Toxic Cleanup Grant To Convict Fiasco Opens A Can of Worms
[Update: 7/2/12 - Pillets does third story - for reporters out there, this is how you research and report a story. Fact check the spin out of DEP press Office and call them out for failure to answer the questions and provide complete information:, see Truck stop oil cleanup already has cost taxpayers $1.5M - end]
Jeff Pillets of the Bergen Record did another excellent followup piece on the Mahwah gas station leak/pollution case which threatens the Mahwah water supply wells (see: N.J. holds up grant to ex-convict for cleanup of Mahwah truck stop
While today’s story is about the State’s holdup of payment of the $335,000 grant pending review by the Attorney General’s Office, the dispute about the contamination has opened the door to investigative reporting and public oversight of critically important DEP programs that have flown totally under the radar.
Specifically, quotes from EDA and DEP mask huge issues, so let’s highlight and take a brief look (I have a meeting this morning and can’t write, but will be writing in depth about these issues soon. Our next installments of the Clean Water Series will focus on 3 of these issues.)
I) ”Monitoring and Filtration System”
DEP claims to be on top of the situation:
State environmental officials, meanwhile, said Tuesday the decades-old fuel leak is not in danger of polluting nearby well fields. Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese said the state has been in control of a monitoring and filtration system at the site since 2003.
When Rangonese refers to “the site”, is he talking about the gas station or the well fields?
Would that be groundwater monitoring and a pump and treat system? That must be clarified.
II) ”Tier I Well Head Protection”
There seems to be some dispute between DEP and EDA about whether or not there is a threat to the Mahwah water supply well fields.
EDA justified the grant with this quote, which opens up an examination of the DEP’s implementation of the “Source Water Protection” program mandated by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act:
Ragonese said a June 12 report written by the Economic Development Authority, the agency that awarded the grant, was “mistaken” in characterizing the leaks as an “imminent threat to Mahwah’s well fields.”
“I can’t speak for the EDA,” said Ragonese. “I do not know where they got that information.” …
“EDA was informed the project site is located in a ‘Tier I wellhead protection area’ and that these areas are viewed as priority cleanup sites.”
- What is a Wellhead protection area?
- What is Source Water Protection?
- Why are they significant regulatory programs?
- Do I have them in my town?
- How is DEP doing in implementing Source Water and Wellhead protection?
People out there need to start asking DEP tough questions – start filing OPRA requests!
III) ”Off Site Migration”
There is a similarly significant dispute about whether the leaks and pollution have migrated off-site.
DEP claims that there is no off-site migration:
Ragonese said DEP officials conferred with Mahwah leaders Tuesday to inform them of the state’s efforts to control the leaking fuel tanks.
“We reassured Mahwah that this leak is under control and not spreading off-site,” Ragonese said.
But very few people know that DEP allows pollutants to migrate off-site and issues what are known as “Classification Exception Areas” (CEA’s) at those sites which map exactly where those groundwater plumes are.
What the hell is a CEA?
IV) How Does DEP Set Cleanup Priorities and Monitor Private Consultants?
EDA says they are following priorities in awarding grants (e.g. Tier I Wellhead Protection Area).
DEP has led the Mayor of Mahwah to believe that the site is now a DEP priority – because they ”made so much noise about the debacle”.
The Mayor also opens up a huge can of worms on fundamental conflicts of interest in NJ’s flawed privatized cleanup program :
Mahwah Mayor William Laforet said the DEP promised him that the site would now become a priority for the agency.
The mayor said he expressed his view that state officials should be at the site to personally monitor the leaks, instead of private consultants hired and paid by Minuto.
“I think we have seen that we cannot trust the operator of this site to keep their word,” Laforet said.
“Hopefully, I have made so much noise about this debacle that the state will have to finally clean it up.”
Exploring these issues should be fun – but certainly no fun for anyone living in the DEP mapped “Toxic Threat Zones” or on top of a CEA.
More to follow.