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.
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