Trenton — A Christie administration attempted eco-win-win of converting an abandoned landfill into a solar panel farm has spectacularly blown apart into a toxic lose-lose due to official incompetence and duplicity, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). With only itself to blame, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been hiding its own report showing that the landfill should never have been a candidate for reuse, let alone reopened for operation.
The long abandoned Fenimore Landfill in Roxbury was purchased by the company Strategic Environmental Partners (SEP), Inc. to transform the site into a solar facility. But what neither the residents of Roxbury nor SEP knew was that state DEP biological monitoring data showed that the two streams running around the landfill were impaired. This Stressor Indicator report is based on sampling studies from 2009-2010 showing the deleterious impacts on aquatic life in the Drakes Brook watershed from Fenimore. Had DEP made this data public when the report was completed –
- Fenimore Landfill could not have received its reopening permit from DEP. Shortly after that permit was issued, DEP sent 400,000 cubic yards of construction and demolition waste from Superstorm Sandy to the site, apparently causing reeking rotten-egg odors to hover over the area;
- The Highlands Council, chaired by Roxbury Mayor James Rilee, could not have declared the site a brownfield redevelopment area, thereby exempting it from rigorous water quality review; and
- A detailed site assessment of the landfill would have been required but DEP is now in court blocking both SEP and the Township of Roxbury from analyzing soil samples from the site.
In response to an Open Public Records Act request for this long-finished report, DEP initially claimed to have found it but on May 22nd (nearly a month after the request) declared that it was still in “draft” form and not yet “approved for release.” This denial adds that DEP “expects the review of this report to be finalized and available to the public in 1 to 2-weeks” – a period that has passed without its release.
“This report featuring monitoring data from 2010 is not a draft – it is being withheld because its findings are deeply embarrassing to the Christie people,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former long-time DEP analyst, noting that the agency now politically screens its scientific reports. “DEP’s reopening of the Fenimore Landfill can only be characterized as gross environmental malpractice.”
The awful stench from the landfill caused DEP to take over site management, displacing SEP. At the same time, a citizens group, Roxbury Environmental Action Coalition (REACT), has become increasingly frustrated and recently published a devastating report documenting in detail how DEP ignored a series of red flags about the landfill. Now, instead of a feel-good story of turning toxic lemons into solar-powered lemonade, there is a nasty public legal standoff with no clear resolution in sight.
“Fenimore Landfill illustrates what can happen when the state approves a half-assed cap of a dangerous site that should have been thoroughly cleaned instead,” Wolfe added. “This case also demonstrates how thoroughly corrupt pollution regulation in New Jersey has become.”
The supposedly unimpaired Drakes Brook tributary
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability