The Princeton Council is slated to vote Monday night on a contract for a consultant to conduct an environmental assessment of the sewer department site on River Road, for a cost of up to $163,375.
Whitman Environmental Consulting, an environmental consulting firm based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has been selected to perform a preliminary environmental assessment of 298 River Road for the municipality.
Princeton officials were not required to conduct a competitive bidding process for the hiring of the environmental firm because the contract is for professional services.
Over a period of six weeks, Whitman will do a site survey, remove a container of asbestos found on the site, soil sampling and analysis to identify any potential soil contamination, and a post-sampling site survey. The assessment is required in order to determine the next steps on the property, which could include the removal of soils from the site. The fees for the assessment do not include the removal of soils or the remediation of the site.
On June 11, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation to the municipality for operating an illegal dumping facility at the site, which includes wetlands and is located in the northern section of Princeton near the Millstone River, bordering Montgomery, Rocky Hill and Kingston. Three Princeton employees have been fired because of illegal dumping activities at the site.
Whitman will conduct a wetlands survey and work to identify any potential environmentally sensitive natural resources near the site. The company will identify wetlands, streams, and other water bodies, previously identified New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection mapped wetlands and floodplains, specialized habits, land use restrictions, and any other information necessary to evaluate the property. Whitman will identify such features on the property, and within 150 feet of the property boundary.
Experts will assess whether illegal dumping, deforestation and the introduction of backfill to create roads, and other similar soil disturbances have occurred in the area of the wetlands.
“Hand auger cores will be collected in areas of suspected dumping to evaluate lateral extent of dumping. Observations of backfill, impacted soils, waste and other anthropogenic materials will be field located and tagged for future survey and removal,” reads the Whitman proposal. “The presence of distressed vegetation, discoloration and other indications of spills or introduction of chemicals will also be surveyed.”
Whitman will discuss findings and future steps that need to be taken to clean up the site with representatives from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
A ground penetrating radar scan will be performed prior to sampling activities to ensure that nothing is buried within the stockpile that would impede soil boring activities, according to the Whitman proposal. Whitman will utilize two drilling rigs and crews to perform the necessary soil borings. A minimum of 50 soil borings will be made at the site to identify soil impacts, and subsurface soils will be screened for the presence of volatile organic vapors. Up to 55 samples will be collected and tested for extractable petroleum hydrocarbons. Tests will also be conducted to rule out groundwater contamination. All samples will be sent to a New Jersey-certified laboratory for analysis. The turnaround time for results is two weeks. At the conclusion of sampling activities, Whitman will plot the locations of samples taken for use in Phase II of the project, waste classification and removal. Any identified wetlands will also be flagged. Phase II is not included in the environmental assessment fees.
According to a memo written by Jeff Grosser, assistant administrator for Princeton, the town is communicating with its insurance carrier to file a claim regarding potential soil contamination clean up at 298 River Road. It is unclear whether the insurance company will cover claims for the clean up. If the company does cover claims, there will still be a deductible. Previously officials said they would attempt to recoup the clean up costs from contractors who dumped materials at the site.
A week ago, Planet Princeton reached out to local environmental groups for comment regarding the illegal dumping at the River Road site.
Sophie Glovier, head of the Princeton Environmental Commission, said the commission requested an update at the last meeting.
“As you know, we work very hard to protect and enhance our local environment and it was disheartening to learn of the illegal dumping,” she said. “Although the Princeton Environmental Commission does not have enforcement powers and it is not our job as volunteers to test the site, we will be reviewing the site survey produced by the licensed site remediation professional and advising the council on determining next steps.”
Sustainable Princeton was asked to comment, and then issued a statement to its supporters a day after the request. Sustainable Princeton then forwarded that statement to Planet Princeton as its comment about the illegal dumping at the site.
“Dear SP Friends and Supporters, Some of you have reached out in recent weeks to express concern about the news of illegal dumping at the Sewer Department site on River Road and to ask if we know anything more than what has been reported in the press,” reads the statement. “The answer is no. Since this is a criminal investigation, we have no additional information beyond what has been publicly shared. However, we share your concerns about these violations and the potentially adverse environmental impacts to the surrounding area.”
The Sustainable Princeton statement then summarized actions the municipality has taken, and linked to a letter from the governing body that was already posted on Planet Princeton.
The head of the Watershed Institute did not respond to a request for comment.