After contentious debate, the distribution of nearly $20 million for New Jersey non-transportation projects moved closer to reality Wednesday, with approval of a Delaware River Port Authority committee.
The DRPA finance committee voted to spend the last $29.9 million of its controversial economic-development funds. About $10 million is to be returned to the DRPA for capital projects, such as bridge repairs, and $19.7 million is to go to local food banks and projects such as a new cancer center, student housing for Rutgers-Camden University and Cooper River rowing facilities.
The full board is to vote Wednesday on the economic-development spending. It also will consider the agency's budget for 2012, which received committee blessing without dissent.
Two board members, representing Pennsylvania auditor general Jack Wagner and Pennsylvania treasurer Rob McCord, objected Wednesday to using any money for non-transportation purposes.
Wagner's representative, Rob Teplitz, was especially critical of the economic-development spending, arguing that the board would be violating its own commitment to spend toll money on transportation projects only.
"We need to focus on our trains and bridges," Teplitz said. "It's not the responsibility of this agency to make sure Camden County has a world-class regatta . . . or even well-stocked food banks."
Teplitz criticized Camden County freeholder Jeffrey Nash, who is vice chairman of the DRPA board and chairman of the finance committee, for engineering the "immaculate conception" of the project list, pushing through the spending plan without legal or financial analysis or committee input.
"You unilaterally drive the process forward," Teplitz told Nash.
Nash, leader of the board's New Jersey delegation, said he made decisions about recipients of the funds after consulting with Gov. Christie's office.
Most Pennsylvania members of the committee said they supported the final outlay of funds to end the long controversy over the use of the money.
"We've got to get beyond the remnants of the gridlock that plagued the agency," said Pennsylvania board member David Simon. "We have to put it to bed once and for all."
The projects slated to receive the money:
$6 million: a cancer center being built at Cooper University Hospital, scheduled for completion in spring 2013. The chairman of the hospital board is South Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross.
$4.3 million: unspecified development in Camden by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, using money left over from $6 million provided by the DRPA to tear down Riverfront State Prison in 2009.
$4 million: Cooper River rowing-course improvements and other waterfront amenities planned by the Camden County parks department.
$2 million: student housing at Rutgers-Camden.
$2 million: Food Bank of South Jersey.
$1 million: roadway improvements for an office, residential, and commercial development at the PATCO Ferry Avenue Station, near Lourdes Hospital in Camden.
$400,000: stabilization of Gloucester City's Freedom Pier.