LINDEN, NJ — The Rahway River Watershed Association wrote to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December, requesting that it mitigate what the association, along with several other environmental groups, deem a hazardous situation at Linden’s Tremley Point.
The site, located at 4050 Tremley Point Road, was used for coal ash disposal from 1947 to 1957 and had gone undisturbed for nearly 60 years.
According to the RRWA’s correspondence to the EPA, “an area that had no serious contamination issues has now had contaminated soils placed on it, along a river, with no containment, and with no prevention of the new contaminants leaching into the river and bi-state waters.”
The RRWA is referring to what they call “the unconfined disposal of about half-a-million tons of contaminated soil” at Tremley Point, which is in a floodplain near the bi-state waters of both New York and New Jersey.
The entire project lies within the Tidal Flood Hazard Area associated with the Rahway River, an area that, according to the RRWA, is regularly under water.
Construction contractor D.T. Allen, doing business under the name “Dredge Management Associates,” purchased the 88-acre tract of land along the Rahway River in 2013 in order to build a 150,000-square-foot truck terminal building, along with an access driveway and parking.
In 2015, D.T. Allen Contracting applied for, and eventually received, permits under the name “Tremley Point Truck Terminal” from the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection to fill a 20-acre floodplain on the Rahway River near its mouth on the Arthur Kill on Tremley Point in Linden. Currently, construction on the site has halted due to a Notice of Violation issued by the DEP.
Despite the lack of any approvals from the NJDEP Site Remediation Program, said the RRWA in its letter to the EPA, “D.T. Allen has placed over half-a-million tons of contaminated soil on the floodplain with absolutely no MSE Wall or any other containment separating the site from the Rahway River other than a silt fence,” RRWA said, in reference to a mechanically stabilized earthen wall that was included in Allen Contracting’s proposal.
According to Larry Hajna, press officer for the NJDEP, a licensed site remediation professional and D.T. Allen Contracting have submitted soil testing data to support their contention that they complied with the regulations to use alternative fill.
“The DEP reviewed that data and determined that they did not conform with the regulations and therefore issued the Notice of Violation,” Hajna said.
Alternative fill is dirt used in a remedial action that contains contaminants in excess of the most stringent soil-remediation standards, site-specific alternative standards, or site-specific interim standards and does not contain free liquids, according to the DEP.
The Notice of Violation was issued in October and the remediation professional and D.T. Allen Contracting are currently conducting another round of testing to present to the NJDEP for consideration, according to Hajna.
When D.T. Allen originally applied for permits in 2015, a complete set of plans were submitted to the NJDEP with the permit application showing the completed truck terminal with parking and plantings. The submitted documents stated that, in order to prepare the site for constructing the terminal, the area had to be filled to above the flood hazard level.
But instead of opting to remove the existing fill material and bring in new material in order to raise the elevation of the site, the company sought a waiver to bring alternative fill into the floodplain.
In its FHA Hardship Exception Request to the DEP, the company asked permission to bring alternative fill into the floodplain, stating that the existing site was contaminated and represented an ecological risk to the surrounding environment.
“The site, which represents a candidate site for redevelopment, will utilize an area that remains in a deprived state,” D.T. Allen wrote in its request. “Due to the site condition, compliance with this chapter would result in an undue hardship if the applicant were required to remove all hazardous material and to bring in clean fill material to raise the elevation of the site above one foot above the flood hazard elevation.”
But a site investigation of the 20 acres in question, conducted by the RRWA in March 2016, found no detections whatsoever of PAHs, or Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and only a single detection of arsenic above regulatory levels at a depth of 6 feet, according to the RRWA. PAHs are associated with combustion products and the known carcinogens are a cancer-causing ingredient in cigarettes.
“Despite the fact that the contractor acknowledges that placing PAH-contaminated soil on the PAH-free site violates DEP Alternative Fill Policy, they proposed to cap the site with contaminated historic fill containing PAHs above nonresidential standards to ‘isolate the historic fill and prevent direct contact,’” the RRWA wrote in a letter to the EPA administrator.
In its Alternative Fill and Soil Management Plan, the company stated that “a considerable amount” of fill material — approximately 500,000 cubic yards — would be needed to cap the 19 acres of coal ash historic fill at the site and raise grades above the tidal flood hazard area. D.T. Allen further stated that much of this imported material would originate from construction sites throughout the New York and New Jersey metropolitan area.
“Typically, this material is free of liquids and hazardous waste, but usually contains PAHs and metals at or slightly above NJDEP non-residential direct contact soil remediation standards,” wrote the company in documents to the DEP.
According to documents put forth by the RRWA, it has conducted an extensive file review of documents received under the Open Public Records Act, as well as site visits on and adjacent to the property. In addition, the RRWA has stated in documents that “that one detection of Arsenic was used as an excuse to ‘cap’ the site ‘contamination’ with about 500,000 tons of PAH-contaminated fill.”
The company told the DEP that the site would be filled to an elevation of 1 foot above the newly revised Flood Hazard elevation of 13 ft. “To minimize the project’s footprint and impact on the surrounding lands, Mechanically Stabilized Earthen (MSE) walls will surround the site,” wrote D.T. Allen in its paperwork.
The wall was to be 14 feet high at its highest point.
The company also stated that the MSE walls would be constructed before fill material would be brought to the site.
“The placement of the MSE walls will prevent the material from coming in contact with the tidal flooding event,” said the company in documents. “Once the walls are constructed, the material will be imported, spread and compacted to prevent a threat to the environment, public health, safety and welfare of the surrounding residents.”
“It is anticipated that the applicant will import processed dredge material that has the equivalent contaminant levels, or less, onto the site,” said the company in its Hardship Exception request. “The PDM is considered hazardous material and will be placed within the Flood Hazard Area, thereby requiring a Hardship Exception. The existing site is contaminated and represents an ecological risk to the surrounding environments,” D.T. Allen stated, in regard to the potentially dangerous material.
D.T. Allen also told the DEP that the fill material would not adversely affect the site, stating in documents to the DEP that, “The proposed importation of fill material will not adversely impact the use of contiguous or nearby properties. The site is located adjacent to one upland area that serves as a tractor trailer parking area and the remainder of the site is surrounded by tidal waterways, wetlands and flood hazard areas. The site will not impede the use of any properties and will be completely surrounded by MSE walls that will keep the subject fill material on site.”
Greg Allen, owner of D.T. Allen Contracting, told LocalSource that the allegations put forth could not be further from the truth.
“The proposed MSE wall is designed as a retaining wall to adjust for the difference in grade where the wetland transition area is located and where the proposed parking lot is located,” Allen said in an email. “Likewise, the proposed wall and the imported fill is located approximately 150 feet away from water’s edge and has absolutely no chance of making its way into the river. Filling and capping of the site began in 2015 and there has not been any settlement or movement of the fill whatsoever.”
According to Allen, the company’s geotechnical engineer is working on a final design of the wall. In addition, Allen said that the site is expected to be filled shortly, and that the fill is in compliance.
“The fill material imported into the site is in compliance with the approved Remedial Action Workplan and was used to establish a grade that is 1 foot above the 100-year flood plain so that the site remains out of the Post-Sandy new flood hazard area, so that the planned warehouse will not have any flooding potential,” said Allen. “Furthermore, our plans call for the installation of over 4,000 plants and trees which will help to re-establish the wetland buffer, enhancing the environment for the wildlife in the area.”
Allen said this work will take place during optimal planting season next year, adding, “We have deed restricted 65 acres of the 88-acre site and reserved it for possible future wetlands mitigation efforts should the Tremley Point Connector Road be built in the future,” said Allen.
But the RRWA noted in their letter to the EPA that, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the site was completely under water to a level of 14 feet during Hurricane Sandy, extensively flooding adjacent neighborhoods in Rahway, Carteret, Linden and Elizabeth. They also said that a similar flooding event would carry contaminated soils into the Arthur Kill, Rahway River, and the adjacent, regularly flooded communities.
Linden Mayor Derek Armstead did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment.
Although the contractor claimed that the site would ultimately be a trucking terminal, its Remedial Action Work Plan only called for a 12-inch cap of clean soil over the unprocessed contaminated materials, the RRWA said in their letter.
“However, the final build out of the site is not their responsibility, and the new layer of contaminated soils will leach PAHs into the adjacent waters,” the RRWA letter said.
Allen, however, said that the company is currently working with the DEP.
“We are working closely with NJDEP on these minor issues, which are normal and customary when dealing with a brownfields redevelopment project,” Allen said. “In addition, our firm has received preliminary and final approval to construct a 150,000-square-foot warehouse facility at the site and have every intention to begin that work shortly. Our remedial action work plan calls for the entire site to be capped, including an asphalt parking area and the proposed warehouse building, serving as an additional layer of environmental protection.”
According to the NJDEP, the agency immediately acted once it got word of the contaminated alternative fill being dumped on the site. Hajna told LocalSource that the agency wasted no time in contacting D.T. Allen.
“In this case, we became aware that the alternative fill was brought onto the site without required DEP pre-approval,” Hajna told LocalSource in an email.
Hajna said that according to DEP regulations, the use of alternative fill in excess of the volume required for remedial action cannot be implemented without prior written approval from the agency.
“When the Department became aware Allen Contracting was importing alternative fill, Allen Contracting was notified that written approval was not obtained and Allen Contracting ceased importing fill,” Hajna said. “The Department also questioned the variance application to the regulatory requirements regarding the contaminants present in the imported alternative fill and the maximum concentrations present in the alternative fill.”
In the meantime, the RRWA told the EPA, “the lack of any containment whatsoever of over half-a-million tons of contaminated soils on an unconfined floodplain in a regularly flooded area presents a threat to the environment, public health, safety and welfare of the surrounding residents,”
Jeff Tittel, chapter director for the New Jersey Sierra Club, said both D.T. Allen and the DEP are responsible for the ongoing hazardous situation at Tremley Point.
“It’s a stupid place to pile up hazardous material,” Tittel told LocalSource in a phone call. “It’s a flood area. The DEP is responsible because they should not have given permission to do this. The DEP should withdraw the permits and make them clean it up. It’s ridiculous.”
Tittel also admonished the DEP for not enforcing the construction of the MSE wall.
“They’re not even on top of the wall,” said Tittel. “You have a clean site that’s a floodplain, there’s no wall, and it’s open and leaching. The soil could end up in local communities. They took a clean area and buried it in contaminated soil.”
But Hajna said that the wall is not required.
“The wall is not a DEP requirement. It is noted in the Land Use permit because the development firm included the wall as part of plans for grading for the site. This is, by far, secondary to the alternative fill issue,” he said.
Debbie Mans, executive director and baykeeper of NY/NJ Baykeeper, an environmental group that has advocated for the preservation of open areas along the mouth of the Rahway River, told LocalSource that the area near Tremley Point represents some of the last remaining continuous habitat in the region.
“It should be on the property owner to prove, through sampling, that the site is causing contamination to the waterways and that is the reason they need to clean it up,” Mans said in an email. “Further, because it is the placement of large amounts of contaminated soil adjacent to wetlands and waterways, there is the concern for sediment runoff.”
The DEP noted that the next step will either be a settlement agreement, an administrative order requiring certain steps be taken to remedy the situation or possible civil penalties.