Upper Freehold’s ‘Deal of the Century’ seems to be a dud

Guest Column • Patrick Nolan

Alandfill in Upper Freehold, actually, two landfills to be precise, and we the taxpayers, may own it.

While at a recent Upper Freehold Township Committee meeting, I was astounded to hear from an environmental consultant hired by the township to provide his report on “Breza Road Phase II” about the property adjacent to the new middle school property, which is in discussion to be sold to the township for preservation, and to be used for “passive recreational” purposes. In his report, he described two designated landfills on the property officially disclosed by the landowner in April 2008. The Trust for Public Land, Green Acres, and others had positioned the purchase of this property as “The Deal of the Century” in past meetings. I can remember the former mayor of Upper Freehold who was involved in the negotiations describe his vision for nature trails, and how nice it would be to have an ecologically friendly area that was so close to the school for kids and other residents to walk through, learning about nature as part of their educational experience.

Funny, I don’t remember hearing anything about landfills as part of that education. I never heard anything about polynuclear hydrocarbons, PCBs, or lead, which have all been found on the property at higher than acceptable levels. I also never heard anything about asphalt, heavy oils, car batteries, or old tires — items that have apparently contributed to the pollutants now there.

I was also amazed to hear that the current landowner is not planning to remediate the landfills before the sale. There are no plans to dig up and haul away the hazardous contaminants that apparently are buried up to 6 feet deep across 3 acres bordering Doctor’s Creek and Indian Run (the designated locations of the landfill sites) on the 45-acre parcel of land. The consultant estimated the cost for that type of removal would be around $5 million. Nor is there a plan in place by the current landowner to “cap” the areas — cover them with 2 feet of clean soil — which could be done at a lesser cost. According to the consultant, there is nothing in the works that would lead to a “No Further Action” letter by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

What is planned you ask? A hedgerow. Yep, a hedgerow designed to prevent access to the two landfills is what’s being presented in a “landfill closure plan” submitted by the landowner to the state agencies.

Arsenic and dieldrin, two pesticides that occur across so much of our farming community, were also found on the site. The irony was not lost on me that the presence of these two contaminants created such a stir when the middle school was due to be located on its former site on Ellisdale Road. The sad part is that they are among the more benign of the contaminants, mentioned by the consultant, found on the Breza Road property today.

I don’t begrudge the moving of the middle school to the Breza Road site. I voted against it, myself, but still believe that Superintendent Richard Fitzpatrick, Board of

Education President Joseph Stampe and the school board have done a great job in keeping the project on target, and I look forward to its opening in the fall

of 2010. I just feel a little hoodwinked upon finding out that there are carcinogens located on an adjacent property and in the groundwater (likely from the landfills, according to the environmental consultant). This information was not disclosed during the debate to move the school. I suspect members of the school board may feel the same way.

Although the township has been involved in discussions to purchase this property for some time, there appear to be escape clauses in the contracts that would allow the township to walk away from the purchase, according to comments from the township’s attorney at the meeting. I urge every resident in Upper Freehold to review the minutes of the Feb. 19 Township Committee meeting and see what was reported on the Breza Road property.

I also urge every resident who doesn’t want our tax dollars to be spent on cleaning up landfills and 30 years worth of mandatory inspecting and monitoring of the sites for the DEP to urge the Township Committee to simply say no thanks to the purchase. It’s bad enough that the landfills are within walking distance of the school grounds, but let’s let the current landowner clean them up.

In these hard economic times, this is one “Deal of the Century” our township can afford to miss.

Patrick Nolan Upper Freehold