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 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.”
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.
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