The court-ordered clean-up of 3 Silver Spruce Drive is on track to move forward, as Judge Maritza Berdote Byrne denied Joseph Wallace’s appeal Aug. 22 and granted New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s request to force Wallace to immediately comply with the court’s June 3 order.
That order mandates that Wallace be forced to cease operating the alleged unpermitted solid waste management facility on his property and immediately bans any further dumping at the site.
It also compels Wallace to give DEP access to the property for inspections and sampling, and to test for contaminants and dispose of any solid waste.
According to Vernon Township Mayor Harry Shortway, neighbors have been complaining of an illegal solid waste dump at the property since 2009, although Shortway said he personally has been involved in the case since November 2017.
Shortway took office Jan. 1, 2016.
“I’m pleased that the state is going forward and the judge is holding Mr. Wallace to task,” he said. “This has been the number one environmental issue (in Vernon), and it’s probably the largest in all of northern New Jersey.”
Emphasizing the link between illegal dumping and public health, Shortway said contaminants at dump sites often find their way into the drinking water supply.
“If you don’t stop it today, you drink it tomorrow,” he said. “You cannot fool around with anybody’s water.”
Testing on samples taken from the dump site in April were shown to contain elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), both of which are contaminants that have been linked to cancer.
Vernon sits in the region of New Jersey known as the Highlands, which provides drinking water to more than 300 municipalities that are home to 70 percent of the state’s population, according to the State of New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council.
Shortway said U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer has been an ally in moving the case forward, and also commended state Sen. Steven Oroho, Assemblyman Parker Space and Assemblyman Hal Wirths for their involvement.
In a written statement, Gottheimer praised the judge’s decision.
“I am glad the court decided to reject known, convicted polluter Joe Wallace's appeal, so we can continue to stop polluting at the Waste Mountain in Vernon,” he said. “No family should have to worry that the water they drink or the air they breathe is unsafe.”
Gottheimer also said he plans to continue to monitor the progress of the case.
Andrew Pitsker, director of public relations for the grassroots citizens group People Against Illegal Dumping (PAID), said the group will also be keeping a close eye on developments in the case.
“This has been a battle for many years, and it takes perseverance and dedication and the board and members of PAID, in conjunction with our local government officials and staff at Vernon Township, supporting us that we are gaining momentum,” he said. “Our role at PAID will be to monitor and ensure that the NJ DEP and the Attorney General’s Office make this work for the citizens of New Jersey.”
A bill currently making its way through the Assembly would further regulate the solid waste, hazardous waste, soil and fill recycling industries, if adopted. It passed the state Senate June 20 and was received in the Assembly and referred to the Environment and Solid Waste Committee that same day, according to the Legislature’s web site.
According to PAID, the construction debris and clean fill laws that exist in New Jersey are not clear enough or strong enough to prevent what’s happened in Vernon from happening elsewhere.
“This bill will strengthen regulation of solid and hazardous waste and include the soil and debris recycling industries and allow for enforcement of violations,” the group said on its web site.
Shortway said remediation of the site could take years.
Jeffrey M. Patti, Wallace’s attorney, did not respond to a call seeking comment.