The Vernon Township Council on Feb. 3 introduced an ordinance to repeal the purchase of the Baldwin property on which the previous council had approved to finish the township’s Walking and Biking trail.
The measure passed 3-0. Councilmen Harry Shortway and Mike Furrey were absent.
Ordinance 21-06, adopted on Feb. 22, 2021, authorized the township to buy the Baldwin property on the condition it obtained a clean Phase 1 environmental study. The study found a 55-gallon drum and other refuse that needed additional investigation, a Phase 2 study. The more intense study found some lead-contaminated soil in the area surrounding the 55-gallon drum.
“Phase 1 was not clear,” township resident Jessica Paladini said. “It should have been dead in the water right there.”
Mayor Howard Burrell said on Nov. 13 that the amount of lead was measured at 530 parts per million, below the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s standard of 1,000 parts per million for industrial and commercial sites. It was slightly above the DEP’s residential standard, which the township chose to use.
The owners of the property, listed in the ordinance as Thomas and Mike Hussey, hired Applied Service Corporation of Lafayette to remove the contaminated soil.
Township resident Robert Knecht is opposed to the repealing the purchase out of concern the township would be sued.
“If you sign a contract with a contingency, and that contingency is removed, it is my understanding that you can get sued,” Knecht said. “We have enough lawsuits in this town. We don’t need another.”
Council President Patrick Rizzuto said he had considered the possibility.
“The amount of work that would have to be done if additional borings are needed would probably exceed the cost of the property itself,” Rizzuto said. “For us to assume ownership of this property with only a very small area being remediated leaves to question the balance of the seven acres because that particular piece of property has been under remediation for a very long time.”
Rizzuto said he had met with Burrell twice since taking office looking for a compromise but there was no movement.
Councilwoman Natalie Buccieri said if more contamination were found after the township took ownership, it would be up to the township to remove it. “The owner is responsible for any toxic cleanup, even if we’re not the ones who dumped there,” she said. “The owner of the property inherits the problems.”
She said that when she was running for council, many people asked her position on town trails, and she maintained that she was against taxpayer-funded trails. That, she said, was why she voted to dissolve the Greenway Action Committee.
She said the township has many other trails, including the Appalachian Trail, the most famous trail on the East Coast. “We have numerous opportunities for recreation in our town,” Buccieri said. “It’s part of what makes Vernon really beautiful and a great place to live.”
Editor’s note: The original headline that ran with this story incorrectly stated that the purchase was repealed. Only the ordinance to repeal the purchase was approved. The Advertiser News North regrets the error.
“Phase 1 was not clear. It should have been dead in the water right there.” Jessica Paladini