Highlands Council: We won’t revoke approval for controversial Fenimore landfill project

By Louis C. Hochman/NJ.com
on June 27, 2014 at 10:58 AM, updated June 27, 2014 at 11:15 AM

The Highlands Commission has decided it won’t undo its 2011 approval of the troubled Fenimore landfill project — saying it has limited authority over the operation in Roxbury and doesn’t want to engage in an “empty gesture.”

Vice Chairman Kurt Alstede said at a meeting earlier this month the commission wouldn’t pull back its approval for a solar facility atop a cleanly capped landfill because “it does absolutely nothing to address how the landfill is taken care of now.”

The Fenimore site began emitting rotten egg-like odors in November of 2012, several months after developer Strategic Environmental Partners began hauling in construction debris under a state-approved plan to cap the long-abandoned landfill and install the solar facility. The smell has been blamed on hydrogen sulfide caused by deteriorating gypsum in the debris. Local activists have also raised concerns about other material in Fenimore and its potential environmental and health impacts.

After several months, the state Department of Environmental Protection took over the site and now plans to cap the area where SEP began its work — over the objections of activists including the Roxbury Environmental Action Coalition, which wants material removed from the site entirely. The DEP says that would disturb the site further, releasing even more hydrogen sulfide into the air and causing worth health effects than already experienced — many Roxbury residents say the gas has caused respiratory problems, headaches, nosebleeds and other symptoms of exposure.

That approval once had the enthusiastic backing of the New Jersey Sierra Club, which at the time called the project “better than turning a lemon into lemonade.

“Landfills like Fenimore are polluting the environment,” the club’s president, Jeff Tittel wrote at he time. “By putting solar farms on them, we’ll take an environmental blight and turn it into a positive for the people of New Jersey.”

The Sierra Club in the time since has become heavily critical of the DEP’s handling of the project, and also advocates hauling out material brought in by developer SEP.

At this month’s Highlands Council meeting, Alstede said the council remains “committed and concerned about what’s happening there because we are charged with monitoring the well-being of resources within the Highlands region.”

But he said revoking the approval for the solar project — which only goes into effect if the landfill is first properly capped — would have no effect on the controversial cleanup effort.

“For us to take an action tonight that’s not going to have any impact on your lives is an empty gesture,” he said.

Alstede promised the Highlands Council would remain engaged in the process and in communication with state officials about it. He said he understood the council’s decision might be frustrating to some in attendance, and promised several times the council was sincere in its desire to help.

“My name’s on the truck outside,” said Alstede, owner of Alstede Farms in Chester. “I’ve got a business with my name on it. I’m not going to mislead you.”

Alstede’s comments were recorded on video by activist Ken Collins, who does not live in Roxbury but who has often protested alongside the Roxbury Environmental Action Coalition’s members.

More on Fenimore Landfill

DEP: Email doesn’t prove we were out to get Fenimore owner, but he shouldn’t have it
Court won’t let Fenimore landfill owner test troubled site’s soil
Fenimore lawyer: NJ probably feared ‘bad publicity,’ nixed explosive-gas tests at homes
Report: Tests never done for explosive gases in homes near Fenimore landfill (video)

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