Controversy Surrounds Rolling Knolls Landfill in Chatham Close to 10 Years After Federal Government Placed it on Superfund Cleanup List
Friday, August 10, 2012 • 2:33pm
CHATHAM TOWNSHIP, NJ - Nearly 10 years after being named to the national priority list as a federal Superfund site the former municipal dump in Chatham Township known as the Rolling Knolls Landfill remains a gift that keeps on giving - and not in a good way as far as many in the township are concerned.
The landfill, in the Green Village section of the township, operated as a municipal garbage dump from the early 1930s through December 1968.
According to the April 30, 2003 Federal Register notice in connection with the priority listing, “Rolling Knolls Landfill received municipal solid waste, as well as construction and demolitions debris from surrounding municipalities. Chatham Township Board of Health records indicate that the types of wastes deposited at Rolling Knolls included tree stumps, scrap metal, tires, household refuse, residential septage wastes, and industrial waste. In order to comply with health code regulations adopted in 1959, operational procedures at the facility included the application of pesticides to control weeds, insects, and rodents, as well as the application of oil on facility roadways to control dust. In addition, health code regulation also required the application of minimal daily cover (6 inches) to all exposed surfaces including the face of the fill. Chatham Township records indicate that semi-liquid swamp muck was picked up from the edge of the landfill using a dragline and applied as daily cover.”
The notice goes on to say that soil samples collected from a May 1999 Expanded Site Inspection (ESI) by the United States Environmental Protection Agency indicated elevated levels (i.e. above regulatory levels) of “metals, phthalatyes, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).”
The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge surrounds the site on three sides and drainage from the landfill flows directly to Black Brook and to Great Brook via Loantaka Brook, all of which ultimately discharge into the Passaic River.
The Federal Register notice went on to say, “Waste source samples collected from by EPA in May 1999 document actual contamination of a terrestrial sensitive environment. Private residential properties border the facility on the west, north and northwest. Waste source samples collected by EPA in May 1999 document potential exposure of nearby residents. The Rolling Knolls facility is accessible and is not covered by a permanent, or otherwise maintained essentially impenetrable material.”
The latest federal government action concerning the landfill was a site inspection done by Arcadis U.S. Inc. of Cranbury on July 27 of this year. A representative of Issues Management LLC accompanied Arcadis on the site visit.
A copy of the August 6, 2012 report on this visit was supplied to The Alternative Press by Erich Templin, a community activist in the Green Village area of the township where the site is located, an opponent of the recently-passed market garden ordinance and a Democratic candidate for the Chatham Township Committee this year.
In the report, addressed to Tanya Mitchell, EPA project manager for the site, Arcadis personnel said, “Arcadis visited the Rolling Knolls Landfill Superfund Site to investigate allegations of 'illegal dumping' and other suspicious activities at the site.”
The report goes on to review six areas of the site, referred to as: Landscape Areas 1 and 2, Hunter Club Area, Britten Road Entrance, Ball Field and Shooting Range, and Paint Ball Area.
In Landscape Area 1, Arcadis found “no unusual activity or evidence of illegal dumping,” although “the site access road was overgrown and no indication of recent vehicular traffic was observed. Stockpiles of top soil and leaf mulch were observed, but appeared to be associated with the landscaping activities.”
According to Chatham Township Committeeman Bailey Brower, Jr., who was interviewed for this article, the Miele family currently owns the site. The Mieles own several companies involved in landscaping and trash disposal businesses.
The observations of Arcadis in Landscape Area 2 were similar to those in Landscape Area 1. However, in this area Arcadis found two roll-off containers, one empty and one filled with brush, and stockpiles of stone in addition to top soil.
“No unusual activity or evidence of illegal dumping observed,” were the only comments of Arcadis on the Hunt Club Area and Ball Field and Shooting Range.
At the Britten Road Entrance the observers saw one empty roll-off and one filled with “what appeared to be concrete rubble. Although not observed, the roll-off containing concrete rubble was removed from the site at some time during the site visit prior to the Group representatives leaving the site.”
The report went on to say a relatively small pile of debris including scrap metal, plastic, and a television appeared to have been placed in the area recently.
In its comments on the Paint Ball Area Arcadis said, “The structures that appear to be used for playing paint ball have been 'improved' since the last time Arcadis personnel were in the area. Evidence of paint ball was observed on some of the structures. No spent casings, magazines or other firearm-related materials were observed. A downed tree blocked vehicular access to the remainder of the road and no evidence of recent vehicular use or dumping was observed.”
Asked to comment on reports of illegal dumping at the site and continuing involvement by the EPA, Elias Rodriguez, a press officer for the agency based in New York City, said the EPA is conducting a remedial investigation/feasibility study at the site and is reviewing documents associated with the investigation submitted by the “potentially responsible party.”
Rodriguez noted his agency has received several anonymous mailings and pictures of roll-off containers, “suggesting that unlawful activities were occurring at the site. A few phone calls were also received inquiring about the landscaping operations at the site. Upon EPA's site visits no unlawful activities were observed.”
He added that during its scheduled site visits the agency observed no unlawful activities and the contractor for the “potentially responsible party for the site Rolling Knolls Group” inspected the site and shared its findings with the agency.
The spokesman added while the EPA has oversight over Superfund cleanups, the agency is not the property owner for the site.
Templin supplied The Alternative Press with copies of 23 anonymous complaints to federal and Chatham Township elected and appointed officials and officials at other levels of government dating from 2006 through 2010.
He also presented a copy of a Power Point presentation made to the Chatham Township Planning Board concerning allocations of illegal dumping at the site.
Responding to the August report, Templin said, “you can tell landscapers are using the site for storage and removal of materials with heavy equipment present and in use. This suggests a risk to the containment of the site as well as introduced the notion that those materials are being mixed with materials on site risking contamination to the landscapers customers.”
Referring to the report's mention of the paintball area, he noted the letter did not mention the hazardous waste barrel at that portion of the site, and asked, “are these guys digging these things up or are they bringing more in?”
Templin added, “Obviously both the landscapers and the Chatham Waste Disposal companies are using this as a dumping field and transfer site. Is any of this allowed at the site? My understanding is that transfer sites are strictly managed by the DEP because the risks they pose to releasing materials.”
The Democratic candidate questioned whether the construction material on the site contained asbestos or other hazardous materials and wanted to know if residents were being exposed to any of these materials.
In addition, according to Templin, “Irv Zander Landscaping and Limbaugh Landscaping call it home. They come out of the dump between 7 and 8 am Monday through Friday.”
Chatham Township Mayor Nicole Hagner referred questions about Rolling Knolls that were directed to her to Township Attorney Carl R. Woodward.
Woodward explained that the EPA has entered into a consent agreement under the Superfund Act with the three chemical firms who were thought to be the largest contributors to contamination at the site--Novartis, Lucent and Chevron--for the remedial investigation/feasibility study.
That has been going on during the last few years at the site. Once the study is completed a Record of Decision outlining the study's findings will be issued and EPA will designate someone to clean up the site.
According to Woodward, the Record of Decision is expected next year.
He added the township has been “actively engaged” with the EPA about the status of the site during the last several years.
The attorney also said the site is “closed,” so no dumping should be going on there. However, he added, the township has received several complaints that still are under investigation.
In his comments on the site, Brower said although he personally did not know what currently is going on at the site because it is privately-owned, as a member of the township committee he was aware of several telephone calls received over the years from residents complaining of illegal dumping.
Any complaints, according to the committeeman, are passed along to the township construction officials and other officials for action. He also said he has not seen any police reports about complaints.
Brower recalled that several years ago underground fires burned at the site for a number of days and officials at that time thought chemicals and materials from industrial companies were burning. A number of residents, he said, complained about clouds emanating from the site.
He said he thought the fire destroyed much of those materials.
Much of this occurred prior to his service on the governing body, he added.
About the decision to designate the site as a federal Superfund cleanup area, Brower said, “I thought this was a disastrous policy choice.”
He went on to say the township would benefit much more from the site if its fate were placed in the hands of a private developer and placed back on the tax rolls as quickly as possible.
Brower, a long-time member of the township planning board, emphatically denied, however, an accusation by Templin that he “has forged a relationship” with one of the potential developers of the site.
He said he has no personal or social relationship of any kind with any developers connected with the site.
The committeeman also said the decision to include the superfund site as a potential site in the market garden ordinance only was an oversight based on the lot sizes for market gardening included in the ordinance and the committee later removed it.
In addition, the governing body member said he worked on a committee endorsing the Great Swamp as a nature preserve and opposed Miele's original bid to take over the property.
However, pointing to a proposal to locate a solar energy field on the site, he said he thought that possibly could be the best and least damaging use of the property.
Although the depressed economy in New Jersey has made the solar energy market considerably less profitable recently, Brower said legislation recently signed by Governor Chris Christie could help open up the market again.