Source: Star-Ledger (NJ), September 24, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com
The state Attorney General’s Office plans to sue the owners of a troubled Morris County landfill today over a stench-producing cleanup effort at the site, where state officials are now hauling in new equipment in hopes of quelling the smell, The Star-Ledger has learned.
Two civil complaints will be filed this morning in state Superior Court in Morris County against Strategic Environmental Partners and Richard and Marilyn Bernardi, the husband and wife team who have been operating the Fenimore Landfill in Roxbury since December 2011, according to two sources familiar with the state’s plans.
The lawsuits will accuse the Millstone couple and their company of several violations — including fraud, misappropriation of more than $1 million in tipping fees, and violations of New Jersey’s Solid Waste Management and Air Pollution Control acts, according to the sources, who requested anonymity to discuss a pending legal action.
The lawsuits add a new wrinkle to an ongoing dispute over the landfill, which the couple bought in 2010 with plans to clean up the property and build a solar facility there. The dump hadn’t been used since 1979, though it was never fully closed. Strategic Environmental accepted construction debris as a way to cap the site, but it began emitting hydrogen sulfide that stunk up nearby neighborhoods and led to hundreds of complaints.
Since then, the state and the owners have been caught in a legal back-and-forth, with both sides accusing each other of wrongdoing. It culminated on June 26 when the Department of Environmental Protection seized control of the property, less than an hour after Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation that enables the department to close reopened landfills that fail to meet state requirements.
The smell has persisted. Twice last week, teachers at schools in Roxbury kept children indoors because of the gases, Superintendent Patrick Tierney said. That will be district policy going forward, until the state can provide more specific guidance, he said. “If they smell it, bring the kids in,” he said. “That’s the protocol.”
But in the next week, the Christie administration plans to add new equipment to the landfill in hopes of eliminating — or significantly reducing — the smell, according to one of the sources. A third official confirmed the fast-tracked plan. The sources said the equipment, a pollution treatment system known as an industrial “scrubber,” will be in place and operating next week as a temporary measure. A permanent scrubber built specifically for Fenimore will be added later, they said.
The lawsuits to be filed today will accuse the owners of defrauding the DEP, which allowed the capping project several years ago, and of misappropriating from $1.25 million to $3.4 million in tipping fees, sources said.
The DEP order allowing Fenimore to reopen in 2011 required the owners to place all revenue from tipping fees for certain materials into an escrow account, to be used exclusively for the proper capping of the landfill. That never happened, according to the sources, who said the state is seeking millions in civil penalties.
Strategic Environmental is already suing the state and local officials in federal court, accusing them in a lawsuit filed in August of carrying out a “civil conspiracy” that deprived them of their rights to property, due process, free speech and equal protection under the law. A lawyer for the owners has said they made every effort to control the gases coming from the site.