I live in Roxbury Township, New Jersey. A landfill that was in operation from the 1950’s, known as the “Fenimore Landfill”, was shut down in 1979 and naturally capped over 30 years. A company called Strategic Environmental Partners (SEP) and a Mrs. Marilyn Bernardi bought the land in 2011 at the cost of $1 million, even though the previous owner had acquired it for only $1. The mortgage holder and previous owner is Sussex & Warren (S&W) Holding Company which appears to be related somehow to the Turco companies (Jeryl Investments, Jeryl Industries, etc.) who sold the property to S&W.
Interestingly, another seemingly Jeryl-related company – Tierra Solutions – was held partially responsible for contaminating the Passaic River and began conducting a clean-up of the river around the same time the land was mortgaged to SEP. Tierra presumably needs somewhere to deposit material dredged from that toxic site. One of the items permitted to be accepted at the site per the DEP is “PDM” or post-dredging material.
On his website, Richard Bernardi mentions that he founded SEP in 2001. However, in 2011 when he filled out the DEP’s Solid Waste Facility Application Form to begin the project, he lists his wife Marilyn as having 100% ownership interest in SEP. No other partners are listed. Richard Bernardi signed that document, not Marilyn, as the “Owner/Applicant”. Mr. Bernardi was jailed for 33 months in the early 1990’s for bribing public officials. As an ex-convict he may not be permitted, per the NJ Solid Waste Management Act, to participate in the waste management business in the manner in which he has been at the Fenimore Site.
Throughout 2010, SEP and Mr. Bernardi applied to the NJ DEP for “disturbance” permits so that they could begin “engineering” work. These permits show SEP as the owner of the site at that point in time. They were not the owner. The DEP apparently never questioned whether or not SEP owned the site or what his interest in “disturbing” the site might be.
With the help of NJDEP, Mr. Bernardi somehow had the site designated as a “brownfield” soon after purchasing the property in 2011. A “brownfield” is a contaminated, dangerous blight on a community. “Brownfield” does not describe the wooded, 102-acre site in question. This “brownfield” designation was granted despite decades of local, NJ DEP and Federal EPA testing indicating that the land was deemed not a threat to humans or the environment. Over these decades, housing developments and townhome complexes were constructed all around the site. Private and public drinking water wells near the site continued to test acceptable. Trout flourished in the Ledgewood Pond beneath the site. The “brownfield” designation allowed a “clean-up” and “capping” project to begin, despite the fact that the NJ DEP’s own reports showed that the site was not contaminated. It is interesting to note that around the same time, Governor Christie appointed Bob Martin the Commissioner of the DEP. Governor Christie inexplicably chose a businessman to the role who has absolutely no environmental experience whatsoever.
The “brownfield” designation was one of two key approvals that SEP needed to move forward. The other approval was a Highlands Act Waiver. Governor Christie is an opponent of the Highlands Act, contending that it unfairly restricts landowners’ rights to use their property for income-generating activities. The Highlands Act was designed to protect land that feeds New Jersey’s critical water supplies. The Fenimore Site was one such protected site under the act. Perhaps not coincidentally, Governor Christie appointed Roxbury Mayor Jim Rilee as the Chairman of the Highlands Council. Mr. Rilee held both positions simultaneously and signed the waiver removing the Fenimore site from the protected wetlands list. This was the final green light for the “capping” project.
The “capping” was allegedly required because of a completely unsubstantiated claim in a letter from Bob Martin’s office to Senator Bucco that there may be some leachate oozing from the site that could possibly contaminate the Raritan River. The DEP now contended that the public needed protection from this awful, contaminated site that they said in their own comprehensive studies was safe. The “capping” project would ultimately culminate in a fantastical solar field that would generate power for the community. Coincidentally, while these political positions were being filled and approvals being granted, Governor Christie’s brother Todd worked at a solar panel construction firm.
With approvals in-hand, the DEP and SEP struck a contract referred to as the Administrative Consent Order or “ACO”. The ACO outlines all of the obligations that SEP must live up to as the project proceeds. They bulldozed a hundred acres of trees and stripped the entire landscape and forest of vegetation. They then began hauling in everything from asbestos and medical waste to everything else under the sun, including unapproved debris from Hurricane Sandy ravaged areas! This is all an effort to protect the hapless residents from a threat that the DEP and EPA both agreed did not actually exist.
It wasn’t long after the project started, about 4 months, that it became apparent that SEP had no intention of following the rules set forth by the NJ DEP in the ACO. SEP had made so many violations of the ACO that the DEP moved in May of 2012 to shut the operation down. SEP appealed and sued the NJ DEP, the Township of Roxbury, the NJ State Police, the NJ DOT and anyone else they felt were standing in their way. The case was given to Judge Deanne Wilson who has refused to rule on the case for almost a year now. In the meantime, 75-100 trucks daily haul trash through our small roads leaving mud behind, spewing diesel soot, rumbling loudly and literally shaking homes.
Residents began to realize that Judge Wilson was not willing to consider the case nor cease operations while arguments were heard. Frustrated with yet another adjournment by Judge Wilson on 12/20/2012, residents filed a class action suit on 12/31/2012. The suit seeks damages for the nuisance caused by the project. The case belongs in the Superior Court’s Law division and was filed there accordingly .The Law Division judge immediately ceased operations. However, on the first business day of 2013, Judge Wilson – a Chancery Division judge – wrested control of the residents’ suit, overturned the Law judge’s ruling and allowed the project to continue! Now that she has control of both suits, she is once again perpetually adjourning. Every day thousands of tons of waste is hauled in. Hundreds of calls, letters and e-mails to Commissioner Martin’s office and Governor Christie’s office go unanswered except for the same, canned responses.
In October of 2012, a stench began to waft around the town of Ledgewood. It was a rotten-eggs type of odor that was coming from the landfill. As it turns out, according to the DEP’s own report on 1/7/2013, the smell is the result of Hydrogen Sulfide gas (H2S) being generated by materials brought in by SEP. We are all suffering from Hydrogen Sulfide Poisoning now and all of Ledgewood/Roxbury is plagued with the putrid stench of rotten eggs. Asthmatics (such as myself) are abusing our rescue inhalers; residents are developing asthma like symptoms, and children are having asthma attacks! There are so many upper respiratory health problems, itchy, watery eyes, constant nausea, constricting throats, lethargy, etc. It’s permeating our homes, it’s tearing us apart. We are living around a toxic dump site now! This was a 100-acre site that was overgrown with lush grass and tall trees. There was no hint of its past life as a landfill to passersby. Most newer residents (like myself) didn’t even know that the site was a former landfill. But now it’s like a filthy third world country, except we pay one of the most outrageous property tax rates in the United States.
Despite admonishing the DEP in court for “not doing their job” at a prior hearing, when the DEP finally produced the 1/7/2013 Hydrogen Sulfide report Judge Wilson wouldn’t believe it. Instead, she hired her own “independent expert” to test the area. The “independent expert”, as it turns out, is a personal friend and someone who is a Vice President at a solar energy consulting firm. This consultant, John Trela of TRC, did no testing of his own. Instead, he relied on the 1/7/2013 DEP report to estimate H2S levels. He also pulled some wind data from the National Weather Service to guess at when and where the smell might occur. His findings contradict the DEP’s finding that the H2S is being emitted at levels that cause a health concern. Residents continue to be sickened by the gas as Judge Wilson adjourns and adjourns.
Over the past week or so, it has come to light that the Morris County MUA weigh station in Mount Olive had been weighing SEP’s trucks for free since August of 2012. This is 75-100 trucks per day using County facilities at no cost. The explanation we received from Roxbury was that the weighmaster at the weigh station was “new” and thought he was extending a “courtesy” to the truck drivers. I’m not sure which is more ridiculous – the story that we’ve been provided or the fact that someone thought the public would believe it. At every turn we find some “professional courtesy” that was extended, rules that were not enforced or hazards that were overlooked.
There is another hearing on the matter scheduled on February 28, 2013. Residents are not optimistic that it will happen. In the meantime, SEP is approaching the end of “Phase I” of the project. It is popular opinion among the residents that SEP had never intended to go beyond Phase I, instead collecting as much money as possible before the DEP could succeed in shutting them down. Despite being required by the ACO, SEP has not deposited “tipping fees” (estimated to be as much as $250,000 per week) into an escrow account set up by the NJ DEP. SEP has also been fined by the DEP for forcing DEP personnel to leave the site when they come to inspect materials data documents, also as required by the ACO and DEP.
Time is of the essence and NO ONE will help. This is not a handful of lunatics complaining about a random odor in the air. It is a systemic failure of the people and processes put in place to protect the American public from criminals and corrupt government. It affects hundreds of men, women and children every day. It has destroyed peoples’ investments in their homes and their quality of life. It has caused medical problems for asthmatic children and adults as well as normally healthy people. I truly feel that Bob Martin, Jim Rilee, Judge Wilson and everyone involved in this farce of a project should be fully investigated. I am 100% convinced they were paid off.
Please Google “Fenimore Landfill” and see what we are up against.
Here is a very useful site www.fenimorelandfill.com. There is a power point presentation on there that shows a timeline of events from the 1950’s until now.
It appears that the DEP’s attorneys, Mayor, other elected officials, etc. won’t stand up to this judge, as they fear repercussions from losing their jobs to her being biased when she deals with them in the future. This is clear hostility and bullying at its finest.
One man’s garbage is NOT another man’s treasure! STOP THE LANDFILL!