Joseph F. Berenato
Local contaminated sites
HAMMONTON—According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), there are 33 active registered contaminated sites, two pending sites with confirmed contamination and 75 sites in the town of Hammonton listed on njbrownfieldsproperties.com.
Dan Bachalis, the chair of the Hammonton Environmental Commission, recently addressed these sites during a presentation about the town’s Natural Resource Inventory (NRI) at the November 17 meeting of the Hammonton Planning Board.
Bachalis told The Gazette that, to him, there is “only a fine distinction” between brownfields and contaminated sites.
“Brownfields are generally sites that were used for industrial or semi-industrial purposes in the past, and have been sold off but still have underlying issues with contamination that need to be addressed in order to be properly redeveloped. Contaminated sites are those that are more active, and either may be in the process of remediation or may not while negotiations go on about who’s responsible and how much it’s going to cost,” Bachalis said.
Bachalis said that such sites can affect development or redevelopment of town properties.
“In a town that is still working hard to stay on the crest of its pasts 20 years of success of redeveloping the town, that’s really, really critical. Folks who are buying properties in town need to know whether the property is in one of those properties, and they also would be well-served in knowing if it’s near where they’re going to be buying so they can take steps with the town to get it fixed or avoid it. We don’t want people to be avoiding buying property in town, but that’s a possibility if we have too many of these sites. Plus, they’re just an eyesore. We have enough vacant properties around town, so let’s get them fixed up,” Bachalis said.
Bachalis said that the impact to the town caused by brownfields and contamination vary from site to site, and used 317 Egg Harbor Rd., which once housed the glass factory of W. Skinner and Son Inc., as an example.
“The Skinner property had a lot of contamination; that would cause a real problem if you had people doing things like really getting into the dirt. It would need to be cleared with some clean soil placed on top to make sure people aren’t going to be exposed to it if we use it as a future park in town. Certainly, it would be problematic if you were putting a house in there, and you had a basement; it could seep contaminants into the basement block—which has happened in other towns,” Bachalis said.
Bachalis also voiced environmental concerns, noting that there could be a “big, big impact, given the right kind of contamination.”
“We had that big, awful leak from South Jersey Gas—the big plume they had to take care of over at the water tower. That was a major problem because the plume headed under residential properties, and there’s still evidence of a plume that may or may not have stopped its progress towards the lake. We’re still investigating the impact of that,” Bachalis said, referring to the site that once housed a coal gasification plant on Lincoln Street.
Bachalis said that chief among environmental concerns are potential impacts on the Kirkwood–Cohansey Aquifer System.
“If anything leaked deep enough, long enough, we’d have major hell to pay in terms of our drinking water ... Getting something really bad in our water would be simply horrible; the impact on our operations and the town’s finances would be great—to say nothing of the fact that we’ve now polluted one of the best aquifers in the country, which is going to affect all of our neighbors. Given what we’ve seen in other parts of the state, we don’t want it to linger any longer than necessary to avoid larger impacts than might otherwise be necessary,” Bachalis said.
Councilman Steven Furgione—the chair of the Water and Sewer Committee—said that Hammonton’s public drinking water is not in peril, but that may not be the case for well water.
“The drinking wells that the town has—Wells 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7—are deep, very deep. Our average depth is a little over 300 feet. All of the contaminations are shallow, somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 or 60 feet deep. Our drinking wells are protected from that. If we catch an area where there is contamination, in the past we did it with South Jersey Gas, we try to make sure that any residents who have wells get them tested; private wells are a lot shallower,” Furgione said.
Furgione said that there are three active contamination sites that are being worked on by the town.
“You’ve got K&K Linens next door to town hall. You have the old Mazza Muffler site on Egg Harbor Road, and then you have the old Skinner building,” Furgione said.
Mayor Stephen DiDonato said that the cleanups are being funded through grant money.
“There’s brownfields money. The state has grants. That’s where we getting some money for the old dry cleaners next to town hall, that’s where we getting some Mazza Muffler and Skinner money ... You’re not talking about a cheap endeavor. You’re talking about millions of dollars; millions and millions and millions,” DiDonato said.
“As the sites are coming up, we’re constantly applying to the state for funding. We’ve identified the sites, we’re working on getting them cleaned up and we’re monitoring them on the water side. All these results go to the DEP, then they let us know if we have an issue,” Furgione said.
Bachalis acknowledged that proper remediation is expensive, but noted that having a cohesive plan may prove beneficial in that regard.
“Whether we have a small number of sites, or whether we have the relatively large number we have for the size of our town, it really pays to have a plan of attack for how we’re going to address all of this so that people know what to expect down the road, both in terms of our ability to assure residents and business owners that their livelihood—and their very lives—are safer because of those efforts, and also to let the people we’re going to eventually go to with our hands out to get money to fix it, they’ll know that we have a plan that’s based on actual need and is rational and commensurate for the problems that we have ... As long as we can prove the need to funding sources, having a plan would help us, I think, sort through some of those issues,” Bachalis said.
Furgione said that one of the challenges in forming an overarching plan is that many of the sites are not on town-owned property.
“Some of them—for example, the K&K Linens site—wound up being a tax sale issue, so we were able to prioritize that and buy it so we can remedy the situation. A lot of these are still private; therefore, there’s not a lot we can do unless it becomes a tax sale situation or is somehow turned over to the town. The ones that we can grab, we’re grabbing so that we can remediate them ... If it’s private land, that gets a little more complicated. We go after anything we can get our hands on. Then, the town can apply for funding and go ahead and get them cleaned up,” Furgione said.
Furgione added that many private owners have performed their own remediations.
“If you look at the gas station on the corner of Broadway, they did their own clean-up there. They did an outstanding job. They took the initiative, and they cleaned it up themselves. There’s a case where they took out all that dirt and then replaced. That was not town-initiated. That was initiated by the owner. We get those cases as well,” Furgione said.
Furgione said that some sites, like that of the former Octagon Oil, in the 500 block of N. White Horse Pike—referred to as the Policastro site—were a joint effort.
“That was not owned by the town; the town just oversaw the cleanup ... I remember going back probably four or five years ago, they had huge purification tanks that would pump the stuff into the tank, clean them and then disperse them. Now, that’s in the monitoring phase and will be until the DEP deems them not an issue anymore; typically, you’re talking years,” Furgione said.
Furgione said that there are several sites in Hammonton that are in the monitoring phase.
“We have monitoring wells all over town. If you leave town hall, the parking lot across the street, there’s monitoring wells there. There are monitoring wells all over within a few blocks of where we had the big cleanup on Lincoln Street for the South Jersey Gas cleanup. We have monitoring wells on the old Policastro site. DEP gets the monitoring results; we’re watching them. Based on what we’ve talked about with our engineers and our engineer’s LSRP [licensed site remediation professional], a lot of this, once you cut the head off of the problem, natural attenuation fixes the issue. For example, once you stop an active contamination, once you begin the cleanup, natural attenuation is where the ground naturally cleans whatever the spill was at the time,” Furgione said.
“With these contaminated spots, dilution is the solution. You never get it all out; you’re just hoping that, number one, you stopped whatever was going into the ground, and slowly it dissipates—slowly, over hundreds of years. Hopefully, we don’t have any new active sites, and we slowly clean up the old ones. That’s the only way to do this,” DiDonato said.
DiDonato said that residents can stay informed by reading the NRI when it comes before town council.
“We’ll have to get it out there on Channel 9, and we’ll explain what we’re doing. They can ask questions any time; they can come to town hall meetings if they have a specific question. They can call me at (609) 517-6324; I answer 24/7,” DiDonato said.
Bachalis said that, once council approves the NRI, it will be available on the town’s website.
“If they’re interested in brownfields and contaminated sites, they can read those sections. We have links in there to the DEP website, and they can do further study there. That may help them to focus questions other than a general, ‘Hey, what’s the town doing about all of this?’ They might want to hone in on properties that are near their properties or businesses and see what the status is with DEP and with the town to see what they are doing to address any issues there,” Bachalis said.
DiDonato was quick to reassure residents, as well.
“There’s no immediate reason to be alarmed. We’re going to slowly chip away and get them cleaned up,” DiDonato said.
The list of brownfields in Hammonton may be accessed by searching the Brownfields SiteMart at njbrownfieldsproperties.com. Known contaminated sites may be found at www.state.nj.us/dep/srp/kcsnj/.
This story was produced in collaboration with CivicStory.org and the NJ Sustainability Reporting project- SRHub.org.