A Princeton municipal site operated by the local sewer department and funded by taxpayer dollars has allegedly been used by at least three private contractors as a dumping ground and as a source for cheap equipment and labor for at least one company. But the town and the Princeton taxpayers don’t benefit from the arrangement. An employee allegedly receives cash in exchange for the use of the land, equipment and workers.
Planet Princeton received tips from various sources, including some town employees, about the alleged dumping and misuse of equipment and staff, and obtained photographs and videos of dirt being dumped at the public site. The reporter also went out during daytime business hours and observed municipal employees and town vehicles at private job sites.
Contacted by Planet Princeton via email about the allegations a week ago, Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert has not responded. Princeton Administrator Marc Dashield responded to the email, and told Planet Princeton municipal officials were unaware of the allegations and would investigate them. But he also said that there could be some sort of misunderstanding about what is actually taking place.
The Princeton Convenience Center and Sewer Department
The sewer department site is located at 298 River Road, next to the Stony Brook Sewerage Authority near the border of Kingston and Rocky Hill. It’s where the sewer department plans, develops, stages and operates the Princeton municipal sanitary sewer collection system. It’s the likely the future site of the town’s organic waste composting facility, and it is also the site where the sewer department runs the The Princeton Convenience Center, a drop-off center where residents can get rid of solid waste like lumber, construction debris, furniture, appliances and vehicles.
Visitors to the 100-acre site can see, as the reporter did, mountains of dirt and asphalt. Piles of milling materials, allegedly dumped at the site by a contractor, still remain in the same spot two years later. About 40 truck loads of dirt are also piled up at the site from the Mary Moss Playground in downtown Princeton, according to sources. The town paid a contractor to renovate the park last year. Dirt allegedly was dumped at the River Road sewer department site last summer even though the contract for the job specified that the dirt disposal was the contractor’s responsibility. The contractor claims that the dirt was dumped on private property. But in a video of a truck dumping dirt at the River Road municipal facility that was obtained by Planet Princeton, a driver acknowledged that the dirt was from the playground. As recently as this week, a new pile appeared — a truckload of dirt and asphalt from a private job on Dodds Lane. The contractor was given a key to the gated site and had access when employees were away for the holiday weekend.
The dumping of dirt and asphalt at the public site also raises questions about environmental issues and supervision. Even if the town had authorized the dumping, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has strict regulations about the disposal of concrete, asphalt and other materials, which must be dumped at special facilities. Contractors say the state’s regulations are very strict, and that one can’t just dump asphalt anywhere.
Municipal taxpayer resources
Workers also told Planet Princeton a contractor is allowed to use municipal sewer department vehicles, and sometimes employees, for private jobs. The employees said the work they have been required to do for the private contractor while they are on the clock as municipal employees is not standard work done for contractors or private homeowners by the municipality. Employees and a $300,000 sewer department vehicle called a jet truck allegedly have been deployed to some jobs to help a private contractor install new sewer lines for homeowners, for example. The jet truck is like a giant vacuum cleaner and pressure washer in one. At a home near the Institute for Advanced Study recently, municipal workers ran the one-inch pressure washer hose through the homeowner’s sewer lateral from the curb to the house so that the contractor could hook a rope to the hose. The jet truck pulled the hose back to the curb, the hose was disconnected, and the contractor then pulled a new sewer pipe through the old pipe.
Employees also allege that:
-Stone purchased by the town has been used for a private driveway and also given to a private contractor for cash.
-Piping materials have been given to a developer of teardown properties in exchange for cash
-An employee used municipal gas for personal purposes and regularly filled up a gas can to take gas home for a family member.
In response to the questions from Planet Princeton last week, Dashield said the municipality uses the River Road site to stage and store soil, rock and road milling for and from various municipal projects. In some cases, the materials are used by private contractors when they are completing municipal projects, including projects by the contractor in question, he said.
Dashield also said contractors are allowed to have access to the site after hours and use the River Road site to stage their material and their equipment for municipal projects they are working on. “When contractors are working on certain municipal projects, we allow them to stage materials at River Road so that it may be used for a future project, which may be completed by municipal staff or other contractors,” Dashield said in an email.
He also said that in order to provide exceptional service to residents, sewer operating employees will work with the homeowners and contractor. They may help to identify issues in the municipal portion of the sewer, or the portion that has been installed by the municipality in order to help residents identify issues. The corrective work would then have to be done by a private contractor, Dashield said, adding that assistance may include using municipal equipment to inspect sewer lines.
The municipality provides contractors with pipe fittings because officials want a specific type of fitting connecting to the municipal sewer system, he said. “Our policy is that fittings are either paid for by the contractor or replaced in kind,” Dashield said in an email.
Dashield said the allegations are serious and would be investigated, adding that his initial understanding is that some allegations may be a “misperception.” Meanwhile while the investigation is underway, the employee is still on the job.
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