VINELAND — City Council on Tuesday voted 5-0 to formally ask the state to determine and then prosecute the entities responsible for the environmental problems at the former Pure Earth Inc. hazardous waste site.
The ordinance also seeks the aid of New Jersey, Cumberland County and other government officials in joining the state Attorney General’s Office in that effort.
City Councilman Paul Spinelli said it would be easy to place blame for problem on various government agencies and the companies that operated at the site for decades.
However, he said he was particularly disappointed with the prior city government administration that “dropped the ball on this.”
“They knew for the last year and a half what was happening there, or they should have known,” Spinelli said. “Now we’re behind the eight ball.”
Members of the new city government administration took office in January.
“Its existence should never have been allowed,” City Council President Anthony Fanucci said of the plant where Pure Earth and other businesses that processed hazardous waste.
Officials with the Attorney General’s Office said last week that City Council’s request would be reviewed and given “appropriate consideration.” They would not say for certain whether that would lead to the requested investigation.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently proceeding with what local officials said is a $1 million site stabilization and remediation program at the Pure Earth site. The EPA began its work in July after being notified of significant problems at the site by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Pure Earth shuttered its operations at the site, located in a city industrial park on North Mill Road, in February 2011.
City officials charge that Pure Earth abandoned the site, leaving behind more than 250,000 gallons of used motor oil, 100 55-gallon drums of chemicals, and acres of stockpiled contaminated soils. They further charge that runoff from the site is leaching into soil and possibly groundwater and tributaries of the Maurice River.
Before City Council acted on the request, its members were asked by a representative of a Cumberland County-based business group to oppose a Spanish company’s plan to take control of and operate the Pure Earth site as a hazardous waste processing plant. The state Department of Environmental Protection is currently reviewing the request by Tradebe Environmental Services LLC.
The request to oppose the licensing was made by Fran Reilly, executive director of the CEO Group of Cumberland County. The organization represents about 45 companies, including some in the North Mill Road industrial park.
Reilly said his organization believes Tradebe should be required to remediate the existing site, and also build its proposed hazardous waste processing plant at a more appropriate site. That would include the county’s landfill in Deerfield Township, or the local Landis Sewerage Authority plant, he said.
In other business, City Council voted 5-0 to introduce an ordinance that would authorize a 10 percent increase in local water utility rates beginning April 1.
Local officials said the increase is needed to prevent the city’s water utility from reaching a zero fund balance in one or two years, which essentially means the agency will operate in the red.
Under the current plan, residential customers using an average of 8,419 gallons of water a month will pay $22.22. That is an increase of $2.02 a month, local officials said.
The ordinance will undergo a second reading and public hearing on March 12.
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