Dumping at Princeton sewer department site prompts visits from Mercer County public health official, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

Drone aerial footage of the Municipality of Princeton’s sewer department facility on River Road near the border of Kingston and Rocky Hill.

Four representatives from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection inspected the Princeton municipal sewer department site on River Road on Wednesday and determined that materials were dumped at the site without proper approvals, officials confirmed to Planet Princeton yesterday.

Last week, an official from the Mercer County Division of Public Health also visited the site to check for violations and referred the matter to the state.

Princeton Administrator Marc Dashield said the municipality must now hire a licensed site remediation specialist to advise town officials about necessary cleanup actions.

It is still unclear what the costs associated with the cleanup could be and how much money Princeton taxpayers will be required to pay for the remediation of the site. Hundreds of truck loads of dirt and other materials have been dumped at the more than 60-acre site over the past three or four years.

“The municipality is exploring all avenues for holding all contractors responsible for damages incurred by the town,” Dashield said.

Planet Princeton contacted the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for comment about the site last Thursday and contacted the Mercer County spokesperson yesterday for information about the county’s site visit. In both cases, spokespeople said they would get back to the reporter when they had more information.

A citizen journalist took aerial video footage of the River Road site for Planet Princeton with a drone on Monday. The video shows large areas of dirt and asphalt milling materials near the rear of the property. Planet Princeton compared aerial images with old satellite images of the site. The comparison shows how portions of the property are now covered in layers of dirt that were not there previously. Comparing photos, one can also see that trees and other vegetation were cleared near the rear of the site. The area now contains dirt and other materials.

An old satellite photo of the rear of the River Road municipal site.
A drone captured an aerial of the same area on June 10, 2019. Many of the trees have been cleared and there are piles of dirt and asphalt in their place. Photo by Planet Princeton contributor.

An investigation by Planet Princeton about dumping at the site was published two weeks ago. Several sources had alleged that dirt, asphalt, concrete, asbestos and other materials from private contractor jobs were being dumped at the River Road site. Planet Princeton collected videos and photos that backed up the assertions of the sources. Some sources also claimed that municipal vehicles and employees from the sewer department were being used by a private contractor. Initially, town officials told Planet Princeton the allegations were perhaps a “misunderstanding” or “misperception.”

A private contractor dumps dirt at the River Road site.

The River Road site, which houses the sewer department and the municipal convenience center, is located just across the road from the Millstone River, and the site contains wetlands. The dumping of asphalt and other materials at the site raises numerous environmental issues and concerns.

Recycling and the disposal of asphalt milling materials is highly regulated in New Jersey. According to a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection document, the bitumen binder used in asphalt paving contains a large concentration of a family of carcinogenic compounds that can pose serious human health and environmental concerns in certain circumstances — for example when asphalt material is ground into very small particles that easily blow off of or wash from the surface. The compounds are known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Asphalt millings used without a paved top surface have the potential to migrate through the actions of water, wind, and physical displacement, and could possibly contaminate surrounding soils and surface water sediments, according to the NJDEP document.

A private contractor also dumped diesel at the River Road property after cleaning out a “hotbox” used for asphalt. Asbestos, wood, concrete and other materials were also allegedly dumped at the site by contractors.

On Wednesday, the director of the department of infrastructure and operations for the municipality was placed on paid administrative leave while officials continue to investigate the failure of the sewer department to follow NJDEP regulations. The police and Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office are investigating possible criminal activity related to the sewer department property.

Princeton Police Chief Nick Sutter said the police secured the site after the matter was referred to his department. Contractors and employees are not allowed at the site, and the convenience center is currently closed to the public.

Materials from a private job allegedly dumped by a contractor at the Municipality of Princeton’s River Road facility.
A private contractor’s hotbox. The contractor allegedly used the municipal site as a staging facility for its local operations.
Diesel from a hotbox leaks on the ground at the River Road site.

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18 comments
  • Mudding the waters won’t do. Not knowing what was happening and anger after learning about it won’t do either. It not only looks bad, it is bad. It is bad what has been happening, it is bad that the ones in charge didn’t know ( their words, not mine). Can’t wait to hear about the investigation, findings, consequences, money to be spent fixing this, and actions to be taken to prevent this and only God knows what else, from happening again. Can’t wait to hear the official communication from government.

  • Agree, @Anonymous. The mayor and any of the incumbents and candidates could have commented if they wanted, and still can if they choose. Instead, they’re relying on Marc Dashield when they should realize, if they remain inexplicably blind to it, that his performance as municipal Administration may well be part of the problem. It’s anathema to me that he hasn’t been placed on leave along with Bob Hough.

    I, for one, am glad to have any information I can get before I vote. It’s bad enough for those of us who are independents or unaffiliated to have to register as Democrats to have any voice at all here. Tim’s a decent guy who has devoted a lot of time to Princeton. But this and the many other troubling situations that have reached the public eye in the last few years (thanks mostly to Krystal) are far more important to the majority of tax-paying residents than bike lanes.

    Priorities, folks.

  • I too had the thought about the timing of the story, but there’s really no alternative. Does one hold the story and benefit some candidates? That seems unethical. It sounds like PlanetPrinceton gave the town the headsup and the town could have been proactive in addressing it a couple of weeks earlier. That would have put a different spin on the story.

    Regardless, if there wasn’t corruption and mismanagement, there wouldn’t have been a story. Given that Ms. Crumiller (in reference to parking policy) believes that the town should not be lenient and give a 10-minute grace period, there’s no reason to be lenient when corruption is involved.

  • There is an investigation going on, one employee has already been fired and another one is on paid leave. Obviously, there is something wrong. It is refreshing to read some sort of objective commentary from “Just wondering”; however, I still think that he/she is trying to defend the indefensible and that is being paranoid about an “agenda” because the news about this was published right before elections. Interesting, like this is the reason why the incumbent lost? Really? When the investigation is finalised, we, the tax payers, want to read everything about it, and the measures taken to correct the mistakes and avoid further problems. If the comments on this thread are offensive and passionate against a government that has not precisely earned an A+ in communication with the tax payers in multiple issues, with open sessions where they are not actually listening but just following the protocol as decisions have already been made, well, it is because what I just wrote, people are tired, people are disappointed, people are a tad fed up. Granted that there are people who will blindly follow the mayor and council and applaud all their decisions, good or bad, but what else is new? It happens, there are people who will make excuses and never even constructively criticise when things are not right, we see it daily locally and nationally. If people in government are not ready to admit their mistakes, to own what went wrong on their watch, they simply lack leadership skills, and people notice that.

  • Oversight is clearly lacking from the top level of employees. Starts with Administrator – captain of the ship. How is he making decisions still when his lack of oversight COULD be part of the problem? Definition of a conflict.

  • I’m not up here trying to defend anyone. I just know that there are facts that have changed. I was just asking if anyone else noticed the witch-hunt going on. I was getting rather disturbed at hearing all the trash talking and bashing going on. What if none of the accusations we read about aren’t even found to be illegal. What if we are only getting one side of this. There are too many unseen and unsaid truths Someone is practicing at being an illusionist and why have egg on our faces in the end? Here’s one – I’m being shown a picture of a hotbox supposedly leaking diesel,right? But in the article is says that a contractor was dumping diesel. So what’s the real truth why should I be left guessing? Would any one of you then sing the praises for the practices of our town employees if all these we’re unfounded and false. Well Of Course Not it’s easier to round up a posse before all sides are even heard. I do t think we should dust the pitchforks and torches just yet.
    I would like to see what this investigation actually finds out in the end. I,too, care where my taxes go but why would someone else care where my money goes. I also care to know that our administration fights for the real truth to be told. Do any employees actually live here? Are these employees living large and high on the hog? No real reward in jeopardising themselves? So then what’s the real reason someone got their panties in a bunch. Maybe we will find out one day and hopefully soon. The longer this goes on I fear the more of our monies will be misused. But I’m guessing who won’t care, the puppeteer that is having their main objective met and using our money to do so.
    The sad part is when the administration did give an answer to the use of a truck and the assistance of employees it was just dismissed and wasn’t repeated in each article as everything else had been. I was just merely pointing out how accusations in these articles have been stressed and stretched to appear as cold, hard, and one sided facts. Each alleged act should be addressed as to how it should’ve been handled or what the protocol/procedures for each are. It may end up being tedious but I’m interested in the whole story. Aren’t you?
    Yes I agree that corruption goes much higher than our sewers. I’ve seen and heard some stories from fellow neighbours of many political agendas that go unseen by the public. This article came out during our last election. Was there something to that timing? As taxpayers if we are expecting a perfect world we are just kidding ourselves. Someone recently said maybe this investigation should start at the top.
    Maybe even get an outside investigative team that has no interest either way but to see it clearly and with clean hands, reach the real truth. That way when anything else that comes out in this investigation about anyone there’s no qualms or questions about what should be done. Don’t want my taxes going to payoffs from lawsuits against our town for jumping to conclusions. Can’t wait to see what the sources will drum up on the next department.

  • “Just wondering” seems to be trying to defend the indefensible. Not sure what he or she is implying, not too clear, some nonsense innuendo. There is no need to wonder about pictures and alleged changes of facts, wonder about where your tax money goes because the incompetence and corruption have reached the highest level.

  • The facts are simple and plain as day “just wondering”. That material can’t be dumped at that facility ever and everyone, I mean every single one knows that. No debating it, no miscommunication, no “I didn’t know”. These are supposedly licensed professionals, and they need to lose those licenses and then some. A lot of the contractors are vetted through the state also, though I don’t know if that’s the case here. However this should be all spelled out in the contract, let’s see those. This is a very big and expensive deal, firing and kicking them out of the pension system would be a small step in the right direction. This truly is a disaster in every way, especially at the top.

  • Are we just being appeased by officials “let’s do what the paper suggests” Are we looking at WHY all this information came out? WHO benefits from contractors and personnel gone? What’s their agenda? Also would like to point out that a few facts in the story have dramatically changed since it was first published. Pictures made to look like more than they are to fit the accusations. Just because I’m a simple citizen why wouldn’t I want a contractor to be given the information as well as the knowledge to complete a job. If I were the township, I would have them work with them so there aren’t any issues in the future for the residence. So by pushing a camera down a pipe to make someone more knowledgeable about how they need to complete a job, is “misunderstood” as working on township time. Really?!?! As I continue to stay with this article it’s funny how sensational certain things sound as time has gone on. When do we keep the facts focused?

  • The Lock ’em the Hell up Fund should also be consulted to see if Princeton has the fortitude to handle these issues.

  • The Joint Insurance Fund should be consulted to see if Princeton insured to cover these issues.

  • Wow is all I can say. And thanks to Krystal for the thousandth time.
    I did not know about this Robert McQueen, so, still on payroll as “consultant”? Perhaps he threatened to sue and they all got scared. They settle and then they get sued, they keep them on payroll no matter the corruption. What else is there? What other sues are there that we do not know but are paying for them???? Wow!!!! And the deafening sound of the silence of government officials, board members, environmental activists, etc., etc., sure, let’s stop using plastic bags and straws, let’s bike, let’s get a “ silver” medal for sustainability, let’s celebrate more parklets. Don’t get me wrong, all those issues are beautiful and important but it is time to straighten priorities in this town.

  • Our elected officials have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that those who illegally dumped the materials pay the full cost of remediation. The employees and contractors who did this illegal dumping need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We taxpayers will accept nothing less.

  • Placing high ranking admins on paid leave is something that is done until the fuss dies down and then they can hire them back with a different job title or allow them to go work for another town and not face any consequences. Need proof? Remember Robert McQueen who sold Princeton computer equipment illegally while he was CIO of the town? He was on paid leave, then came back as an “analyst” for special projectors and is now Director of Information Technology at Franklin Twp. while still on the Princeton pay roll as a consultant for technology. Steals from the town, and the political machine makes sure he still has a job and benefits. Look at his public LinkedIn profile… it is all there to see. Krystal also covered this story …

  • Fire, take pensions, repeat. This is going to cost a fortune to remediate. Anything less than punishment to the fullest extent is insulting to taxpayers. This needs to be a landmark case for the whole state, it’s taxpayers, and employees. It’s so sad when good, honest employees are too afraid to speak up in fear of reprisal and this type of incident goes on this long. No deals for anyone involved in this, wait until you see the bill for this cleanup. The only way to even think of recouping any of these costs is not to pay these individuals for the rest of their lives via the pension system. This should be statewide news at the least, great job Krystal.

  • Yeah Dashield it’s the contractors fault, get a clue. Corrupt town employees told them to dump those materials there and put the money in their pockets. Clean house Mayor Lempert, in fact resign yourself, your house is filthy!!!!

  • Dasheild looking for ways to get contractors to pay for cleanup? If dasheild and company simply followed rules there would not be anything to clean up. Ridiculous. Massive leadership failure on Dasheilds watch again

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