Insurance company rejects municipality’s claim for illegal dumping clean-up costs at River Road site

Princeton sewer operating committee site
Directions for where contractors should dump were even posted on a sign. A state inspector took this photo at the Princeton municipal sewer department site on Feb. 15 of 2019. Planet Princeton received it as part of a public records request.

Chubb Insurance has denied the municipality of Princeton’s claim to cover costs related to the cleanup at the town’s sewer operating committee site on River Road. The site was being used as an illegal dump.

Employees of the municipality allegedly accepted bribes in exchange for allowing private contractors to dump concrete debris, used asphalt, asbestos, and other materials at the town property, which is located next to wetlands. At least one contractor involved in the illegal dumping was allegedly using the town property as a staging location for commercial jobs, and was using municipal employees and town equipment for commercial jobs at private homes, even though the employees were on the clock working for the town. Three employees for the town and one contractor were charged in the dumping scandal, and a department head was terminated.

The illegal dumping scandal was first reported in a series of stories by Planet Princeton in June of 2019. Planet Princeton had to file a lawsuit against the municipality, the county, and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office to obtain public records related to the site. Public records requests with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) also revealed that a state official who visited the sewer authority next door to the River Road sewer operating committee site had flagged potential problems at the site. The complaint slipped through the cracks and was never followed up on by anyone at the state agency.

On Monday night, the Princeton Council voted to approve up to $50,000 to pay lawyer John Scagnelli of Scarinci & Hollenbeck for legal fees related to the River Road site clean-up. Scagnelli was hired in October of 2019, according to documents included in the council’s agenda packet for the Monday meeting.

Town Administrator Marc Dashield said during the council meeting that Chubb Insurance has rejected the town’s claim to cover costs associated with the River Road site. Scagnelli is now doing an analysis to determine whether the town should move forward with a lawsuit against the insurance company for non-payment of the insurance claim. “He will provide the council with that shortly,” Dashield said of the analysis, adding that most of charges for Scagnelli are for work that was already done in 2020 and early 2021. Scagnelli will be paid $24,215 for work done in 2020, and $16,268 for work done so far this year. Dashield said Scagnelli was also hired to evaluate whether the town should sue any third parties involved in the dumping, and to negotiate with the NJDEP regarding a notice of violation and fines issued by the state to the municipality for the illegal dumping.

The NJDEP fined the municipality of Princeton $35,000 for operating a dump without proper permits. The town has already approved more than $560,000 to be paid to environmental consultant Whitman Associates for soil testing and the removal of a container filled with asbestos. It is still unclear how much the actual cleanup at the site will cost.