Committeeman John F. Russo, Jr., the highest Democratic elected official in Dover Township and a former developer, has repeatedly downplayed the need to conserve Ciba-Geigy. His reasoning – that the township’s acquisition money should be spread among other neighborhoods, and that, “If we do the Ciba property, it would take all the money,” (Asbury Park Press, June 8, 2001) – has little merit, since a tract of the size and value of Ciba-Geigy is most likely to be purchased not with township monies but with county, state, federal, and/or private foundation funding.

In July of 2001 Committeeman Russo and his Democratic colleague Committeeman John M. Furey submitted to the full Township Committee a plan to rezone undeveloped open space. This plan proposed something badly needed throughout Ocean County – downzoning of environmentally sensitive open tracts. Conspicuously absent from the list of sites proposed for rezoning, however, was the Township’s premier tract of open space, Ciba-Geigy.

Is there a connection between the reticence of these public officials regarding conservation and downzoning of the Ciba-Geigy tract and their party’s acceptance of the aforementioned large contributions by pharmaceutical interests? Under our present system of government, it is not ours to know.

If the purpose of the contributions by these pharmaceutical magnates was, however, something other than to curry favor in relation to the Ciba-Geigy tract, then the public deserves to be told exactly what that purpose was. It will insult our intelligence if we are asked to believe that these wealthy out-of-state interests simply woke up one morning inspired with idealism for the Ocean County Democratic Committee.

Likewise, if the purpose of Dover’s Democratic Committeemen in downplaying the conservation and rezoning of the Ciba-Geigy site is not to deliver special favor to these interests, then the public deserves some more plausible explanation of their actions. In the interests of a clean environment and of clean government, the people deserve to know.

Willie deCamp is President of Save Barnegat Bay, and may be reached at 732-830-3600.

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