Residents ask township to address oozing dirt

Township materials placed on wetlands subject of concern


Staff Writer

Over a year ago, Cliffwood Beach residents went to Old Bridge officials with a complaint.

Some fill in the form of dirt and other materials had been placed on nearby township land, near Route 35, but had shifted onto wetlands, they said. This somehow caused white froth to ooze out of the piled-up dirt, they noted.

Those residents went to the Township Council Monday night again seeking help and asking about a letter they received about the site’s remediation.

“This project has been going on since September ’03,” said Cliffwood Beach resident Paulette Mayers, speaking on behalf of her neighbors.

Mayers said the township was illegally filling in the wetlands behind houses. She said she and her neighbors were told by the township that the dirt was being stored for future use at ball fields in Old Bridge.

“No way would you want your child playing on a ball field [made of that],” Mayers said, referring to the oozing material.

The law prohibits wetlands dumping, Township Business Administrator Michael Jacobs said, and no one is disputing that what was done was wrong.

“We will fix it according to the law,” he said.

The land in question is township-owned, officials said.

The large area of land, according to Mayor Jim Phillips, was once a swamp, but was filled in 40 years ago. The area extends from between Laurence Harbor and Cliffwood Beach and out to Raritan Bay, he said.

“The township for years and years had been piling extra materials there,” Jacobs said.

Those extra materials included dirt, asphalt, tree limbs, concrete and hot mix left over from curbing program projects, Municipal Utilities Authority projects and township development. Stockpiles are standard, a way to store materials that may be needed later, Jacobs noted.

The stockpile would not have been a problem for the township — if it had stayed put.

A road department worker, Phillips said, went out to level the piles, and somehow the materials were pushed out into nearby wetlands.

At least half an acre was disturbed, Phillips said.

“This was an accident we have to pay for,” Jacobs said.

Councilman Robert Volkert was called by the residents to take a look at the area, Mayers said. Still, she said, the dumping did not stop.

Volkert said he was advised of the problem about a year ago, and he notified the mayor after visiting and taking photographs at the site. There was no more fill dumped in the area after that point, the councilman said.

Mayers contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), as well as the New York and New Jersey Baykeeper and the Old Bridge Environmental Commission.

She and her neighbors tried to work with the township to get the problem to stop, she said.

The DEP issued a complaint against the township, which was then required to pay a fine, Jacobs said. The township is now required to submit a plan to remediate the situation.

That plan is to make the area an animal sanctuary of sorts, according to the township.

According to Mayers, however, the township is “looking for … an after-the-fact permit to allow what they illegally dumped to stay there … under the guise, in these letters, that they want to construct two bird houses.”

Jacobs said, emphatically, that there is no cover-up taking place, and that the township is simply attempting to fix a mistake that was made years ago.

The area will be stabilized and bird houses will be put in, he said, in order to turn the area into an animal sanctuary. This option is the least costly, Jacobs noted. The GP-6 permit mentioned in the letters received by Mayers and her neighbors would allow the fill to remain and that project to go forward.

“In our opinion, that’s best for the existing environment,” Jacobs said.

Animals and plants live in the area now, Phillips said, and should not be disrupted.

“The DEP has given us the option of putting up bird sanctuaries,” he said.

But if DEP tests indicate that there is “something unnatural” in the fill, Phillips said, a different action will have to be taken.

“I would support that in every way,” the mayor said.

Mayers said she met with Jacobs last week to discuss the plan, and also went out to the site and discussed the letters.

“We’re asking for several things,” Mayers told the council. What the residents want, she said, is the removal of all the fill placed on the site illegally — which she said encompasses about 200 feet by 200 feet of space and is 15 feet high. The residents also want the fill material tested for toxicity, she said.

“We have seen all kinds of things oozing out of it,” Mayers said. “We have seen white stuff form on the top and solidify into salt.”

While noting that the DEP will have final say as to what is causing such an occurrence, and the fact that the soil will be tested, Phillips said that the ooze could be caused by a high iron content in the soil.

Area residents want the area restored, she said, and want to be assured that the cost of such a restoration will not fall on township taxpayers.

“The persons who were responsible and allowed the dumping in here should be [paying],” Mayers said.

Township officials are under the impression that nothing in the fill is dangerous.

“From what I understand, the state doesn’t feel there’s anything hazardous in it,” Volkert said.

The problem, Volkert said, has not been ignored.

“There’s no disputing the facts,” Phillips said.