By David Giambusso 5:14 p.m. | Jun. 12, 2014 follow this reporter
Opponents of New Jersey’s Rahway Arch Project told the City Council today that piling up as much as 29 feet of contaminated soil near a flood plain at the mouth of the Rahway River threatens to pollute parts of Staten Island.
The Rahway Arch site, in Carteret, N.J., is a former chemical byproduct waste disposal site owned by American Cyanamid which for decades served as a dumping ground for acidic sludge and aluminum sulfate.
In 2010, Rahway Arch Properties bought the site and ordered an environmental evaluation. The company decided to import two million tons of petroleum-laced soil that would be processed at a temporary, on-site facility and act as a cap for the toxic sludge beneath.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and ever-increasing threats of flooding in the area, New York City legislators and environmental leaders warned today that the soil and sludge from the Rahway Arch could drift into the Arthur Kill and onto western shore of Staten Island, causing significant air and water quality problems for residents in New York and New Jersey.
“Concerns by local residents about flooding, increased truck traffic and polluted runoff were ignored by the state of New Jersey in their quest to approve the project,” said Debbie Mans, executive director of NY/NJ Baykeeper, an environmental advocacy group. “The Christie administration even waived its own Flood Hazard Area Rules to permit the project.”
Officials from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection were called to testify at today’s hearing—held jointly by the Council’s environmental protection and wetlands committees—but did not attend.
“This is unfortunate,” said Staten Island Councilwoman Deborah Rose, who chairs the wetlands committee. “It’s an affront because it impedes our ability to understand more about this project and how it will impact many of my constituents and residents of New York City.”
Bob Considine, a spokesman for the New Jersey D.E.P., said his office had provided extensive background to the Council and had numerous talks with officials regarding the project.
“D.E.P.’s sole role in the Rahway Arch project and other projects like it is to determine whether it meet’s the state’s environmental, engineering and technical standards and requirements, and not to appear at a meeting to possibly be perceived as an advocate or an opponent to a project,” Considine said in an email to Capital. “After thorough evaluation, D.E.P. has determined this project is an acceptable approach for eliminating the current contamination from the former American Cyanamid site to groundwater and the Rahway River.”
Those who did attend today’s hearing were universally against the project.
“We are entering a period where regulators don’t have the tools and in some cases don’t have the political will to do their jobs,” said Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper, a clean water advocacy group. “Do not let this happen without proper evaluation ahead of time.”
Kathleen Sforza, a member of the Northfield Community Local Development Corporation, a Staten Island group, said pollution from Rahway Arch threatens a Staten Island “rejuvenation” that is just starting to take hold.
“Staten Island already suffers from environmental contamination due to the long history of industrial land uses in New York and New Jersey,” she said. “New Jersey is not acting neighborly. Staten Island is trying to rejuvenate the waterfront … this is like a step backward.”
EastStar Environmental Group is the licensed site remediation professional (LSRP) for the Rahway Arch project. The group sent written testimony asserting the plan to import soil was designed to protect local waters from pollution by the toxic sludge already on the 125-acre property.
Albert Free, EastStar’s president, wrote that the imported soil would be used in a cement mixture to cap the facility and prevent more toxic emissions from the existing landfill.
“No solid, toxic or hazardous waste will be brought to the site,” Free wrote but added later that six polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons would be part of the capping materials but would be “less than 40 percent of the average concentrations of these six compounds that already exist on the site today.”
That didn’t seem to comfort Linden, N.J., resident Judy England McCarthy who also testified today.
“It doesn’t make sense where you already have a pollutant and say you’re going to bring another pollutant in and cap it,” she told the committee members. “That’s not a recycling plant, that’s a dumping plant.”
She said public calls to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the New Jersey D.E.P. to stop or at least better evaluate the project had fallen on deaf ears.
“They’re not interested in what we feel as citizens. They’re looking for immediate gratification. The money’s there for them now and morally that’s terrible,” McCarthy said. “Every year I pay my taxes. So where is the money going if not to represent me and my neighborhood.”