Gottheimer, Sierra Club push DEP to act on dump site

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The state Department of Environmental Protection is jeopardizing the health of residents by allowing illegal dumping at an unlicensed Vernon facility, according to Rep. Josh Gottheimer, who has continued to pressure DEP officials to halt the flow of contaminated materials into the Silver Spruce Drive site.

“They have a rapidly growing pile of dirt that threatens to turn into a toxic waste dump and has become a nightmare for Vernon residents, and yet the DEP continues to do nothing," said Jeff Tittle, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. "The agency just isn’t doing its job. DEP has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of the public, and instead the agency is potentially exposing residents to carcinogens, lead and other dangers. The claim that this is somehow a local issue and that DEP can’t enforce anything is ridiculous. The site isn’t properly licensed, so they could stop them that way. DEP says it does not have the authority to stop the trucks from going in there and dumping, but that’s just not true. They can have State Police stop them. They can test the materials going in. Even with Congressman Gottheimer stepping up to pressure DEP, the agency continues to fail, offering nothing but weak excuses to deflect responsibility rather than taking action. But that’s how the DEP operates. It has a habit of taking the cheapest and easiest way out.”

Gottheimer, along with state legislators and Vernon officials, has been critical of DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe’s claims that Class B recyclable materials, which include construction debris such as asphalt, brick, rebar and metal pipes, can be legally deposited at the site,

Joseph Wallace, the property owner, is allegedly not licensed for accepting such materials and does not have any of the necessary permits. Wallace was fined last year by a Vernon municipal judge for violating a 2014 stop-work order at the site. Wallace has also pleaded guilty to six counts of illegal dumping in New York state.

“DEP has more than enough reason to be suspicious of what’s going on there, given what we know about how some of these places operate," Tittel said."It’s unlicensed, a violation of the Solid Waste Management act, so the DEP could use that to stop the dumping. The State Commission of Investigation did its ‘Dirty Dirt’ report a couple of years ago, warning how many of these unregulated dumping sites only pose as recyclers and are actually just accepting contaminated materials illegally, materials like the construction debris being dumped in Vernon. All of the trucks coming in should have manifests for the materials inside, but they do not, another violation. This could just be the tip of the iceberg. If that pile is allowed to keep growing, this could turn into a real disaster.”

Gottheimer said McCabe has never answered his questions about the lack of permits for the site, and he has also criticized the DEP’s refusal to conduct thorough water and soil tests.

“There have already been independent tests of a neighboring property at the dump site that found lead levels that are much too high, 15 times higher than what’s allowed. DEP has to do more testing, but they won’t do it,” said Tittel. “But we shouldn’t be surprised. The DEP has a long history of this kind of thing, countless scandals involving contaminated soil left in place or failing to do enough to prevent dumping. It happened with the EnCap project in the Meadowlands, and that cost taxpayers $50 million to clean up, and at the Fenimore landfill in Roxbury, where residents had to endure foul odors and other environmental dangers for more than a year. Those are just a couple of examples. and many other locations as well. DEP is following its pattern of not doing what it is supposed to be doing and what it has the authority to do, and the public in Vernon is now being endangered because of it. We thank Congressman Gottheimer for his ongoing efforts, but DEP now must act.”

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