With the dumping stopped at 3 Silver Spruce Drive, officials have turned their attention to cleaning up what they call the “Waste Mountain” on the property owned by Joseph Wallace.
According to Vernon Township Mayor Howard Burrell, the township is working with James Rothschild, a retired Superior Court judge, who has been appointed the receiver of Wallace’s estate.
A decision in by Superior Court Judge Maritza Herdote Byrne on Oct. 15, 2019, appointed a receiver to “identify and marshall” Wallace’s assets to hire and oversee the remediation of the contaminated property.
“While it is rare for courts to appoint receivers, it is also rare for three court orders to go entirely ignored,” Byrne wrote in the decision.
The order has frozen Wallace’s assets and Burrell said the township is working with Rothschild to have the fines owed to the township paid as soon as possible.
“That, however, will not likely occur until after Mr. Wallace’s assets and liabilities have been paid,” Burrell said.
According to Vernon Township Zoning Officer, Alison Larocca, Wallace was found guilty on 76 of 89 violations, including violating a stop-work order, dumping dirt without a permit and running a business in residential zone without land-use board approval.
Burrell said the state Department of Environmental Protection civil action is still pending.
"This has not been an easy fight,” U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer said during Thursday’s tour of the dirt pile. “It's taken years. That's why the community has been so involved and fighting for it. The fact that you have a new excellent mayor here that's going to pick up the mantle and continue to run with it."
Gottheimer said the cleanup will not happen quickly and will take years. He said there are state and federal programs to make sure the area gets the resources it needs to clean the area up.
Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed a bill sponsored by Assemblymen Hal Wirths aand Parker Space, along with state Sen. Steve Oroho that will stop businesses from profiting by dumping contaminated soil and construction debris.
"That will make this kind of thing impossible and put some real teeth law and make sure this doesn't happen again in another community," Wirths said.
Vernon Township Council President and former Mayor Harry Shortway said he’s been pushing for state legislation to make this a criminal act.
“That would also allow our police offficers to make stops of trucks andd have them for conspiracy in violating stop-work orders like this and violating ourr pristine land here," Shortway said.
Peg DiStasi, co-chairwoman of the township Environmental committee and Silver Spruce Drive resident, said she will continue to pursue action.
“I will be on this,” she said. “It’s not going away without remediation.”