"Thank you for always being respectful and keeping us on task.… We were able to come to many agreements, and the final disagreement did not have the acrimony that was evident at the beginning of the process."  

Partners' Roundtable participants
Penns Neck Area EIS

Penns Neck Area Environmental Impact Statement

SITUATION

Traffic was choking the Princeton area.  Twenty years of attempts to solve the traffic problem without damaging environmental and community resources had been unsuccessful.  Animosity and distrust among the community factions was fierce.  The Governor called for a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to create a solution acceptable to all parties.  The project leaders, the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University, brought in Weiss Consulting to facilitate the "Partners' Roundtable" - an extensive citizen participation forum involving 35 facilitated meetings over a two-year period.

RESULTS

Our strong leadership in these meetings helped a community caught in a tough battle find common ground.  A final EIS was submitted to the Department of Transportation and became the basis for the Department's 2004 decision on roadway improvements in the Princeton area.  Significantly, the community involvement process:

  • Allowed citizens to discuss their conflicts with respect and create understanding between opposing viewpoints.
  • Resulted in a decision that reflects substantial agreement in the community.
  • Built a stronger foundation for community engagement on future transportation, land use, and environmental planning initiatives.

BACKGROUND

This EIS went far beyond mandated public involvement, incorporating strong ongoing citizen participation in the "Partners' Roundtable."  Four mayors, Princeton University, a major corporate landowner, numerous neighborhood groups and environmental advocacy organizations were represented.  The citizens reviewed and analyzed volumes of technical data and research findings that were instrumental in forming their recommendations.

WEISS CONSULTING APPROACH

Entering this contentious project, we knew we had to convey fairness and kindness to everyone.  We assured equal access to participation in the Roundtable.  We de-escalated tense situations, helping people calm down and think clearly.  We led a meeting of the four mayors when that was needed to galvanize the process.  Working with the project team, we clarified issues, synthesized agreements and introduced methods that reinforced respect.

Working with colleague Amy Steffen, we designed and led two innovative workshops to synthesize the Roundtable's work.  Using a structured interactive agenda, we led members in assessing the most critical and controversial issues still on the table.  To their surprise, they emerged with unanimity on many aspects of the situation and with greater openness and respect for one another.

An extensive case study of the collaborative elements of the Penns Neck EIS appears as a chapter called “Road to Collaboration” in Deep Lessons on Collaboration, a case book published in 2009 by the Heritage Foundation and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.  For more information, please contact us at info@weissconsults.com.