Contractor sues town of Princeton claiming company was only following officials’ orders when dumping on municipal property

ICUNJ trucks staged at the municipal sewer department site on River Road in Princeton last year.

Integrated Construction and Utilities of New Jersey, an Edison-based company that does sewer repair, demolition, and asbestos abatement work, has filed a lawsuit against the town of Princeton for planning to cancel a multi-million dollar contract because of allegations of illegal dumping on municipal property.

According to court records, ICUNJ contends that the company was directed by public officials in Princeton to leave bags of asbestos-containing materials in containers at the sewer department site on River Road from 2008 to 2018, and therefore shouldn’t be punished for following directions.

The River Road site is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office. Three municipal employees have been fired so far as a probe into kickbacks, illegal dumping and other activities at the site continues.

“There is chaos and confusion in the municipality of Princeton over the use and apparent misuse of a 100-acre staging site operated by the Princeton Sewer Operating Committee on River Road,” reads the lawsuit. “ICUNJ is an innocent bystander to all the shenanigans going on in Princeton regarding this site. Fingers are being pointed in every direction, municipal employees have apparently been fired, and ICUNJ has been scapegoated as one of the culprits.”

The suit filed by ICUNJ on June 28 claims that the company has been performing sanitary sewer reconstruction and rehabilitation work for Princeton since 2008 and that “a specific procedure was enacted at the instruction of certain municipal employees, including Bob Hough and Robert Kiser.”

“Princeton cannot accuse ICUNJ of wrongdoing when the alleged wrongdoing was at the direction of Princeton,” reads the lawsuit.

In December of 2008, ICUNJ was awarded its first sewer project in Princeton, a $1.1 million contract to reconstruct all of the sanitary sewer lines on Edgerstoune Road and Winant Road, according to the lawsuit.

“The project involved digging up the street, disposing of the existing asphalt, and disposing of the existing sanitary sewer lines, which were constructed of either clay, cast iron, or Transite, which is a material that contains a certain amount of non-friable asbestos,” reads the lawsuit. “Since Princeton did not want to alarm local residents during the construction that there was asbestos being dug up and disposed of, a procedure was established whereby the asbestos-containing Transite pipe was wrapped on site, double and triple bagged, and placed in a small transport container especially designed for hazardous materials. The transport container would then be taken by ICUNJ to a designated site as instructed by Princeton representatives.”

The contractor contends that during the project, the company was directed to maintain a dumpster at the Princeton Sewer Operating Committee site on River Road and place all bagged and tagged Transite debris into the dumpster, where it would “ultimately” be transported to a legal dump site. The suit claims that once the asbestos was double and triple bagged, it was no longer considered a hazardous material. “As instructed by Princeton, the dumpster was to remain at the sewer department site, and when it was full a manifest was created and the dumpster was removed for proper disposal,” reads the lawsuit.

According to a response filed by lawyers for the municipality, Princeton officials have video evidence of ICUNJ dumping materials and a container with asbestos materials on the municipal property on River Road.

Anthony Todaro, the lawyer representing Princeton for Mason, Griffin and Pierson, wrote in the response to the lawsuit that ICUNJ can’t justify disobeying state laws and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection regulations.

“According to state law, once collected, asbestos or asbestos-containing waste materials shall be transported directly from the point of generation to the solid waste landfill or transfer station permitted to receive such waste,” Todaro wrote. “Simply put, there can be no justification offered by ICUNJ that it was reasonable to disobey the NJDEP mandates regarding transportation and disposal of asbestos, regardless of what a local department head might or might not have not told ICUNJ.”

Between 2008 and 2018, ICUNJ representatives claim the company followed the same procedure on 10 different projects, according to the lawsuit.

“This procedure was not only authorized by Princeton, but ICUNJ was specifically instructed to follow this procedure in order not to alarm the residents in the neighborhoods where the work was being performed that asbestos-containing materials were being handled in their neighborhoods,” reads the lawsuit. “The alleged misconduct was done at all times under direction and authorization of Princeton representatives.”

In the lawsuit, ICUNJ claims that the company was not engaged in any illegal activities at the River Road site, including the alleged illegal dumping of solid waste or hazardous materials. “All of its activities were authorized and directed by Princeton,” reads the lawsuit.

ICUNJ requested that the municipality provide the company with a staging area, according to the lawsuit. “At no time has ICUNJ ever illegally disposed of any soils or hazardous materials at the River Road site,” reads the lawsuit. “At all times ICUNJ acted with the full knowledge and permission of Princeton supervisors.”

The company also complains in the lawsuit that Princeton has refused to allow ICUNJ to remove its equipment or piping material from the River Road site. The River Road site was closed down and secured by police a few days after Planet Princeton wrote the first story in a series about allegations of illegal dumping and other issues at the sewer department site, which contains wetlands and is located near the Millstone River in the northern part of Princeton.

Shortly after police and the prosecutor’s office began investigating issues at the site, municipal officials announced that the town was going to cancel a $2.75 million contract that was awarded to ICUNJ in April for a sewer rehabilitation project on Linden Lane and Spruce Street. Officials said the contract was canceled due to allegations and evidence that the company illegally dumped hazardous material and other solid waste on the municipality’s property. At the time, officials also said the municipality intends to get contractors to pay for the clean up costs at the site.

ln the lawsuit, ICUNJ argues that the company is still legally entitled to the contract, and that canceling the contract “deprives taxpayers in Princeton of the benefits of the lowest bid.”

In the lawsuit, ICUNJ lists the 10 Princeton projects where the company took asbestos to the River Road site. Two projects from 2016 are listed — a $1.86 million project on Valley Road, and a $692,000 project on Snowden Lane. The last project listed was a $271,000 contract for a storm sewer improvement project in 2017. Yet asbestos has been found on the site in 2019, including a full container discovered by a county employee in June.

One exhibit includes ICUNJ’s 2008 work practices and engineering controls. The document says asbestos containing materials “shall be double wrapped and sealed with duct tape and labeled prior to being transported off site and disposed of at an approved landfill.”

ICUNJ claims the company was authorized and directed to bag asbestos-containing Transite, tag it, and transport it to the River Road site, where it was placed in a dedicated dumpster “for ultimate removal to a legal dumpsite.”

The lawsuit claims that the controversy over the site has nothing to do with ICUNJ, and that the company is being scapegoated “when all it ever did was perform as instructed.” Terminating the contract would be arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable, according to the lawsuit, which calls on a judge to rescind the termination of the contract.

But the lawyer for Princeton, Todaro, has countered that ICUNJ can’t argue it was just following orders. “The record only establishes that, at all times relevant to this dispute, ICUNJ has been readily aware of the lawful method to dispose of asbestos-tainted solid waste,” Todaro wrote in the answer to the town’s answer to the lawsuit.

The Princeton Council is slated to officially vote to rescind the contract with ICUNJ at the July 8 public meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. at the municipal building at 400 Witherspoon Street.

As recently as June 28, a representative from ICUNJ still appears to have had contact with employees from the municipal sewer department. The employees from the sewer department were redeployed to the public works department after the investigation began. Last week, the employees were doing work on the sidewalks on Witherspoon Street for most of the week. Several residents saw an ICUNJ truck parked in front of the sewer department workers near Hamilton Jewelers just before 7:30 a.m. on June 28. One official said it could just be a coincidence. Administrator Marc Dashield noted that the employees were not doing sewer work. Asked why a representative from ICUNJ would be engaging with the workers given the investigation, Dashield did not respond.

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18 comments
  • We had sewer work done on our road a few years ago. The company dumped asphalt back into our front yards/township land that borders the street. I was pulling up chunks of asphalt out of my flower beds. Finally, we just added topsoil and grass. At the time I was just annoyed but reading about this has me wondering. Is that appropriate procedure?

  • @justwondering If you know that false evidence has been presented, you should give that evidence to the police and prosecutor. It appears from your statements and ICUNJ’s lawsuit, that there were many people who knew something wrong was going on for a long time. It’s going to be hard to sort out the mess, but clearly those at the top weren’t on top of the situation, as their job responsibilities demand.

    One has to take issue with your statement that “That facility has been running without major issues for all this time.” considering that there were environmental problems and the town was informed of these problems earlier this year.

  • But as with the church there is someone that is held accountable, to pay out to those who have been wronged. That’s why it’s even more of a shame that tax money will go to those who have also been wronged. It should be a crime to falsify statements and give staged evidence to a newspaper. Just as it is to report falsely to 911. The investigation was on the right track until “whistleblower“ was said but if I’m right they (source)can’t have dirty hands as well and they need to follow the chain of command, not run to the news once they hear something they don’t agree with.
    So are we saying that Princeton is equal to the church and will suffer for the sins of the past? That facility has been running without major issues for all this time. Along with the Employees who go above and beyond their job expectations to keep the residents, council members and other staff happy and running smoothly as humanly possible. And now because the general public is being shown a picture of one thing and being told that it’s something else means that it’s been poorly ran? Damn this guy has put a horrible stain on the community. And should be ashamed of himself and his behavior. I. The end he should have to explain and answer to what he has done. Having admin rush to judgement to please the masses and who suffers in the end. My opinion is the town is who suffers from this farce. Like I said long ago can’t wait until the whole truth leaks out. Apologies will be flying around as loosely as the captions that have been attached to the pictures have.
    One day @Sandra Bierman I will introduce myself once this is over. Hopefully soon.
    It’s such a shame that those who weren’t the intended target got the $;&? of the stick.

  • @JustWondering Sexual abuse went on in the Catholic church for a long time even though people knew it was wrong. That doesn’t make it ok. Eventually, there was justice and people are now being held responsible for their acts. This is a similar situation. One can’t do wrong acts just because that’s the way it was done for 25 years. Or hope to escape accountability.

  • Now, this is a personal vendetta?
    @Just wondering, it is very easy to type and type and even make up stories, as you imply these are. Obviously, this has been on for years, but, that doesn’t make it right. Each time the government changes, the new people should be updated on what goes on, and perhaps, need to be more proactive and more interested so they can actually understand, and if they chose just to get the information, be complacent, and carry on; certainly that is their choice but a wrong one, because then things never get fixed, and the line goes, “ this is how we always do this”, until hell breaks lose, which is what just happened. I am sorry that you are not capable of coming out with a name because you don’t want to lose your job, but you could be a contractor, you could be one of the people who were fired, or you could even be a council member or the mayor, I guess we will never know.

  • I guess we aren’t truly reading this gospel, I never read that “employees were fired due to kickbacks from ICUNJ”. Guess you can make everything into more than it truthfully is by again staging pictures and stretching the truth. Hard to believe that “several residents” are now dropping the dime when it’s pretty likely that it’s the same person from the beginning.
    That place was up and running long before any of these people started. According to some at least 25+ years so it’s sad to see that there’s never been a proper way. How can any public servants feel safe knowing the administration turns their back on them, due to lack of support, guidelines and direction. Should we go back and reprimand those from long ago that left it running like it has been. Better lock up the officers who are dumping lead while using the facilities,too. How many years have they been using the shooting range out there?
    Seems like everyone for a long time has turned a blind eye to the “issues”. Seems like we’re only concerned now because of one person’s personal vendetta that is now being fulfilled. You should look to the source for so called muddying the waters. He sits back to watch it all unfold meanwhile destruction and chaos run amok. I’d love to go on and on but wouldn’t want to get fired or be charged.

  • @justwondering, every time you write you imply that this is just hype. You are sounding as if you are somehow involved in this mess. I wonder who you are and what you actually have to do with this, you try to mud the waters and defend the status quo. Interesting.

  • @angrytax you’ll find out answers in the regular updates promised by mayor or you can call town administrator for answers. Don’t hold your breathe. Remember, according to administrator this was all just a misunderstanding.

  • OMG – it just keeps getting worse. Weak defense offered by ICUNJ. Not sure how that will hold up in court – we are licensed professionals, we know the law but because someone in Princeton told us to break the law we shouldn’t be held responsible for breaking the law. It’s an asinine excuse.

  • @justwondering Do you think the county prosecutors are charging people with crimes based upon the stories/comments here? We definitely shouldn’t rush to judgement but the prosecutor believes that crimes have been committed. It’s concerning that ICUNJ claims that this has been going on for ten year.

  • Employees were fired for kick-backs from ICUNJ which right there is grounds for termination of contractual obligations. When Princeton shows that for last 10 years, ICUNJ has township employees on the dole, there will be a suit against ICUNJ, along with revocation of any licenses issues. And the DEP will likely investigate. This is not going to bode well for Princeton taxpayers that already are hit with SALT. Notice how many homes forsale and nothing in news about “excess inventory”.

  • @justwondering not sure what you are getting at but if it’s defense of town workers involved in this please spare us. Yes plenty of excellent workers for Princeton but the ones involved in this have crossed the line big time including Hughes hough Dan van meter and dasheild.

  • Plenty of guilt to go around on this story from contractor to sewer workers to hough to administrator

  • Well like I said a few articles ago. Maybe we should wait and see before we go running off at the mouths. I feel like we got our answer the first time it just was never completely explained or backed up by the administration. Absolutely no backbone. Stick to what you say. Wow. Anyone feeling the egg yet? What scares me is a town that jumps every time the paper and the very few people who choose to comment, push it in the direction they think. Can we say rush to judgement?I just knew there was way more to this. Maybe now the true storyline will be told. There is still some major corrections that need to be stated. I’m waiting to see the twist we aren’t seeing just yet. Don’t believe the hype!!

  • ICUNJ is an environmental contractor. They don’t know the improper disposal of hazardous waste when they see it? They should lose their license. Meanwhile, taxpayers of Princeton continue to pay for the incompetence of mayor and council and yet another lawsuit!

  • Wait? So who is on first? What controls or oversight procedures does Princeton administrator have in place? Any? Visit facilities often? Please Princeton….hit the reset button.

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