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Bloomfield council calls DEP lax on cleanup at Scientific Glass site


The Bloomfield Town Council said the state Department of Environmental Protection "dropped the ball" by not informing them about the cleanup going on at the contaminated former Scientific Glass property at 8 Lion Gate Drive, the site of a proposed condominium development.

They also are concerned that remediation is taking place without an DEP-approved plan.

Spurred by residents who say they were not notified about remediation and are concerned whether it's being handled properly, council members said they will try to get their own experts in to test the site for contaminants and plan to meet with DEP officials to get them to take a more active role.

"We haven't dropped the ball on this; the DEP has dropped the ball," Councilman Charles Daglian said.

The 13-acre site off Broad Street is in the early phases of a voluntary remediation plan. Leo Realty, a township developer, has plans to build a 150-unit condominium development on the site.

But residents say the site, which is in a flood zone, should not be built upon because it will only worsen flooding in the area.

Activists want to preserve the land and an adjoining five-acre plot along the Third River as open space.

Residents originally asked for a moratorium on construction in flood zones to be put in place, but the town attorney says there has to be a declared state of emergency for that to happen.

Because of the contamination at the site, the DEP should have done a better job of informing residents about what's happening there.

"The DEP is not taking an active role in on-site supervision and in doing so are being neglectful of their duties of protecting and respecting the citizens of New Jersey," said Nick Joanow, a member of the Third Riverbank Association, a group opposed to development at the site.

"Our biggest concern is the DEP's obligation to the town. We don't know what's going on and that leads to concerns," Town Administrator Mauro Tucci said. "We might have a full-scale cleanup going on, and we weren't notified."

Bloomfield health department director Rick Proctor said he is concerned about possible rain run- off from the site leaking into the Third River and that more DEP supervision may be the solution.

"Our best course of action is to force the DEP to have a remediation action work plan and have them enforce that," Proctor said.

But in the case of voluntary remediation, it's normal for DEP officials to not be on-site until excavation begins, according to DEP spokesman Rob Schmitt.

During voluntary remediation, the property owner pays for testing and submits regular reports to DEP, which advises land owners about the technical aspects and the various state and federal standards that must be followed.

The amount of DEP supervision depends on the project, Schmitt said.

"If the department feels there is a need for closer oversight, then we will be on the site," he said.

Schmitt was unable to get specific details about the remediation at 8 Lion Gate Drive.

Gregory Leo of Leo Realty, the project's developer, said the site is being cleaned in conjunction with DEP guidelines and that whatever work they have done so far will ultimately have to be approved by the state.

Leo said he sued the site's former owners to pay for the cost of remediation.

"There are so many regulatory issues that have to be addressed. All we are doing is trying to clean up a contaminated industrial site. That's usually a good thing," Leo said.

Residents also are concerned that remediation is taking place at the site without an action plan being in place.

In an Oct. 3 letter to Leo Realty, DEP case manager Deborah Cowell said that activities that take place at the site without prior approval are in peril.

Technical review at the site stopped because DEP oversight fees were outstanding, Cowell wrote.

Leo acknowledged that remediation was pushing ahead without prior approval but said he has confidence in the environmental firm handling the project.

"We are voluntarily remediating the site under DEP guidelines," Leo said. "These are intelligent engineers. They don't need the DEP to constantly say 'that's right.'"

Residents say irrevocable damage could be taking place at the site while a plan is not in place.

"This opens the door for abuses," Ross said.

Township officials also directed Tucci to see if Leo Realty would be interested in selling the property.

Third River Bank Association member Lois Ross recommended that the town investigate open space funds available to purchase such properties.

Leo said he's interested in listening to offers to buy the property he paid $3.5 million for 13 years ago. The asking price today is at about $10 million, Leo said. He also said resident concerns are natural but unfounded.

Leo's assurances don't soothe area residents like Ann Delker, who lives next to the site, at Greenbrook Condominiums. Delker says she saw a truck loading soil from the contaminated site.

After every scoop, Delker said she noticed a cloud of white dust that concerned her.

"I'm concerned about what's in the soil and if it is even supposed to be taking out of the site," she said."

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