• Joseph F. Berenato

Angello, O’Neil promoted


Councilman Thomas Gribbin (left) administered the oath to Lt. Samuel Angello on March 28. Angello who was joined by his wife and daughters. (THG/Joseph F. Berenato. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—Hammonton Police Chief Kevin Friel introduced several promotions and new hires within his department at the regular meeting of town council held on March 28 in town hall.


Friel said that it was “another great day in the story of the Hammonton Police Department.”


“We have had some retirements, which did create some vacancies. We have proceeded forward with finding qualified candidates to fill those vacancies. I bring before you tonight two of our finer officers that are up for promotion with the approval of mayor and council,” Friel said.


The first officer Friel presented was Sgt. Samuel Angello, who has been a member of the department since 2000.


“In his service here, he has done a lot. He has received a lot of training with traffic; he’s had a great deal in leadership, as he was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2012—and did a great job. Matter of fact, he is our senior sergeant right now, which is a title that is only given to one of our shift supervisors ... He is up for promotion tonight to the rank of lieutenant,” Friel said.


Councilman Thomas Gribbin made a motion to approve the promotion, which was seconded by Councilman William Olivo. The motion was approved unanimously.


Before administering the oath, Gribbin said that he was “very honored to have the privilege of swearing in sergeant—and soon to be lieutenant—Sam Angello.”


“His family is very close to mine. I know that Sam’s been a lifelong Hammontonian, and 23 years of serving this community, you have the respect of the men and women that you serve with. You certainly have the respect of this council,” Gribbin said.


Sgt. Jonathan O’Neil received the oath from Councilman Thomas Gribbin as Ghadir O’Neil held the Bible. (THG/Joseph F. Berenato. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

The next candidate for approval was K-9 Officer Jonathan O’Neil, who joined the department in 2004 as a Class II Officer and as a dispatcher.


“He knows what it’s like on both sides of the radio, which I think is certainly a great attribute,” Friel said.


In 2007, O’Neil was hired as a full-time officer, and was appointed as a K-9 officer in 2016.


“He and his partner Havoc have worked to serve our community. He does a great job, certainly, leading his K-9, and we are asking mayor and council to approve him to be the leader of a squad. I’m asking them to promote him to the rank of sergeant,” Friel said.


Olivo made the motion to approve the promotion; Gribbin seconded the motion, which was approved unanimously.


Friel said that the promotion process is a difficult one.


“I consider myself very lucky, as a chief of police, to have a department with so many wonderful, great, qualified officers. Matter of fact, that’s part of what we’ve been doing with our employment; we’ve been finding officers that are qualified, not just accepting people because they’re on a list. We want to make sure that we have the highest caliber of officer here to protect and serve our community,” Friel said.


Friel also said that the police department was expanding through the police chaplain program.


“This is something that we started as a fledgling just last year; one of our records clerks is also an ordained minister. She approached me and said, ‘Chief, listen: I want you to consider this.’ ... We also have an officer that’s trained in order to be able to help other officers if they are having issues: if they’re having health issues, if they’re having anxiety that they’re dealing with some things we have to deal with as police officers, and helping members of the public. What better way to help members of the public but have members of the public with us?” Friel said.

Friel said that a meeting was held with area faith-based organizations.


“We brought them in to speak with, and said that we want to start this program. We’re going to start it small; we have one police chaplain already. We’re going to increase it; we’re going to have four,” Friel said.


Friel described the role of police chaplain, noting that the chaplains would help the department “immensely.”


“Some of the things we deal with as police officers in helping the public, one of the worst ones is going to talk to someone and explain to them they’re loved one’s no longer here because of an accident, because of an incident, and it is very difficult as a police officer, sometimes, to be able to handle that and handle your job as a police officer. It weighs on you,” Friel said.


Friel said that there have been members who left the department because of “all that they internalize.”


“We’re trained with a certain skillset, but who better than a person who is a minister or a pastor who is trained, who is used to dealing with people spiritually, emotionally? What better way to serve our community but to embrace that and bring to this our police chaplain program?” Friel said.


Hammonton Police Chief Kevin Friel (right) stands with police chaplains (left to right) Ada Marrero, Lillian Melendez and Angelica Fontanez. (THG/Joseph F. Berenato. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

Friel called Senior Chaplain Angelica Fontanez to the dais to introduce the candidates. Fontanez thanked Mayor Stephen DiDonato, members of council and Friel for “opening the doors to the police chaplains.”


“Police chaplains are fully ordained ministers, just as the chief mentioned. They’re active in their house of worship. We are trained; we pose sufficient leadership skills, and we are ready to serve as a support system in times of crisis to our first responders, their families and also our community,” Fontanez said.


Fontanez said that she was excited that the program was expanding by three chaplains, even though the first candidate—the Rev. David Rivera—was unable to attend the meeting.


Friel said that Rivera, the pastor of St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Parish, had a prior engagement.


“I believe he has a meeting with the bishop, so that kind of trumps our council meeting for this evening; good career choice that he’s taking the meeting,” Friel said.


Friel asked for Rivera’s appointment as a chaplain for a period of one year, which council approved.


The next candidate was Lillian Melendez.


“She is retired from the emergency assistance unit for the entire Atlantic County, and she brings with us a wealth of knowledge,” Fontanez said.


The third was Ada Marrero.


“Ada has a long history of working with women from various backgrounds and afflictions, and that’s also including domestic violence,” Fontanez said.


After council’s approval, Friel administered the oath of office to each in turn.


DiDonato offered his gratitude to all those who interviewed.


“I know, for a few today we promoted, it was a great day. There’s a few standing here that have a little hole in their stomach, to be very honest, right? We all want to get a promotion. I thank you for your professionalism, those who did not get promoted tonight. I ask you to keep plugging forward for the good of the department—for the good of the community—because your time is coming. You’re all leaders. We’re very proud of you,” DiDonato said.


In other business, the council heard a presentation given by Ken Sheppard, the Environmental Director at South Jersey Industries, regarding the current state of groundwater contamination at the former gas plant on Lincoln Street.


“At the site of the water department building down the street and the water tower, back in 2015 through 2017, we went through a pretty substantial project to do a cleanup related to some former gas plant residuals that were left behind by a predecessor company to South Jersey Gas,” Sheppard said.


Sheppard said that approximately 60,000 tons of soil were removed from the site.


“We sent that soil offsite, then after we dug initial contamination down between five and 10 feet, we stabilized material in place down to 65 feet below the ground surface. When we left—in roughly middle-2017, after the restoration was complete—what was left behind was clean soil at the top and a stabilized mass below the ground down to 65 feet,” Sheppard said.


The stabilized mass, Sheppard said, is a mixture of soil and concrete through which groundwater cannot permeate. Sheppard said that, since the completion of the project, groundwater monitoring has continued in the contaminated area and in the surrounding areas across a portion of town.


Sheppard showed an illustration of pre-remediation concentrations for benzene in January of 2015, and one for post-remediation contamination in May of 2021.


“The worst of the groundwater contamination was just down-gradient of where that source material was. Just like we see in many other cases when we do this work, shortly after you remove the source, the concentrations degrade, go down; conditions improve drastically. What once was that bright red spot—this was in May of last year—both the extent and the concentrations of the benzene compound, the one that I’m showing as an example, have gone down considerably,” Sheppard said.


Sheppard described the map, noting that the bold lines on the outside of the map is “the extent of the classification exemption area, the mapped area that we monitor to show this is the clean extent.”


“We know that this particular compound, and the groundwater contamination it’s left behind, is well within there, but we monitor at least annually all the wells around this network to make sure we keep a close eye on what’s going on even after we’ve done the source material cleanup and taken care of things that would have been contributing,” Sheppard said.


Sheppard said that the monitoring will continue for “at least the next 20 to 30 years.”


“There’s an indeterminate period on how long we’re going to continue monitoring, so we’re going to be around for a long time,” Sheppard said.


Sheppard also showed a 3D diagram of the two supply wells beneath the water department.


“At about 150 feet below the ground, there’s a confining layer; a clay unit. Anything related to the contamination that we addressed has always been above that 150-foot clay. The intake points for the two supply wells on the property are down at approximately 300 feet, so we have a substantial confining unit that does separate anything that would have previously been above—that could still be above—from the intake points for the water supply,” Sheppard said.


Gribbin asked if the contamination would interfere with private wells. Sheppard said that, within the aforementioned exception area, there is an institutional control.


“There’s a document filed with the DEP [New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection] that says this area contains groundwater contamination. When someone applies for a new well permit, it should get flagged and highlighted that this is not a place that a well should be permitted to be installed,” Sheppard said.


Councilman Edward Wuillermin asked for clarification as to how large the exception area is.


“We’re entirely within the water service area of the town with that, so none of the residents should be having a private well where they would be drawing potable water from,” Wuillermin said.


Councilman Steven Furgione explained further.


“When we did the project, we spent an extensive amount of time with South Jersey Gas and their contractors basically going door-to-door there, because we realized that is all within the limits of town service. There should be no private wells. We advised anyone who had one, who had it for irrigation, whether it was an old well, listen: if you have a shallow well here, you have ground contamination possible to 150 feet. You need this looked at or looked into. I don’t remember there being more than a couple that were there,” Furgione said.


Sheppard said that every property is re-notified every two years.


“We did repeat the well search for any private wells within this area within the last year, and nothing new came up,” Sheppard said.


Gribbin also inquired about the area of contaminated water, also known as a plume.


“Will that travel, or will that stay confined to that area that you showed?” Gribbin said.


Sheppard replied.


“It will not travel beyond the network that we have, the bold lines on the outside here. What you see sometimes, at the conclusion of the project, is a disconnect from the source ... what you’ll see is that disconnect, and what looks like traveling, but very rarely the things move vertically this way. It’s just a degradation of the compounds and things breaking down. A little bit of mobility, but in no case will we see anything break out related to this down-gradient. The conditions just aren’t there to support that,” Sheppard said, noting that he expects the concentrations to lower as the years progress.


Furgione noted that one of the concerns was that the plume was eventually going to reach Hammonton Lake. Richard Beck, of GZA GeoEnvironmental, addressed that concern.


“This source material is old source material; this has been in the ground for 80 years. Most of what we see is, over that time, these plumes have reached—pretty much—the extent that they’re going to move. Natural attenuation equals the plume’s ability to move, continue downstream,” Beck said.


Beck said that they “generally don’t see them go much further than they’ve gotten at this point.”


“What we expect to see now is a rapid cleanup on the up-gradient side, towards the site, and then a slightly slower clean-up on the down-gradient coming back. We’ll get to a bulls-eye point in the middle, and that’ll be the last to degrade. That’s what we’re starting to see here, and what we’ve seen on other sites,” Beck said.


Gribbin asked if projected travel for the plume is tracked over time.


“The modeling that we use to define this classification exception area—the bold lines out here—was based upon a worst-case scenario with the modeling of how far it could go, and then stepping outside of that to make sure we always have clean points to monitor,” Sheppard said.


Gribbin inquired further.


“Has the plume, from where you saw it five years ago, generally tracked the movement you anticipated?” Gribbin said.


“Absolutely ... it did exactly what we thought it would,” Sheppard said.


DiDonato commented.


“So, to this point, to say it’s been a success would be an understatement compared to the graphs you’re showing here,” he said.


Sheppard concurred.


“Absolutely a success, not only in terms of what I’m showing with the groundwater, but it was a tremendous impact on the town—and, the fact that I’m back here for the first time before you roughly five years after, I think, is a testament to that success, because we did what we said we were going to do. The restoration went as it should. Anything we restored has held up, so, all across the board, I feel it was a great success,” Sheppard said.


Furgione said that this was “probably the most unique project South Jersey Gas has ever undertaken.”


“It was directly under a water tower and over two municipal wells. Without getting too deep in the weeds, here’s the one thing I’d like to tell the residents ... There’s two wells there that we run. GZA has a company that does well testing; they test our raw data. They test it quarterly, and then they tests it monthly when we’re running our wells. The VOCs—the volatile organic compounds—that existed probably 12 years ago still exist in the raw form,” Furgione said.


That, Furgione said, is why carbon-based filters were installed in Wells 1 and 3.


“We have a very complicated and sophisticated filtration system out there. The VOCs exist in the raw form. Once we run them through the carbon filtration system and have them tested, it’s showing a non-detect. I think that’s important for the residents to understand here, that the filtration system we have was designed specifically to handle those volatile organic compounds, and that filtration system is doing its job,” Furgione said.


DiDonato added further clarification.


“Let’s not convolute the two. That, in no way, those VOCs were, in any way associated with this issue,” DiDonato said.


Sheppard affirmed that assertion.


“Correct,” he said.


Furgione said that he wanted to reiterate that the wells are being tested both pre- and post-treatment.


“I just want to make that point so the residents understand here, because when residents hear spills, cleanups, all those sorts of things in relation to where they are, I just think it’s important they understand that they have clean drinking water here,” Furgione said.


Speaking with The Gazette after the meeting, Furgione described the tests used to test the water after it has been treated.


“This is an AQ test, and they give you two designations: One is a 504.1; the second is 537,” Furgione said.


Furgione said that the difference between the two tests is “probably testing different compounds.”


“We use both. They pull an AQ test; that’s the type of test, and then those two numbers correlate to whatever compounds they’re testing for,” Furgione said.


During the meeting, DiDonato commented further, noting that the town’s wells on that site are “303 or 305 feet.”


“The contamination from this historic site was at 65 feet, so there’s a 240-foot separation. I need everybody to understand that. That’s 80 yards on a football field going vertically. It’s very critical that you always remember that, and realize that any and all issues, the two will never be related—especially now that you’ve taken this step. It probably, ultimately, 100 percent would’ve never been, but now that you’ve taken this step, it’s impossible. I don’t use that word too often, but it is impossible at this point,” DiDonato said.


Wuillermin brought attention to the fact that Hammonton draws its water from the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer.


“The outcrop of the Cohansey is everywhere. So, you could have a very localized spill, or it could be a spill that could be a few miles away. That might eventually migrate close to where we draw our water. The outcrop for the Kirkwood is a little closer to Camden, so those localized contaminations we have to be vigilant about,” Wuillermin said.


Wuillermin said that is why the state requires constant testing of municipal wells by a certified lab.


“It’s an independent process. The town doesn’t touch the samples. It gets picked up by the people from the lab. They run that. It’s reported right to the state. If we have a problem, that sends up a red flag right away, but when you do detect some of those things, it could be from other point sources in the surrounding area, but not—as the mayor was trying to make clear—affiliated with that particular location and that particular site,” Wuillermin said.


Sheppard said that the key is ongoing monitoring.


“The municipal wells are sampled monthly. We’re sampling this well network across town at least annually. In both cases, eyes are on what’s going on. If anything does change, we know. The town knows. We know. Eyes are on it, and people are watching,” Sheppard said.


The next meeting of town council will be held at 7 p.m. on April 25.