CARTERET — Borough of Carteret Mayor Daniel J. Reiman has put U.S. Metals Refining Company, the former operator of a local smelter plant site, on notice that it must clean up its own property and that of nearby residents or face the borough in federal court.
“After 20 years of oversight by the regulatory agencies,” Reiman said, “U.S. Metals has failed to finish the cleanup of its own property and has failed to protect nearby residents who they may have put at risk.”
In response to years of cleanup delays at the U.S. Metals site, Reiman directed the borough’s environmental counsel to serve formal notice on U.S. Metals that its site, at 300 Middlesex Avenue, presents an “imminent and substantial” danger to the community that must be addressed under the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The RCRA law requires notice to the polluter and to the federal and state governments at least 90 days before commencing litigation.
“I am especially concerned that U.S. Metals has left unsafe levels of heavy metals like lead and possibly other toxics on both public and private properties nearby,” Reiman said. “While I have faith in the NJDEP, 20 years of foot-dragging by this polluter is enough. It’s time to finish cleanup of the U.S. Metals site and test and clean up nearby properties to make sure everyone in the community is safe.”
Reiman said that even though NJDEP’s own cleanup rules require polluters to track down off-site pollution, U.S. Metals never investigated nearby properties for contamination until late December, when NJDEP was alerted to the issue by reporters from the Gannett news organization. Gannet later reported a pattern of neglect by federal and state regulators when dealing with cleanup surrounding former smelter sites.
U.S. Metals Refining Company operated a smelter and other metal refining operations on the site from 1903 to 1986, and first entered a consent order agreeing to clean up the site on Jan. 22, 1988. In a 2009 case involving a dispute over cleanup responsibility for the site, U.S. Senior District Judge Dickenson Debevoise found that the U.S. Metals “smelter spewed forth enormous amounts of contaminating materials,” and that “even after controls were put in place the controls were inadequate, defective, and often non-functional.”
In 2008, the borough initiated an investigation of a portion of the unutilized property in an effort to establish a new Redevelopment Area. Upon a study performed by planning consultants and the recommendations of the Carteret Planning Board, the Borough Council adopted a resolution creating the new Redevelopment Area with the borough reserving the right to condemn the property. Amax subsequently filed a complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey challenging the designation, arguing among other things that AMAX was planning to move forward to develop the site and citing an industrial user as a potential operator and builder. Amax has failed to submit any such plans to the Carteret Planning or Zoning Boards since its complaint was filed in 2008.
“We have fought U.S. Metals and Amax in state court in an attempt to get them to remediate and redevelop the site,” Reiman added. “We have yet to see any evidence of their alleged efforts to introduce new development to the property, or to address the contamination levels known to be present there. This administration pledged itself since the very beginning to a zero-tolerance policy on the ‘mothballing’ of brownfields properties. We’re committed to forcing these negligent corporations to fulfill their obligations – to clean these properties up and put them to use.”
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