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Proposed Carteret soil recycling facility has Middlesex County divided

spiegelRobert_021512_optBY JOE TYRRELL
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

A proposal to build a soil recycling facility to foster redevelopment of a former industrial site along the Rahway River in Carteret has won the initial backing of Middlesex County officials, after a public hearing in which almost every statement was disputed.

The county Solid Waste Advisory Council's endorsement of the Rahway Arch project is only advisory, though members could not recall an instance where the Middlesex Freeholders rejected one of their recommendations. For that reason, supporters and opponents argued the matter intensely, contradicting each other in detail.

For the developer and Soil Safe of Columbia, MD, which would operate the recycling facility for an estimated five years, the project would rectify past environmental problems, allowing the development of 20 to 25 acres while preserving about 100 or more as a wildlife area along the river.

For opponents such as the Edison Wetlands Association and the Construction Materials Recycling Association, the plan would re-open an already cleaned up site for an unnecessary industrial facility with little oversight.

With state Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the attorney for the applicant, watching from a front-row seat, the outcome was never in doubt. The members present voted 18-0, with five abstentions, to send the proposal on to the Freeholders for inclusion in the county's solid waste master plan.

Afterward, though, supporters acknowledge they still have a ways to go to bring the project to fruition. Bill Roberts, Soil Safe's Mid-Atlantic program director, estimated it will take a year to continue through the county and state permit process to construction.

That's not least because the application takes the position that the state Department of Environmental Protection erred in 2002, when it issued a notice that no further action was required to remediate the so-called Cytec property, named after an American Cyanamid subsidy that used it for sludge disposal.

"I have no idea how they got an NFA finding," said Al Free of EastStar Environmental Group, Rahway Arch's consultants. The DEP "didn't follow their own regulations" and left surface materials standing lagoons that could be washed into the river in a storm, he said.

"It's full of alum, it's a contaminated property," said Carteret representative Michael Sica, who grew up near the site and used to play their despite his parents' admonitions. There are also no workable alternatives for the site, "Carteret's largest unutilized industrial tract," he said.

"These guys aren't the ones who polluted the site," Smith said of his clients. Instead, they are offering the chance to "finally get one of the most contaminated sites in the state of New Jersey fully cleaned up," he said.


But the DEP, which had no representative at the meeting disagreed. Later in the day, the agency said the site already was properly cleaned up and capped. "There's no problem at the site," said DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese, adding the agency "has nothing before us" to re-open that finding.

If the site were as contaminated as the developers say, they should bring in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate and "maybe it should be added to the Superfund" chemical clean-up list, said Robert Spiegel, executive director of the Edison Wetlands Association.

He described the scope of the application as "overkill," paving the way for the material recycling facility to continue after its projected five-year life. During that time, Soil Safe projects it will bring in one to two million tons of soil, including some containing construction debris and petroleum-contaminated materials, to provide a new layer about eight-to10-feet high on that portion of the property.

In doing that, the company expects to wind up with soil concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — commonly found in fossil fuels and some considered carcinogens — at levels 15 tons higher than the residential standard, said Debbie Mans of the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper. That is not necessarily a disqualification for an industrial site, but does raise questions about the effects on nearby areas, including the wildlife area.

"It's means the levels you're starting with are much higher," Mans said.

For that reason, environmental groups pressed for more details about how the company would process material on the site. But county solid waste planner Carol Tolmachewich advised the council that such matters are beyond its jurisdiction. She added that neither the county nor the borough are able to collect a host community fee from the facility, whose revenues were estimated at $50 million over the five years.

Wayne DeFeo, representing the Construction Materials Recycling Association, said the facility would be potentially big enough to recycle soil waste from throughout New Jersey and New York City. He complained the application lacks basic details about the relationship between the owners and operators and their future plans. But Tolmachewich said it met Middlesex County requirements.

The two sides sparred over conditions at Soil Safe's two South Jersey facilities, in Salem City and Logan Township. Six of seven violations have been for administrative matters, a record "actually better than anyone else in our industry," Roberts said.

But the environmental groups released DEP records showing small fines of the company for bringing in arsenic, cadmium and other hazardous materials, as well as exceeding permitted levels in the first three quarters of 2007, then failing to report an extra 148,528 tons dumped in the fourth quarter.

Joe Tyrrell may be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or followed on Twitter @ jtyrrell87.

 
Comments (6)
6 Tuesday, 21 February 2012 16:49
Sharon Lespowitz
Why not preserve all 125 acres as a wildlife area? That's what WE NEED around here! Come on Middlesex County, use those noggins!
5 Tuesday, 21 February 2012 16:44
Dylan T.
This is a dirty company and one not to be trusted to clean up a site PROPERLY. Want to really improve this site?? Then take OUT the contaminated soil that's leaking instead of bringing MORE contaminated soil - that's what a true remediation is. These people don't care about the environment, they only care about profit and of course the county would support them. I hope the Freeholders have more courage to turn down this terrible application.
4 Thursday, 16 February 2012 01:00
David C. W.
Stop this insanity and put corrupt Senator Bob Smith in jail. This was a great article by Mr. Tyrrell and this great media outlet. They are the only ones that take the time to do their homework and I hope they continue to report on environmental issues in NJ and especially the work of the Edison Wetlands.

When you look at the story the Star Ledger did on this there is no comparison. Bland and dry with no effort and this story really explains the issues.
3 Wednesday, 15 February 2012 18:53
Steve P.
From everything I can see this project will be bad for NJ taxpayers. The Edison Wetlands is right on point and I cannot believe Senator Bob Smith would be so unethical as to represent this polluter and put their profits before the health of NJ families and the environment.

Shame on SWAC and the Middlesex County Freeholders. We need to vote all NJ politicians out and vote in all new people, republican and democrats alike they are as crooked as the day is long.

Dumping 2 million of tons of poisonous soil and toxic waste on this site will not improve the Rahway River. I hope the NJDEP understands they must say no to this project.
2 Wednesday, 15 February 2012 15:40
Dana Patterson
It's absurd that members of SWAC continue to approve everything because they are afraid of their own shadow. Let's put people's health first, and then profits....Thanks. Great story, thanks for complete and thorough reporting :)
1 Wednesday, 15 February 2012 15:32
Jose Torres
SWAC is just a bunch of do nothings, and I find it clear that Senator Bob Smith has a conflict of interest. This is due to the fact he authored the LSRP rules, which is exactly what he is trying to use in order to profit off of. Let me state this again, Smith is using legislation, he himself wrote, to profit off of. This is completely unethical, and I will be submitting a complaint to the New Jersey Ethics Commission because of it.

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