Team effort turns away waste station

Chalk up another victory for the Sludge Busters and for the residents of Freehold Township, Freehold Borough and the surrounding area. Western Monmouth County has dodged a big environmental bullet.

The Sludge Busters are a group of citizens named for a successful 1994 fight against an objectionable industrial proposal in Freehold Township. They came together again several months ago when a plan to use a piece of property on Route 33 in Freehold Township for a solid waste transfer station came to light. The plan appeared to call for Ashland Railroad to use a railroad spur on the property to transport waste either to or from the site.

We hesitate to describe exactly what the nature of the operation was going to be because the applicant was very vague about its plans for the property. In the end that lack of information and the apparent unwillingness of the applicant to provide real details about what it wanted to do turned out to be among the factors that led the federal Surface Transportation Board to dismiss Ashland Railroad’s request for permission to establish that use in Freehold Township.

Regardless of the technical reasons why the bid went bust, it is now incumbent on Freehold Township officials to come up with a plan for the use of that Route 33 property that will eliminate any possibility of such an objectionable project from resurfacing in the future. The parcel in question is a 50-acre tract in front of the former Brockway glass plant (now the Iron Mountain record storage business).

Industrial uses certainly have a place in our communities, but only when properly zoned and only when appropriate environmental oversight is permitted. Because of a loophole in federal law that specifically involves the use of railroads, Ashland Railroad’s plan for the solid waste transfer station could have been permitted without environmental oversight from Freehold Township, Freehold Borough, Monmouth County and the state of New Jersey.

In fact, Freehold Cartage Inc. operates a waste transfer station in close proximity to the location where Ashland Railroad sought to establish its transfer station.

However, the FCI facility is subject to local and state environmental oversight and, to the best of our knowledge, has not been the source of any complaints or problems since it was established several years ago.

Credit is due to the elected officials who joined the Sludge Busters in their effort to uncover information about Ashland Railroad’s planned use of the site. Democratic and Republican representatives at the local, county, state and federal levels picked up the ball and did what they could to carry the fight to the Surface Transportation Board. In this case, our elected officials saw the light of doing the right thing and jumping on board – to use a railroad analogy.

One wishes they could show the same bipartisan cooperation on other issues that affect residents of the Garden State, but that is an editorial for another day.

The federal Surface Transportation Board’s decision to dismiss Ashland Railroad’s application – announced on Aug. 16 – was most certainly a win for residents who did not want to see a solid waste transfer station, i.e., a garbage dump, established on Route 33.

That makes the Sludge Busters 2-0 in their history against bad ideas in Freehold Township. Here’s hoping we can call on them in another 15 years if the need arises.