Kane In Your Corner: Does cleanup project put Rahway River at risk?
A Kane In Your Corner investigation finds an environmental redevelopment project in Linden has been allowed to proceed for a year despite the omission of a crucial safeguard, a 14-foot-high wall intended to prevent contamination dirt from falling into the Rahway River and potentially contaminating nearby homes.
An inspector for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection somehow did not notice the wall is missing, even sending a bizarre email to environmentalists that claimed workers were finishing work along the top of the nonexistent structure.
A company called Dredge Management Associates has imported a mountain of contaminated dirt onto an already-contaminated property along the Rahway River. The dirt will eventually provide a foundation for a future trucking terminal. It's part of a Christie administration initiative to clean up contaminated sites at no cost to taxpayers.
But documents show the property owner, Dredge Management Associates received NJDEP approval for the project based on an application that twice promised the wall, intended to keep contaminated dirt out of the river, would be built prior to any fill material being imported onto the site. The company even submitted architectural plans detailing exactly what the wall would look like. Tons of contaminated fill have been imported and the wall is not there.
"The wall was probably in the engineering to contain the contaminated material that's in the soil," says Fred Virazzi, of the Rahway River Watershed Association. "So the wall not being here defeated the whole purpose of the engineering." Virazzi worries the pile of contaminated dirt currently on the site "could collapse during a heavy rain event."
Environmentalists also say in the event of flooding, the lack of a containment wall could cause contamination of properties belonging to homeowners in the nearby Tremley Point neighborhood of Linden. "This company's only stipulation was they had to put in a wall, and they didn't do that," says homeowner Judy England-McCarthy. "To me, it's insult to injury." England-McCarthy says her neighborhood is still recovering from flooding during Sandy, and worries the project will leave them even more at risk in the future. "I'm worried that it will flood, and I'm going to have toxins in my water supply," she says.
New Jersey Baykeeper Debbie Mans and other Environmental Groups have been complaining about this project for months. "We have been in touch with the DEP several times, brought our concerns to them and provided documentation," Mans says.
But records show the DEP doesn't seem to recognize the wall isn't there. In a July email, a DEP inspector indicated the wall was almost complete and workers were just finishing "rough grading along the top." A NJDEP spokesman declined to comment on how the inspector could have possibly believed that was the case, or whether the inspector had actually been on site for his inspection. Jeffrey Cappola, the attorney for the property owner admits work on the wall has yet to begin.
In a carefully worded statement Cappola insists, that the "wall was never proposed by the developer to be built prior to fill material being accepted at the Site, nor do any NJDEP permits require that." That, however, is not entirely accurate. Dredge Management Associates did make that promise, twice, in what is arguably the most important document of all, the application for the waiver of NJDEP rules which allowed the project to go forward to begin with.
Kane In Your Corner asked the NJDEP if it intended to take action against the property owner for failing to live up to the promises made in its application. A spokesman did not respond. Since the investigation began, the agency did issue two other violations against Dredge Management Associates for other issues related to the project.
England-McCarthy believes the state should take action. "Where does it stop?" she wonders. "When do they say 'enough is enough'? The one requirement, the one stipulation, they haven't done it. What is their consequence?"