Public sewer department allegedly used for private gain in Princeton

Asphalt and dirt from a private residence allegedly were dumped at the Municipality of Princeton’s River Road sewer department site by a private contractor last week.

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.

Piles of milling dumped at the River Road municipal site by a contractor two years ago still remain at the site.

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.

A $300,000 jet truck owned by the Municipality of Princeton at the site of a private sewer line installation one morning in late March. Two municipal employees were at the location with the truck helping the private contractor install the new line. Photo: Planet Princeton.

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.

A “hotbox” that runs on propane and keeps asphalt hot all day. Workers for a private contractor allegedly put diesel in the machine to clean it out and let the diesel leak onto the municipal site.
Spilled diesel at the River Road sewer department facility.

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  1. Is anyone minding the store to make sure taxpayers aren’t being stolen from? Didn’t think so.

  2. Excellent reportage! A good reason to vote this primary election for new blood.

  3. @Anon – when you say “new blood” do you mean drain the swamp? Make Princeton Great Again? Maybe there’s a fresh face on the scene. Brash. Isn’t encumbered with a record or, you know, facts, and tells it like it is. Or at least tells it like they want it to be enough times that it starts to stick like a nickname. Credentials fuzzy enough but great enough to project whatever one wants to hear. Seems we’ve gone down that path elsewhere. Hasn’t worked so well.

  4. @ The Wiz- I don’t know which female candidate you are disparaging- – which council member up for re-election is responsible for oversight of the maintenance department?- better check on the town website….. the clique in town that runs everything is a swamp- have you seen the condition of the roads- third world countries have better roads- where’s the money going? literally- on the back of someone’s truck. let’s welcome immigrants into town, then look the other way as they live in squalid conditions, sometimes multiple families sharing a room. Yes- it’s time for a change.

  5. “Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert has not responded” Liz Lempert never responds when there is an issue that does not fit her agenda!
    She is a terrible mayor, I am a die hard democrat but I have never voted for her or the “Princeton democratic clique”, they do a terrible job.
    We have had a chief of police that stole Princeton property, ( see planet Princeton March 28, 2016) another one Dudek, a sexual offender that was selected by a committee headed by Liz Lempert that resulted by costing the taxpayers over $4M.
    Do we need to talk about the terrible parking situation with the new meters?

  6. Public works dept and sewer dept trucks often sit at shopping center for hours by the park with workers sleeping inside. I see it regularly. Whoever oversees these groups is asleep at the wheel or in on the scam.

  7. Getting some Republican members of the council is the only way to help fix Princeton’s broken system.

  8. Worked in public works for 4 years in Princeton guys taking stuff home was always normal and how many workers take town trucks home every day that’s a good question . They take trucks home using town gas and wouldn’t we all like to have no cost for our commute. I know they still do it because I see them on 195 daily on my commute

  9. This matter should be investigated by the state, not handled by other corrupt town employees. The administrators and engineers that head these departments should have their professional licenses revoked and should be fired. Low level employees do not have the power to authorize illegal dumping and have the direct access to the information regarding contractors working for the town. This cannot be tolerated at any level let alone at the top, which is where this corruption stems from. Committing a crime during a state pensioned job is cause for losing your pension as well. No deals should be given to these people like the parking enforcement received a few years back. You got caught and you deserve everything that comes with it, anything else is insulting to every taxpayer in this state. Take your punishment, just like the bribes you took.

  10. One gallon of oil can contaminate one million gallons of water. The diesel fuel and the oils that still persist in those asphalt millings far exceed those numbers. Sounds to me like they just created a Superfund site. That facility sits right above the Millstone River too. Anyone involved in this should be ashamed of themselves and cannot be allowed to continue to work here. Mayor Lempert needs to protect this town and her job by doing the right thing. I don’t think the university will care who she fires, that’s who she really works for anyway.

  11. The state better get involved with this and Mayor Lempert better be the one calling them. She can’t possibly trust any sort of internal investigation and neither can we. This most certainly stems from the top and they need to be held accountable in every way. She and Marc Dashield need to fire, take pension, and repeat with anyone involved. No sweetheart deals either, do your jobs!!!!!!

  12. I hope you will continue to pursue this story aggressively. Please push the mayor for a statement.

  13. This needs to be taken out of Princeton’s hands immediately. The state needs to come in and take over any investigation. They’ve probably already hired lawyers for these employees on the taxpayers. This is supposed to be a progressive forward thinking town and this wanton disregard for the environment is a slap in its face. Anyone who makes any deal with these employees to get a slap on the wrist should go too. Shame on all of you.

  14. I agree with the comments regarding not only firing but taking away the pension and benefits from anyone involved in this debacle. This is going to cost the town dearly in cleanup time and costs. I worked hard to earn my pension and I’ve seen too many times people like this be allowed to resign and keep everything they stole. This type of behavior needs to be dealt with to fullest extent of the law if you ever want to keep it from happening again. Where are you Mayor Lempert? Great reporting Krystal, thank you once again.

  15. There are a couple of tendencies in this town, one is hiring consultants after consultants when there is plenty of expertise amongst the citizens of Princeton; but, arrogance perhaps, makes the government spend money in consultants instead of rounding up people who will volunteer to analyse the issues and find a solution based on what is best for the town and its taxpayers. In other words, listening to constituents is not on top of the list, neither saving consultants’ fees.
    The other tendency is swiping problems under the rug with the hope that people forget.
    So, here we have a problem that I am pretty sure, they would prefer to swipe under the rug, but one that actually needs external investigation; hopefully not a costly one.
    So far, only one person has implied that the article is full of lies. That person, in my opinion, should put his or her name out so, we know of his or her involvement. Obviously, he or she must work in the municipality; otherwise, where is that certainty coming from?
    Let’s see what happens. I am sure that all taxpayers would prefer that this story is not true; however, PP doesn’t publish stories without a thorough investigation, so, as unfortunate as this is, I believe everything I read here.

  16. I’m surprised more Princeton experts and fair weather environmentalists haven’t weighed in on this. I hope you’ve contacted other news outlets to carry this story Krystal. You’re a great journalist and this is pretty disturbing to say the least. I’ve been to that facility too, it’s loaded with cameras so much more evidence exists.

  17. This kind of stuff comes right from the top. The guys you see on the street don’t have the ability or the influence to hide that amount of material. They’re just doing what their bosses tell them to do. Most of them are good guys and try to help the residents anyway they can. I hear these days they’re all working out of trailers and sheds. How can they have the worst facilities with the amount of taxes collected in that town, where’s all that money going? By the way, millings are put directly into trucks from the milling machines and should be dumped at Trap Rock immediately after, they’re not materials you stage anywhere and everyone involved knows that. That’s going to cost the town a lot of money. Heads need to roll and I agree with the other posters, no deals on this one.

  18. @Not always sunny- you’re right – where is sustainable Princeton ? Oh that’s right- they were all put in by Lempert. Such hypocrisy- they will go through garbage to make sure you didn’t throw away plastic, but now there’s a situation with illegal dumping and potential for environmental clean up and not a word. Shameful! They wont say anything because they don’t want Lempert (or Quinn whom they are supporting) to look bad. Power corrupts absolutely

  19. There’s no “misperceptions” in those photos, Mr. Dashield. If you can’t see that, then maybe you’re not qualified to do your job either. Those materials and that fuel on the ground cannot be at that facility period. Too bad everybody at that level has so much dirt on each other that no one is willing to make a move. Krystal Knapp of Planet Princeton is the best detective in that town, let her figure it out. So much wasted money in Princeton, amazing.

  20. Remember to vote tomorrow, June 4th. And remember to vote in November, too. Vote with your conscience, it is the only way.

  21. Krystal blew the lid off the parking enforcement scandal years ago. One of those employees resigned with his pension and the other got transferred to where you ask?, the Princeton Sewer Operating Committee until he was eligible to receive a pension. Corruption has been the norm in this town. And still nothing but silence from our elected officials.

  22. There is more about parking…the area behind the ‘old’ post office location in downtown Princeton is *unofficially* used for parking. Who can park there and without any visible parking permit sticker or a tag is a unbeknownst to me, but I am certain that is not ‘quite legal’.

    When I asked the Parking Enforcement Officer, I’ve been told that “all of these vehicles parked have a permit”. Weird, as I can’t recall any ordinance dedicating sidewalk’ area.for ‘permit only parking’.

  23. Mayor silence on this speaks volumes. public works and sewer dept leadership needs to be held accountable. no more covering for workers to save face. bad decisions on top of bad decisions by this mayor and town manager

  24. The parking situation behind the old post office is PRIVATE PROPERTY there for parking officers can not issue a summons unless contacted by the owner of the property to issue a summons

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