Owner of Crowne Plaza Hotel in Secaucus pleads guilty to pollution Hackensack River

Acknowledgement to Ironshore Environmental

MONDAY, 22 MARCH 2010 16:08

The corporate owner of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Secaucus pleaded guilty Monday to unlawfully discharging wastewater contaminated with sewage into the Hackensack River.

RD Secaucus LP, pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree charge of unlawfully discharging a pollutant in violation of the state Water Pollution Control Act before state Superior Court Judge Lourdes I. Santiago in Jersey City, Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor said.

The corporation, through its attorney, pleaded guilty to an amended count of a Sept. 2 state grand jury indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice.

In pleading guilty, the owner admitted that it unlawfully discharged polluted wastewater into the Hackensack without a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Under the plea agreement, RD Secaucus must pay $75,000 to Hackensack Riverkeeper for its river patrol and maintenance programs. It must also implement a program to monitor the handling of its wastewater and prevent the discharge of pollutants into the river or other surface waters.

An investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Environmental Crimes Section and the DEP revealed that putrid wastewater from an underground tunnel was collecting in a grate-covered pit beside the hotel, located at 2 Harmon Plaza. Hotel staff rigged a pump in the pit and a hose, through which the foul-smelling wastewater was pumped across a grassy area to the riverbank.

The investigation began when Capt. Bill Sheehan of Hackensack Riverkeeper, an environmental organization dedicated to protecting the river, alerted the Division of Criminal Justice that he received an anonymous tip that the hotel was discharging pollutants into the river.

On June 8, detectives from the Division of Criminal Justice executed a search warrant at the hotel, along with a DEP water inspector. They performed physical examinations related to the pit and the sources of the wastewater, conducted tests, took samples, and seized records.

A team from the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission assisted by deploying a robot equipped with a video camera into the underground tunnel connected to the pit. The PVSC also assisted in analysis of water samples. That same day, DEP issued a notice of violation to the hotel, ordering it to cease any activity that would cause wastewater from the pit to flow into the river.

The hotel subsequently had a system installed to pump any storm water and wastewater that collects in the tunnels and pits under the hotel into the municipal sanitary sewer system.

In implementing the monitoring program, RD Secaucus must retain an environmental consultant approved by the Division of Criminal Justice to monitor the flow rate of liquid material pumped into the sanitary sewer system from the pits, grates and tunnels at the hotel site.

If the consultant, in monitoring the metered flow rates of material pumped into the sewer system, detects any changes in rate which may indicate the presence of a leak in the piping under the hotel building, RD Secaucus must have the consultant take immediate action to identify and repair the leak and provide any samples required by the DEP and Secaucus municipal officials.

Supervising Deputy Attorney General Edward R. Bonanno, Lt. Jeffrey Gross, Det. Michael Klumpp, Det. Steven Ogulin and Det. Dawn Ryan conducted the investigation for the division’s Environmental Crimes Section. Bonanno conducted the prosecution.

During the past two years, the Environmental Crimes Section has partnered with Hackensack Riverkeeper and New York/New Jersey Baykeeper to pursue a community environmental policing strategy, establishing a pilot program in which those citizen stewards patrol New Jersey waterways looking for potential environmental crimes.

– TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

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