Letters: ‘Update’ from Princeton governing body about ‘alleged dumping of hazardous materials’ at municipal site

To the editor:
As Princeton Mayor and Council, we would like to take this opportunity to update residents about the alleged dumping of hazardous materials at the Sewer Department site on River Road.  We are deeply concerned and distressed by this apparent violation of the public trust. There is an ongoing criminal investigation, so we are legally constrained in what we are able to say about the situation, but we would like to give residents as much information as possible.  We will post updates on the municipal website as new information is available.
Here’s what we can tell you: to date, three employees have been terminated. The municipality may take further administrative action as warranted.  The municipality is also reviewing the organizational structure of its sewer operations and tightening oversight procedures.
We are concerned specifically about whether the dirt dumped at the River Road site contained any hazardous materials.  Princeton has hired a Licensed Site Remediation Professional (LSRP), Whitman and Associates, to thoroughly test the site.  The LSRP will work with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to identify and remediate the issues pointed out by NJDEP, perform a site survey (including mapping wetlands) and test to see which, if any, hazardous materials or other contaminates are present on the site. The LSRP will ensure that the site is properly remediated. We want to assure you that the municipality is also taking the appropriate steps to hold responsible those who dumped materials.
We remain open to hearing your concerns about this situation and will work hard to ensure that our residents are kept up to date.  We are grateful that these allegations have been brought to light so that we can take the necessary steps to rectify the situation.
Mayor Liz Lempert, Council President Jenny Crumiller, and Council members David Cohen, Leticia Fraga, Eve Niedergang, Tim Quinn, and Dwaine Williamson


  1. Three big questions remain after this letter: (1) How much will this second bribery scandal in six years cost Princeton taxpayers for all these clean-up costs and legal fees suing others for indemnification? (2) Where is the oversight and accountability by the governing body promised after the last bribery scandal in late 2013 as council members are assigned to each department, specifically, how often are council members attending staff meetings in their assigned departments and actually visiting the department facilities as these big piles of asphalt and asbestos are apparently in plain sight at the facility? (3) What is the current staff culture created by the governing body that whistle blowers felt they needed to report this to Planet Princeton rather than speak freely to the administrator and/ or members of governing body?

  2. “It is never too late” is the saying, but here, in this particular case, it is a little bit too late.

    In the beginning there were talks of “misinterpretation” of facts; then three people were fired, then the hopes that this would go away and that the tax payers would forget; and finally, they have decided to issue a letter to respond, a letter full of the same words uttered by Mr Daschield before.

    Now? After how many days?

    It shows lack of leadership, of owning responsibility of what has happened under your watch, incompetence, and a quite lousy PR.

    Pathetic .

    And as Don C says, one has to wonder what is happening in the other departments. How was this allowed in the first place?

    Council is not only there for budgeting and legislation, it is there to oversight and there has been zero oversight; at least, that is my perception.

    Please, correct me if I am wrong.

  3. I interact with a number of different municipal departments pretty regularly throughout the year, as I would assume most residents do. It’s always easy to tell which ones are on top of things and which ones are flying blind. If I can tell that, how come the town manager cannot? It’s shocking to me.

  4. Your absolutely right about the horrific past and current culture @Don C. The people that moved up were the worst of the worst. They have been telling employees to “shut up or you’re fired” for years. The mayor and council never cared and I’m sure they don’t now. This current regime is nothing short of toxic. Most employees are praying for change and counting the days when they can leave. It’s a real shame that this town has become such a nightmare for so many working in it. There are some great people working for this town but it seems none of them have any power or voice to make a change. All those sticking together at the top can all go down together as far as I’m concerned.

  5. Investigate the planning and zoning departments first…and ask about bribes from developers. It’s amazing how much crucial paperwork “gets lost” or “is currently unavailable” when important environmentally-related hearings approach.

  6. Thanks for your attempt at transparency and accountability; much appreciated. To demonstrate that you do care about the welfare of all, not just the privileged insiders, please consider working to save the 90 beautiful acres of Princeton Ridge land that lie just up the road from the dumping ground. A public park in our town’s under-served northeast section would be a triumph for the Council, just as looking the other way while the McMansions go up betrays citizen trust yet again…especially since the Lanwin site is so important in the history of minorities and women in Princeton.

  7. Don C- you hit the nail on the head. What kind of culture is there in this town that the employee with concerns went to Planet Princeton ? As two of the supervisors were subsequently fired – Hough and Hughes,
    they couldn’t go to them and they didn’t go to Dashield. Where was the council member assigned with oversight of the SOC? Another fail. There are multiple issues that aren’t resolved. Oh and it took mayor and the council more than 6 weeks to share with us that they are on top of this. Doesn’t instill any confidence that this investigation will be thorough or that people will be held accountable.

  8. After my frustrating experience dealing with Princeton officials last year I was not at all surprised to see that what I touched on was just the tip of the iceberg. At my several appearances at the Council meetings I alerted the Council and the Mayor about contactors’ violations of municipal laws and practices but met strong resistance. “Too cozy” relationship between contactors and the municipality warrants an investigation of ALL involved departments not only the infrastructure and operations. To echo other comments, the investigation should include the planning and zoning and the engineering departments. However there is no confidence that the current leadership is willing and/or capable of giving their organization a much needed overhaul. The investigation should be done by new people, not those who have been covering contractors’ actions for decades. It’s time for new leadership!

  9. I’ve worked there for 9 years. Facts are no employees trust Dashield, grosser, mayor or council members. They have mishandled countless personnel situations some public knows and many they dont know. that’s why sewer staff went straight to papers and not to them. We all found out about bob hough being fired from reading on planet Princeton not from Dashield or from mayor. As workers it is known that you can’t speak up about anything because it will get held up against you one way or the other later on and we have seen this happen to our co workers too many times. They will say they want workers to feel like they can come forward but talk is cheap and if you say it and it rocks the boat they will Bury it and then find a way to make your work Life miserable. I can’t put my name on here and nobody else will speak open about this because fear is we will get punished. We show up and work hard to support our families and we can’t afford to get fired. We see it happen to others many Times. Dashield and grosser often not in office and workers never know where they are or who to call when there is a problem.just like public works and sewer dept Dashield grosser and mayor lead using fear tactics on workers. It’s really unfair but how can we speak up when Dashield grosser mayor and council people cannot be trusted to speak up without punishment? There are so many problems that Dashield grosser and mayor don’t even know about.

  10. Landfill corruption is bad. Development corruption is ruining our town. Watch what happens at the planning board on the 18th–the last beautiful piece of the Princeton Ridge will be handed over to Bryce Thompson’s heirs to McMansionize, and old-growth forest, rare wetlands, wildlife corridors and a crucial site for Princeton minority history will all vanish, while board and council obey the big bucks and ignore real public needs. Saving those 90 acres has been a top priority in the Master Plan for 40 years. Do they care? With a few phone calls they could easily have found the funds to make it a park or greenspace, for all. Does anyone else smell kickbacks?

  11. @haroldj: Well, if local government is trying to cover up institutional corruption at the landfill, I can’t wait to see how they spin the fact that the nearby Lanwin property was the township Poor Farm and Pest House until after WWI. Many, many smallpox, TB and yellow fever victims are buried right there…as the planning board well knows.

  12. I’ve heard the same concerns @Anonymous describes expressed by other municipal workers. One idea to consider – establish an outside anonymous hotline service, similar to what public corporations use for SOX compliance. Won’t fix the current mess and not perfect, but may help.

    We also need a new Administrator. Even if some of the criticism being directed at Mr. Dashield isn’t entirely fair, he clearly does not have the confidence or respect of many residents and workers. We need someone new. And that person needs to be empowered and able to speak forthrightly to both Council and to the residents s/he is supposed to serve, and must have the willingness and ability to perform the oversight responsibilities the position requires. Enough is enough.

    As to the governing body, as long as the PCDO retains it outsized influence over who gets on the ballot, we’ll never get the diversity of views and ideas that a broader pool would offer. Non-partisan local elections are the only way to address that problem.

  13. For what I pay in taxes, I expect efficient, honest public service. Our street doesn’t even get its garbage picked up. I conscientiously recycle–and feel like a fool when I learn (thank you, Planet Princeton) about open corruption on River Road. I go to Planning Board meetings–and many big decisions seem to have been reached well in advance. Attorneys go through the motions, board members smirk or yawn.
    And yes, I’ve always wanted a smallpox-infested lot for my McMansion. Watch that scary,
    inappropriate site plan get rubber-stamped too, as the rest of us plead for the public open space we were promised in the Master Plan.

  14. @Lou P: The Lanwin farm may be wrong for a fancy subdivision, but it is perfect for growing marijuana. And very convenient: two schools, two big nursing homes, and two major addiction treatment facilities are within easy walking distance. Sweet!

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