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.
Support Planet Princeton
Local investigative, enterprise and community journalism.
Funded by our readers, available to all.