Vernon Township plans to clean up an area near its Department of Public Works storage yard after two visits from a state inspector to the site of the proposed bicycle pump track.
Inspector David Ongaro from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection informed township administrator Charles Voelker that Vernon violated two codes, one for disposing of solid waste without a permit, and the other for building a solid waste facility without a permit. The DEP has not issued any fines against the town.
Ongaro made two visits to the site, on Oct. 20 and 27.
Ongaro reported finding stockpiles of soil, street sweepings, asphalt, leaves, and brush that seemed to have been deposited for longer than six months.
He also found an “abundance of fill” along the western side of the DPW yard, which included but wasn’t limited to asphalt, wood, old oil tanks, miscellaneous metals, and tires. Based upon the vegetation he found there, the fill had been there longer than six months, he reported.
Vernon Township Mayor Howard Burrell said Ongaro’s return visit on Oct. 27 was at the behest of the township. Ongaro showed township officials the site to the west of the DPW yard that had been shown to him on Oct. 20 by Joseph Wallace, the owner of a dump site on Silver Spruce Drive.
Burrell said the site Wallace directed Ongaro to was not township property.
“While we are not sure that this debris is located on town property, that is not an issue that we have any interest in debating at this time,” Burrell said at the Nov. 9 township council meeting. “And now that we have learned about this debris, we have moved forward with determining just what’s required to remove and properly dispose of this debris.”
Burrell and Councilman Andrew Pitsker asked Ongaro if he considered any portion of the 11.3-acre site “toxic,” and Ongaro told them it was not, Burrell said.
Ongaro could not be reached for confirmation by press time.
“We’re stewards of this town, and we take the responsibility and actions of the past mistakes of others, and we’re going to do the right thing for Vernon,” Pitsker said. “But my question to those people who are holding this out do us, will you do the right thing and clean up your mess, especially the one on Silver Spruce.”
Martin O’Donnell, founder and chairman of the board of People Against Illegal Dumping, told the Courier, “It was found that there were violations but no formal action has been taken against Vernon by the DEP. Indeed, Vernon has been working on this for months.” O’Donnell shared correspondence between the township and state about the debris piles dating back to 2018.
Council President Harry Shortway said the solid waste will not affect the proposed pump track, which Burrell said was “two football fields away.” Shortway also said the debris was decades old, possibly before solid waste legislation was introduced. Any seepage would be decades old and would have to “defy gravity” to reach the pump track site, he said.
“We will clean this debris up,” Shortway said. “It will now have to be done with Vernon Township tax dollars due to the unnecessary alarm caused by the claim that it is toxic.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the original to add links to the DEP report citing violations, correspondence between the township and DEP, and a quote from PAID founder Martin O’Donnell.