BRIDGEWATER, NJ - A very vocal public audience filled the seats to capacity with standing room only at the continuation of the Center of Excellence meeting before the planning board Monday.

A motion filed by mayor-elect Matthew Moench to prevent the scheduling of special planning board meetings for the Center of Excellence, like the one held Monday, was denied by a judge earlier that afternoon, and the application was heard as planned.

The meeting continued where the previous one a week prior had left off with questions site remediation professional Keith Savel, who was hired by the township to review and provide expert testimony on environmental concerns, specifically the presence of benzene on the property. The concern was first identified on the site in 2000, when an underground tank discovered to have been leaking was removed by Sanofi.

Sign Up for Bridgewater/Raritan Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Savel said it is not known when the leak started.

Savel said the applicant, Advance Realty, has tried to remove the benzene using two different methods. One method was pumping it out and the other was “chemical oxidation injection reductions.”

Savel explained that in a permit application to the Department of Environmental Protection, the applicant has now asked that natural attenuation be the method of remediation to allow the benzene to naturally be broken down in the soil. This process, he said, takes 26 years, during which time they propose to monitor the levels of benzene by taking measurements every two years.  

The DEP has not yet issued a response to the permit application.

Savel said the applicant has spent $50,000 on the attempted remediation methods and on sentinel wells located within 200 feet of the affected area, which have shown no levels of benzene, indicating that it has not spread from the affected area.  He said they have also set aside $47,000 for the proposed continued monitoring.

A member of the audience questioned if that was a sufficient amount, and Savel said he believes it is, as it is projected to cover 13 sampling events, one every two years over 26 years, at an anticipated cost of $2,500 per event. If testing shows that levels are spreading or not decreasing, more aggressive methods will have to be implemented, Savel said.

Councilman Howard Norgalis pointed out that monitoring and remediation is the shared responsibility of Sanofi and the Center of Excellence.  

“There are some deep pockets here,” he said.

Members of the public asked if any testing for benzene had been done at Peters Brook or at residences outside of the boundary of the proposed site. Savel said he was not aware of any samples outside the property, but that the absence of benzene in the sentinel wells indicates that the area is not spreading.

“The groundwater that’s contaminated is a shallow, confined aquifer, approximately 20 feet below grade,” he said. “I can’t imagine a scenario where it would flow off site.”

A member of the public asked Savel to explain “vapor intrusion sampling.”

Savel said that benzene is a “volatile organic” that has the potential to vaporize and be inhaled. He said the building nearest to the affected area on the site was tested using vapor intrusion sampling and the results were below the DEP threshold, requiring no further testing.

Savel said exposure to benzene is harmful and increases the potential to develop cancer, specifically leukemia.

Perri Urso, of Short Hills, spoke on behalf of her mother-in-law, local resident, Antonia Urso, assisting her with a language barrier.

“Do you feel in the 26-year span of the remediation you have planned, what’s going to happen from now until 26 years to these people that live there?,” she asked. “My mother-in-law has a garden. How is her property going to be protected with your remediation? We eat from that garden.”

Savel responded that based on calculations and lab data, the groundwater containing benzene will not travel beyond 100 feet. Sentinel wells that are free of benzene serve as an additional safeguard for detecting the spread of benzene, he explained.

A member of the public asked Savel who residents can contact at the DEP to voice their concerns. Savel said residents can call the DEP Site Remediation and Waste Management Department at 609-984-2990.

The second witness for the evening was traffic expert Jay Troutman, who was hired by the township to review the traffic engineering aspects of the application on behalf of the planning board. Troutman said he reviewed all of the traffic plans and prepared two memorandums dated Sept. 5, 2018, and Sept. 9, 2019.   

Troutman said the Sept. 5, 2018, memo highlights how the unique site decreases travel on the external roadways because people will be able to live, work and shop all within the property.  

“By giving the opportunity for these trips to stay within the site, it takes it beyond anything you would typically see and is a good thing in terms of external traffic impact,” Troutman said.  

The memo also identified the need for a grid of internal streets to access the different locations on the property and the need for increased access to Route 202/206.

Troutman said the applicant is proposing an additional travel lane along Route 202/206 South.  A traffic signal will also be added to the intersection of Route 202/206 and Fourth Street, or Discovery Drive as it is named on the site plan.

Troutman said he believes this level of service change will improve traffic. He clarified that improving traffic does not mean decreasing the number of vehicles, it means decreasing delays.

The applicant’s attorney Kevin Coakley said the applicant is committed to making the proposed traffic improvements prior to the issuance of a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy.

The application will continue to be heard at a special meeting with a possible vote Nov. 26 at 7 p.m.