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Ringwood council puts clean up question on hold in New Jersey.

The battle over whether tons of contaminated soil will be removed from Ringwood's Superfund site continues after the Borough Council said it may ask a judge to invalidate an ordinance proposed by residents that would require the pollution to be dug up and hauled away.

The move by the council at the end of a five-hour hearing continued to show the deep divisions between those who want the pollution removed and those, like the council, who believe placing a barrier over the site will still protect public health and avoid a multimillion-dollar cleanup bill for taxpayers.

At issue is the wording in several passages of an ordinance created by petition signed by more than 300 residents. It calls on Ford Motor Co. to remove all of the toxic paint sludge its contractors dumped from its former Mahwah plant 50 years ago in the mountains of Ringwood next to a neighborhood. The measure seeks to block the council's controversial plan to build a recycling center on 166,000 tons of polluted material at the former O'Connor Disposal Area instead of removing it.

An outside law firm used by the council said the ordinance contained "serious legal flaws" that would make it impossible for town officials to carry out its provisions.

Residents supporting the measure implored the council to support excavation during the marathon meeting at the municipal building.

The EPA had called for excavation three years ago, but changed its plans when the borough said it wanted to build a recycling center, to be paid for by Ford, at O'Connor, a longtime dumping ground off Peters Mine Road.

The EPA approved a plan last year that would allow the pollution to remain on site under a barrier with the recycling center on top. The plan would drop Ford and the borough's cleanup costs to $5.4 million for capping from $32.6 million for excavation.

Mayor John Speer has acknowledged that the borough's liability drove the decision for a cheaper cleanup, which would be paid for entirely by Ford and Ringwood's insurance carriers.

He and other town officials have defended the recycling plan, saying the EPA and state Department of Environmental Protection believe capping would protect residents from exposure to soil polluted with arsenic, lead, benzene and other harmful substances.

Ringwood is responsible for a portion of the cleanup because officials in the 1960s and '70s allowed Ford to dump at three sites in Upper Ringwood where many members of the Ramapough Native American tribe live. Ramapoughs have reported serious illnesses and early deaths, which they contend are the result of exposure to pollution at the site. No studies have made a direct link, however.

Ringwood is one of about 100 municipalities that allow residents to introduce ordinances without the Borough Council's consent if they get enough signatures on a petition. Such proposed ordinances must then be placed on a ballot for a public vote.

The vote by the council to challenge the ordinance makes it uncertain whether the ordinance will make it on the November ballot. Members of Ringwood Cares said they are willing to work with the borough to shore up any ambiguous language but were still confident it would hold up in court.

But if the ordinance calling for removal is passed as-is by voters on Nov. 8, Heck said the town would then have to renegotiate with Ford and the insurance companies on the higher $32.6 million cleanup cost. He said he expects local taxpayers would be on the hook for a portion of the excavation.

The council passed a resolution at the end of the meeting that would seek to have a judge decide whether the ordinance is written correctly. Heck and other town officials said they would like to work with Ringwood Cares to correct the wording in the ordinance

The EPA had pledged to adequately clean up the site and required Ford to remove more than 50,000 tons of tainted soil. But the decision last year to allow capping enraged many residents.

Source: Scott Fallon,,
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Publication:Hazardous Waste Superfund Alert
Date:Aug 5, 2016
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