Fenimore foes want seat at litigation table

Two weeks after a Superior Court judge granted a motion by the township of Roxbury to join the ongoing litigation between the state and the owners of Fenimore Landfill, the Roxbury Environmental Action Coalition filed a motion to be included as well.

The nonprofit citizen’s group, which has battled the state Department of Environmental Protection, township officials and the Fenimore owners for more than two years over remediation of the toxic substances present in the landfill, “wants a seat at the table,” according to REACT President Bob Schultz, when Judge Rosemary Ramsey decides if DEP must turn control of the site back over to Strategic Environmental Partners.

On Thursday, Princeton attorney R. William Potter filed a motion with Ramsey to reserve a seat for REACT along with the others in front of her bench.

“The DEP and the township are both in litigation with SEP, and as a result, several factors have significant potential to bias a remediation approach or settlement that may not be in the best interests of Roxbury residents,” Schultz said.

Fenimore operated from the 1950s until it was shut in 1979. SEP purchased the property in 2010 and obtained permission from DEP to accept tipping fees to help fund a proper capping of the site with a long-range plan to establish a solar farm there.

But by late 2012, hydrogen sulfide gas produced on the landfill quickly grew from a nuisance to what residents, and later, legislators, called a health hazard.

Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill in late June 2013 establishing parameters to allow seizures of landfills that ceased operations prior to January 1982, and DEP seized control Fenimore the next day. Resident groups including REACT at first cheered the takeover, but later turned their anger toward DEP when the fumes got worse and a controversial capping project was announced.

While REACT called for removal, or “trucking out” the offending materials producing the toxins, DEP began its capping process last year and is expected to complete it this year. That work continues despite a state Appeals Court ruling in November that said DEP exceeded its authority with the original seizure.

Back in Superior Court in Morristown last month, Ramsey granted a request by attorneys representing Roxbury to join the current litigation, in which DEP is required to show cause why she should not return control of the site — and site remediation — back to SEP.

“SEP welcomes REACT’s participation,” SEP attorney Matthew Fredericks said Friday. “We think the residents of Roxbury should be involved in the process of determining the future of the Fenimore Landfill. The landfill needs to be capped, but it doesn’t have to be by SEP. We’d like to work with REACT and the other interested parties to find a method of remediating the landfill that benefits all parties, which is certainly possible. Although the Appellate Division has ruled that the NJDEP’s takeover of the site was illegal, SEP recognizes the practical difficulties of just ordering the NJDEP off the property, which is why SEP has proposed the formation of a committee of interested parties, including REACT, to work cooperatively toward the goal of finally getting the landfill capped.”

“It’s the residents, not township officials, the DEP, or SEP, who can’t escape the direct impact of decisions made about the Fenimore landfill site,” said REACT Vice President Bill Morrocco. “Residents want their safe, peaceful, and rural township back that they decided to raise a family in, free from industrial exhaust stacks, and free from the threats of air and water pollution. Residents demand a permanent solution that will restore the community and rebound property values, something that no party has brought to the table yet.”

“We still prefer they truck it out, but do we expect that at this point? I don’t think so,” Schultz said. “We just want what’s best for everyone in Roxbury. There is a 30-year plan being discussed. We want to make sure proper testing is done, We would like additional wells and signage warning people of the landfill and possible danger. There is still sulfur dioxide coming out of the (oxidizer) stack in excess of clean air guidelines. We don’t know what is getting into the ground water. That is of great concern to us.”

Staff Writer William Westhoven: 973-428-6627; wwesthoven@GannettNJ.com.

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