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This Hour: Latest New Jersey news, sports, business and entertainment

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PORT AUTHORITY-WTC

Deep split in Port Authority over WTC tower

NEW YORK (AP) - A discussion over the future of the 3 World Trade Center tower has exposed deep rifts among board members of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The discussion at Wednesday's monthly board meeting followed an update in which Port Authority executive director Pat Foye briefed the board on negotiations with developer Larry Silverstein.

The Port Authority has come under criticism for proposing to commit more than $1 billion as a loan guarantee to complete the project.

While some board members registered support for the potential deal, board member Kenneth Lipper called it "obscene" and "a scandalous over-reach into the public cookie jar." Lipper contends the Port Authority shouldn't use money taken from bridge and tunnel toll payers and airport users to fund a project by a private developer.

CHRISTIE-TOWN HALL

Christie to address Sandy recovery at town hall

BRICK TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) - Gov. Chris Christie could face some harsh critics of the state's Sandy recovery efforts when he travels to a town hall meeting on the Jersey Shore.

The Republican governor is scheduled to speak Thursday in Brick, along with several other state officials who can address specific Sandy-related questions.

There has been criticism on how the state is doling out housing recovery money. Christie says much of the blame lies with the federal government.

New Jersey officials have also fired a contractor that ran the main housing program. But they have not given precise reasons for the decision, other than saying it was over "performance issues."

A Rutgers-Eangleton Poll released this week found most New Jersey residents say the state has not recovered from the October 2012 storm.

AIRPORT WORKERS SALARIES

Port Authority OKs wage hike for airport workers

NEW YORK (AP) - The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has formally adopted a plan to raise wages for workers at its New York and New Jersey airports.

The agency operates JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports in addition to smaller airports in both states. In recent months it had expressed support for raising wages for low-wage contract workers.

The Port Authority's board on Wednesday unanimously approved an immediate $1 hourly wage increase and a raise to $10.10 per hour next year. That amount is what President Barack Obama promoted as a nationwide minimum wage during his State of the Union address earlier this year.

Port Authority executive director Pat Foye says Delta, JetBlue and American airlines already are "on board" with the plan.

FOREST FIRE-DOWNE TOWNSHIP

Crews battling major woodlands fire in south NJ

(Information in the following story is from: The Press of Atlantic City (N.J.), http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com )

DOWNE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) - Crews from the state Forest Fire Service are battling a blaze that has already consumed about 225 acres of woodlands in the Bevans Wildlife Management Area in southern New Jersey.

The fire began shortly before 3 p.m. Wednesday, spewing brownish smoke that could soon be seen for miles. But no injuries have been reported.

Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state's Environmental Protection Department, tells The Press of Atlantic City that the fire in Downe Township will likely destroy anywhere from 500 to 1,000 acres of woodlands before it burns itself out.

Mayor Robert Campbell tells the newspaper that the land near the fire primarily belongs to the state and several sand plant companies. He said there are no residential properties in that area.

SHOPPING CENTER SHOOTING

2 suspects arraigned in shooting of police officer

(Information in the following story is from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.), http://www.northjersey.com )

HACKENSACK, N.J. (AP) - Two of the three men charged in the shooting of an undercover police officer in a northern New Jersey shopping center parking lot have made their initial court appearances.

The Record reports that 19-year-old Melvin Guzman of Garfield entered a not guilty plea at Wednesday's hearing. But 21-year-old Patrick Morel of Clifton did not enter a plea because he does not yet have an attorney.

Bail for both remains at $750,000.

The third suspect, 25-year-old Passaic resident Rafael Vasquez, didn't appear in court because he's hospitalized with a gunshot wound. His bail was set at $2 million.

All three defendants face robbery, aggravated assault and weapons charges. Vasquez is also charged with attempted murder.

The wounded Paramus officer underwent surgery Tuesday after being shot in the right hip and left lower leg. He's expected to fully recover.

DEADLY SUV CRASH

Driver charged in deadly crash pleads not guilty

MORRISTOWN, N.J. (AP) - A northern New Jersey man who authorities say was driving drunk when he caused an accident that killed three relatives last summer has pleaded not guilty to several charges stemming from the crash.

Luis Torres entered his pleas Wednesday during a brief court appearance in Morris County. He remains free on $750,000 bail.

Torres is charged with aggravated manslaughter, vehicular homicide, assault bu auto and drunken driving.

Prosecutors say the 37-year-old Torres was driving home from a birthday-party barbecue when his sport utility vehicle overturned on Route 15 in Jefferson Township last August.

Killed in the crash were Torres' mother-in-law, his 11-year-old stepdaughter and a niece who was five months pregnant. Six other people were injured but have since recovered.

OFFICER-COCAINE CHARGES

Miami police officer in NJ on US charges

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A Miami-Dade police officer, who the FBI says was known as "the Milk Man," has appeared in federal court in New Jersey to face charges he aided a New Jersey-based drug trafficking organization.

Lt. Ralph Mata (MAH-tah) of Broward County, Fla., made a first appearance Wednesday on charges of drug trafficking and illegal money transactions. He was not required to enter a plea.

Prosecutors say the 45-year-old helped New Jersey cocaine dealers move hundreds of thousands of dollars around, in part by helping them bypass security at airports in New York and Miami.

Federal prosecutors say Mata orchestrated a murder-for-hire plot and provided law enforcement information to traffickers.

Attorney Jay Surgent says Mata denies the charges. Mata remains free on $500,000 bail.

Surgent says Mata has been suspended from the police force without pay.

NJ MAYOR-BRIBE

Ex-mayor's corruption conviction, sentence upheld

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) - A federal appellate court has upheld the corruption conviction of the former mayor of New Jersey's largest suburb and the prison sentence he received.

The ruling made by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia was made public Wednesday.

Former Hamilton Township Mayor John Bencivengo was convicted in November 2012 of extortion, money laundering and bribery-related counts. He resigned the day after he was convicted and is now serving a 38-month federal prison sentence.

Federal prosecutors said Bencivengo accepted more than $7,000 in bribes from a health insurance broker between May and July 2011. In exchange, he promised to help the broker keep a contract with the township's school district.

Bencivengo's lawyers argued that he didn't have the ability to influence decisions made by the school board.

FIRST DATE-DOG STOLEN

Man charged in theft of woman's dog on first date

DOVER, N.J. (AP) - A man who allegedly stole a woman's Yorkshire Terrier and flat-screen TV during their first date has been charged with two counts of theft.

Court records show 23-year-old Honey Ahmed of Elizabeth was arrested early Wednesday. His bail was set at $50,000 and it wasn't known if he has retained an attorney.

Authorities say the pair met on an online dating site and went out for the first time April 17. After returning to her Dover home, the woman became occupied in another room, leaving the man alone.

When she returned, he was gone - and so were her dog and TV.

Two days later, the woman found her dog, Violet, tied by its leash to the TV, and both were left in her front yard. Violet appeared to be in good health.

PUERTO RICO-UNIVERSITY PROTEST

Puerto Rico university students launch protest

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Students at Puerto Rico's largest public university have launched a 24-hour protest following talks about a tuition increase.

The protest was called even though officials at the University of Puerto Rico have extended a moratorium on a 4 percent increase for another year.

Students at the university's main campus in Rio Piedras barricaded all main entrances early Wednesday, while some of the smaller campuses decided not to join the protest.

The students say they also are protesting potential cuts of up to $150 million from the university's budget. The U.S. territory's governor is scheduled to unveil a proposed budget next week that is expected to contain dozens of cost-cutting measures.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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