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.