• Up the Creek: The EPA Invites Public Comment Regarding Cleanup to NJ Superfund Site
  • May 11, 2018 | Author: Rosa D. Forrester
  • Law Firm: Goldberg Segalla LLP - Newark Office
  • The U.S. EPA is seeking public comment now on its proposed cleanup plan for the Berry’s Creek Study Area — a Superfund site located in Bergen County, New Jersey.

    Berry’s Creek Study Area includes a 6.5 mile tributary of the Hacksensack River and about 12 miles of additional wetlands and industrial properties within the watershed. The creek originates near Teterboro Airport, runs through various sections of towns that are close to where Giants Stadium used to stand in the Meadowlands, and the fabled resting place of Jimmy Hoffa.

    For decades, the Berry’s Creek Study Area was the site of industrial discharge, landfilling, sewage discharge, and urban runoff from local industry. The area itself was named a Superfund site due in large part to mercury contamination caused by waste from the Ventron/Vesicol plant in the nearby towns of Wood-Ridge and Carlstadt. The Ventron/Vesicol plant processed mercury from 1929 until 1974 by removing the metal from lab equipment and batteries. The mercury was disposed of on the 40-acre property and contaminated the groundwater. At the behest of the EPA, a group of PRPs first began investigating the area back in the 1980s. Despite subsequent efforts to clean up the watershed the area remained a source of dangerous contamination.

    The EPA now is proposing a remedial action plan to address the sources of contamination and halt its further spread into the groundwater. The proposed cleanup plan is an interim step, with a final plan to be issued after research demonstrates whether the initial cleanup is effective. The main objective of the cleanup, according to the EPA’s Proposed Plan Fact Sheet, is to “prevent the contamination in the surface sediment layer (top four inches) from being available for uptake by fish and wildlife or from moving downstream into other sections of the creek and marshes.”

    What’s the best cleanup approach? According to Pete Lopez, the EPA’s regional administrator for New Jersey, “the proposed actions will mean that we get to the worst pollution in this area first, while we continue to assess what other actions might be needed in the future.” The cleanup process will entail dredging two feet of contaminated sediment in Upper Berry’s Creek and one foot deep throughout an area called Upper Peach Island Creek, and then installing clean sand backfill in the dredged areas. One section around a set of radio towers will be capped and will not be dredged, due to the difficulty of dredging around a man-made obstacle.

    Capping vs. Dredging? The president of the New Jersey Sierra Club, Jeff Tittel, however, remains concerned about the capping being an insufficient stop gap for the pollution, which will still be flowing with the streaming water of the creek. Sierra Club’s argument being that caps can be ripped off by storm surges, or penetrated by outside forces.

    At this juncture, EPA’s weighed the benefits of the capping plan and has found it to be a cost effective solution for remediating certain areas of the creek. While the cleanup itself will cost in the area of $300 million, EPA’s funding the cleanup through a settlement reached with more than a hundred PRPs.

    The EPA anticipates that it’ll take two years to design the dredging project and three years to carry it out. It’s holding a public commentary session on May 9, 2018 in a town near the site, and is accepting written comments until June 6, 2018. The EPA hopes to have a preliminary plan in place by September 30, 2018.

    We anticipate that NGOs, like the Sierra Club, will utilize the public comment period to challenge the conservative “capping” slated to take place in some creek areas, arguing for a more robust and comprehensive dredging plan. No matter what remedial action plan is decided upon, any forward progress is considered a win for the Garden State’s residents in the area who’ve been waiting for action since the 1980s.