BRIDGEWATER, NJ - With two planning board meetings scheduled for next week, and a potential vote expected regarding the Center of Excellence, members of Preserve Bridgewater have reached out to stakeholders in the decision about concerns of benzene on the site.

Preserve Bridgewater is a grassroots team of residents that was formed in January to work on preserving the quality of life and suburban character of Bridgewater. They have hundreds of members, and have been speaking out against the plans for the Center of Excellence and more perceived overdevelopment around town.

The center application, from Advance Realty, includes plans for 400 rental apartment units, plus on-site amenities such as retail shops, restaurants, a hotel and a supermarket.

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

Residents have appeared before both the council and the planning board on a number of occasions to voice their concerns that the Center project would only serve to increase traffic congestion in that area to unheard-of levels that would negatively impact their quality of life.

Now, with the possible final two meetings on the application set for Oct. 28 and Oct. 29 at 7 p.m., the group is demanding a suspension of the hearings until information on benzene in the land has been made public and testing has been done.

“As residents of Bridgewater, we are highly concerned about the benzene at the COE site,” Preserve Bridgewater members said in an email to the planning board and other key figures. “We want the planning board to protect the community as it exists today and as to what will happen if the site is built out. We want our environment to be clean so that it can provide a healthy and sustainable place to live and work.”

The group reached out to Mayor Dan Hayes regarding the request, who spoke with an environmental consultant working with the township to evaluate the concerns and make recommendations.

According to the consultant, as reported in the email, the current benzene groundwater plume has been fully delineated, and the source of the groundwater contamination has been removed, as has all soil with contaminants, which has been evacuated and disposed of. In addition, according to the email, the consultant confirmed that, through groundwater monitoring, they have seen that there is a decreasing trend in groundwater benzene levels.

In the email, the consultant said the applicant has met all requirements from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

According to the group, information from a previous planning board meeting indicated that there is a groundwater plume of toxic benzene at the property, with a concentration of about 500 parts per billion (ppb), exceeding the groundwater benzene limit of 1 ppb.

“In a letter from Mayor Hayes to one of our members, it was stated that the developer and some entity of Bridgewater government knows the extent of the plume, but this information has not yet been presented to the public,” the letter says. “We can only presume it is being hidden from the public thus far, and it must be made available to the public since our drinking water wells – off the COE site (and any on the site) – are at risk.”

In the letter, the group cites that no plan to properly remediate the benzene has been provided by the developer. The group said Hayes had mentioned in a letter to create a go-forward plan to secure a Classification Exemption Area and a Remedial Action Permit to continue monitoring the groundwater, but no time frame for this was given.

“Meanwhile neighboring residents with wells may be exposed to highly contaminated drinking water,” the group said. “COE apartment residents and store/industrial workers may be exposed on contact with the Peter’s Brook itself and its wetlands areas. And shoppers could be exposed via contaminated food processing.”

“The ‘go-forward plan’ mentioned in the mayor’s letter is clearly ineffective and insufficient, and we believe that NJ-DEP should now reevaluate any approvals it has issued,” the group added.

In the letter, Preserve Bridgewater said the work should not proceed under these circumstances, which could put many people at risk as well as contaminating drinking wells in the neighboring sections of Bridgewater. They said the mayor’s February letter said the groundwater flow is away from the site, which could impact surrounding homes.

“Flow away from the COE site may make the situation worse for homes outside of the site by bringing the contamination to those homes,” the group said. “Further study is needed in this regard.”

The group is urgently requesting a suspension of the planning board meetings until information is made available about the benzene concerns and its impact on the COE and surrounding properties.

Peter Cocoziello, Jr., a principal with Advance Realty Investors, said that, in September 2018, they had an expert testify in regard to the benzene located on a small portion of the property.

“That has nothing to do with the application that is in front of the town right now,” he said. “The concerns and comments are intentionally misleading. It is not true that the groundwater was found on the redevelopment site, it was testified by the environmental consultant that it was found on a parcel of land that is not part of the redevelopment.”

Cocoziello said this particular location has been entirely delineated and remediated, and there is a remedial action permit in place. A statement from Advance Realty indicated that the area where the benzene was discovered has been under constant management by a New Jersey Licensed Site Remediation Professional under the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection since before the company acquired the land in 2013.

According to the statement, the area being remediated is within the existing life sciences campus, which is separate from the Center of Excellence property by a minimum of 315 feet, and is also more than 600 feet from any offsite property. In addition, the statement said, the remediation was completed years ago.

“The levels of benzene are being reduced every single time they go in and test,” he said. “It has no affect on adjoining property owners, and it doesn’t move.”

“The NJDEP are the experts in this subject matter and have done all the work on this,” he added. “This is under constant management by the state, and it has nothing to do with the land under the redevelopment area. The responsible property is remediating it on the parcel of land that is not part of the redevelopment area.”

As of press time, the hearings were going forward as scheduled with final testimony and a potential vote on the Center of Excellence redevelopment project scheduled.