Officials acknowledge lack of oversight and ‘widespread and systemic violation’ of policies and procedures at Princeton sewer department site

Officials in Princeton announced Monday afternoon that a department director has been fired as a result of the ongoing investigation into illegal dumping and mismanagement of municipal land on River Road in the northern part of town that includes wetlands and is located near the Millstone River.

“Recent information released to the municipality from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office as part of its ongoing investigation concerning allegations of illegal dumping at Princeton’s River Road Facility shows a widespread and systemic violation of municipal policies, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection rules, and other regulations,” reads a statement from Princeton Administrator Marc Dashield.

“On June 6, the direct supervisor of sewer operations was terminated. New details from the investigation indicate that the department director also did not provide appropriate oversight. Consequently, effective Monday June 24, 2019, the Municipality has terminated the employment of the director of infrastructure and operations,” reads the statement.

Robert Hough, an engineer who has served as the director of infrastructure and operations since afterthe two Princetons consolidated, was placed on paid administrative leave two weeks ago while police and the prosecutor’s office investigated allegations that contractors were allowed to dump dirt, asbestos, asphalt, concrete, plastic and other materials at the 60-acre site in exchange for kickbacks to an employee or employees. Thomas Hughes, the supervisor of the sewer department, was fired on June 6, and has since been charged with bribery in the second degree in the case. A third lower-level sewer department employee was also fired last week for allegedly selling municipal property.

The firing of Hough comes three days after Planet Princeton published another story in the investigative series about the sewer department property revealing through documents obtained using the state’s Open Public Records Act that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection flagged issues at the River Road municipal site back in February. Last week, the NJDEP issued a violation notice to the town for running an illegal landfill after four inspectors visited the site.

“The municipality is reviewing the organizational structure of its sewer operations and tightening oversight procedures,” reads the statement by Dashield. “Further, we are taking the necessary steps to perform a thorough environmental cleanup of the River Road site. A llcensed site remediation professional will test for any possible contamination or runoff and ensure that the site is properly restored. Princeton is also taking the appropriate steps to ensure those who dumped materials will be held responsible.”

On Friday in a separate statement, Dashiels said that the municipality is “committed to a full and thorough investigation of the allegations of improper dumping at River Road.”

“We are committed to ensure any and all inappropriate or illegal activities are uncovered and rectified and that all responsible parties are held accountable,” he wrote. “We have requested that the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office oversee the investigation to ensure maximal openness and transparency.”

In the statement Friday, he said that because of the criminal investigation, officials are limited in what we can share with the public.

“As pertinent information is released to the municipality, however, we will take all necessary administrative and personnel actions required. To date, the municipality has taken administrative action against three employees, and we anticipate that those numbers could increase as additional information becomes available,” Dashield wrote Friday. “Furthermore, the municipality is launching a full review of our administrative policies and procedures, including those related to internal controls to mitigate the potential for any future infractions…The wrongful actions uncovered through this investigation are offensive to our core values and a violation of the public trust. We are committed to determine the cause and expunge these offenses from our organization.”

An uncovered container full of asbestos found by a county inspector on municipal property on River Road in Princeton recently.

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6 comments
  • dasheild said two weeks ago this was probably all just a misunderstanding. Read the latest from Planet Princeton and then let that quote from him sink in.

  • Town manager is in charge of oversight of all employees and all day to day operations. Every day. All day.

  • Widespread and systematic? And administrator doesn’t have to answer for it? Town officials cannot frame it as such and let the person in charge get a pass. Their credibility is in the sewer at this point, pun intended. We the people have the power to make our own changes come election time, this year and next.

  • My Oh My. Princeton Administrator Marc Dashield has gone from telling the Planet Princeton reporter two weeks ago, in perfect knee-jerk,cover-up mode, that the alleged dumping crimes were perhaps a “misunderstanding” or God help us a “misperception.”
    After a deafening silence, Mr. Dashield is now a full- time crime fighter. He’s pointing fingers left and right at all the bad actors. Keep pointing Marc. When you get to yourself and where the mayoral buck stops, we will have solved this case.

  • Such a sad, sad day for Princeton. If this was going on ‘for years,’ shame on the others who knew and did nothing…or did they bring it to the attention of those at the top who neglected to investigate allegations of wrong doing? I think there might be more to this breach of the public trust.

  • Who was supervising Hough- Dashield – Marc has to go too- this was going on for years!

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