Allegations of misuse of Princeton sewer department property and equipment referred to prosecutor

Asphalt and dirt from a private contractor job allegedly were dumped at the sewer department site on River Road over the Memorial Day weekend.

The Municipality of Princeton has conducted an initial investigation into allegations that a sewer department employee and contractors are misusing municipal property and equipment, and has referred the matter to the local police and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s office for further investigation, an official said.

“We take any and all allegations of misconduct seriously and will support Mercer County with any assistance they need,” Princeton Administrator Marc Dashield said in a press release sent to reporters.

Planet Princeton published a story last Thursday and contacted the mayor and administrator two weeks ago regarding allegations that a Princeton municipal property at 298 River Road that is operated by the local sewer department and funded by taxpayer dollars has allegedly been used by at least four private contractors as a dumping ground for dirt and asphalt and a source for cheap equipment and labor for more than one company. 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 went out during business hours and observed municipal employees and town vehicles at private job sites, and in the past witnessed loads of dirt being taken from a job to the municipal property.

When initially contacted about the allegation by the reporter, Dashield said that there may be a misunderstanding or misperception about what has been happening.

Employees alleged that they were being sent to do work for contractors that is not within the scope of the work usually done by municipal sewer department employees for private contractors and homeowners. Employees allege, for example, that workers and a $300,000 jet truck were used to help a contractor install new sewer line pipes between the curb and a residence in March.

Town officials said in an initial statement that sometimes municipal employees are allowed to help contractors do certain work. “With regard to the specific allegations related to the use of a municipal jet truck for sewer work, the sewer operating division staff occasionally use the jet truck to clear sewer laterals to relieve sewer backups into residential homes. This service is extended to all residents,” Dashield wrote in the follow-up press release about the investigation.

Planet Princeton asked more questions in response to the last press release seeking clarification as to whether the statement means that the use of the jet truck at the incident observed was a legitimate use by a private contractor, even though employees claimed it was not something they would ordinarily do for a contractor. Planet Princeton also asked whether the employee who allegedly made deals with contractors is still working with pay, suspended with pay, or suspended without pay during the investigation. Dashield has not responded to the questions yet.

Less than 12 hours after the initial story about the allegations was posted on Planet Princeton last Thursday, a contractor who has keys to the River Road facility allegedly unlocked the gates, came in on Friday morning, loaded up a truck with stone that was bought by the municipality, and allegedly hauled it away to use for a private job. The previous week, asphalt and dirt from a private job on Dodds Lane allegedly were dumped at the site.

A worker provided municipal officials last week with a video where a driver acknowledged the dirt he was dumping at the municipal site was from the renovation of Mary Moss Park in downtown Princeton. Under the contract for that project, it was the company’s responsibility to dispose of the dirt. The employee alleged to Planet Princeton that about 40 truck loads of dirt were dropped off in exchange for $75 cash per load.

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 disposed of at special facilities. Contractors say the state’s regulations are very strict, and that one can’t just dump asphalt anywhere. Diesel has also been emptied at the River Road site, a 100-acre area with wetlands.

Employees alleged that the dumping and misuse of equipment and workers has been going on for about three or four years.

A private contractor’s hotbox carrying asphalt was routinely cleaned out at the municipal site and diesel was allowed to leak into the ground. The site contains wetlands.

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19 comments
  • Bob Rabner get it straight it’s not a maintenance building, it’s an EMS building

  • I just want to say, thanks Krystal!!!! You are the only one who objectively report on this town. Thanks to you the municipality had to act and though it is still possible that they swipe more stuff under the rug, at least they put this in hands of the prosecutor, too. They had no choice, I guess, but it might be too little too late. Keep the good work, Krystal. We want truth!

  • Our municipal officials are concerned about bikes and dog parks but, under their noses, there is reported municipal corruption on a grand scale. No transparency. Default mode is the cover-up. Take your pick: the expensive police sexual harassment suit, the canopy, the meters and now the big dump. Throw them out!

  • Great reporting. This is very disconcerting and even more so in the face of the new Maintenance Building on Terhune, which it appears, was green lighted with no public discussion.

  • If this was a private business, this would be over already. People would be arrested and shut down on the spot. Who’s running the show? The people running that facility should be removed from their duties immediately, not left in place to cover it up. I fully expect this to be mishandled and brushed aside, business as usual in Princeton. Higher powers need to seize control right now! Shame the mayor isn’t available for comment.

  • Meanwhile over at the PPS Board of Education (also Lempert’s people) they are approving referendum projects 50 PERCENT over budget. How long is the money going to last and what’s not going to get done ?

  • Hi Krystal, great job, I tried suggesting your story be carried by NJ news 12 for some more exposure. I hope you don’t mind. All I saw on their website was a poll about, ironically enough, “World Environment Day”, what a joke. You’re the only one reporting real news anywhere it seems. I hope you’ve reached out somewhere too, these types of stories need to be heard. Thank you.

  • It’s ok, the Millstone River right across the street from this facility flows into Rocky Hill and Montgomery, I’m sure they don’t care. By the way it provides drinking water to tens of thousands in central NJ. Don’t worry though, Princeton and the Governors mansion are upstream. Way to go guys.

  • When they find out who’s involved with this, they need to strip those individuals of their professional licenses. The whole reason you hire someone for a job like this is to ensure, based on their experience and education that this sort of thing doesn’t happen. The boards governing anyone’s license that is involved needs to be contacted so the appropriate actions are taken, which would be suspension or revocation. Firing and stripping them of their pensions would also be appropriate in this case. People are probably afraid to speak up in most cases like this, thats a shame, glad someone finally saw enough.

  • Princeton’s upper management has always operated on the premise of “ what can you do for me”, not what can you offer this town. I’ve watched so many good people in every department walk out the door because of it. The leadership needs to adopt a more team centric approach and has stop rewarding people who do nothing more than throw other employees under the bus. Employment in this town is not in any way a prestigious accomplishment but merely a stepping stone for most. They need to adopt more fair way of promoting those who deserve it and the mayor and council need to act as actual liaisons between the employees and management instead of being figure head ribbon cutters. The top companies in the world don’t treat their employees like garbage but Princeton does, and this is the result. You’re supposed to be operating a town not a company anyway. Shaving money off your budget is so simple too, stop giving everyone a car to take home!!!! You’re handed money no matter what to provide services, not profit, not generate income. Three to four years of this going on, that’s a fear based management strategy, which spells failure every time. No leaders in this town that I can see.

  • When I hear that this has been going on for 3 to 4 years, that tells you this goes way up. There’s no way a common worker could’ve done this alone for that long without being caught. This is like an onion, multiple layers of abuse going on here. As always though, the lawyers will be making a fortune either way. Princeton loses again.

  • Now that we are 5+ years into consolidation, it may be time to look at our town/”small city” governance and at shifting standards and expectations for our Mayor and Council Person roles so that we (hopefully) can elect people with experience relevant to overseeing a larger municipality and all of the complexities that brings. Not to mention dealing with the external complexities: Princeton U being essentially a large business with more leverage than ever, our smaller local institutions like Rider and PTS at the opposite end of the continuum having to make decisions that will affect the town forever based on immediate financial solvency; constantly changing retail and downtown “tourism” dynamics; infrastructure investment needs; and I’m not sure what to call the management of the costs of ethical/malfeasance issues like the police harassment settlement and the dump property misuse — among myriad other challenges. And I know we don’t want to treat our government and public institutions like they are private or for-profit, and that we don’t have control over all of the above — which again begs for people qualified to deal with the county, state, fed. Perhaps Ms. Crumiller and Mr. Quinn could spend some time considering Princeton’s future governance needs given their unique positions of being on the inside while also preparing to transition out of their roles.

  • Lempert will throw Dashield under the bus in a nano second but ultimately she’s responsible. She has to go, Dashield, and the head of public works who is either lazy or complicit. Bye bye pensions.

  • this has to stop and the people in charge need to be held accountable like dashield who nobody even knows but now having his second big employee theft on his watch . time for change at top.

  • Krystal Knapp is a local hero. You and this story deserve much more notoriety. This type of behavior by public employees and officials is killing this state. Nice to see people went and voted for a change, it speaks volumes. You should run for mayor Krystal.

  • I’ll make this real simple for all the investigators involved, who had the keys to give out?, who gave them to the contractors?, and who has been watching the cameras for the last few years?. Somebody would’ve been caught in that period of time by a superior watching the cameras. This is an easy slam dunk, don’t let them get away with this. Make them the poster boys for what happens to corrupt public employees. You’re about to get sucked dry by lawyers claiming to get you off and it’s going to cost you a lot more than 75 dollars a load.

  • NJ DEP needs to get in there immediately if they aren’t already. That material is there plain as day and it doesn’t belong there. They need to start testing and trying to determine how far those oils have traveled. Glad to hear the prosecutors office has gotten involved. Wish the mayor and council cared one bit, unbelievable!!!!

  • There is no way a low level employee is responsible for this amount of misuse. The cameras on that facility are monitored by management. There is also no possible reason that material should be there in the first place. Those employees are also in the PERS pension system of the state, they need to take their pensions away as well as fire them if these allegations are proven true. No walk off into the sunset deals either. Sounds like a lot of obvious evidence has already come to light. I get so furious when I see all this greed and corruption in this state, thank God someone stood up and said something.

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