City Investigates Pollution at Public Works Yard, Near Site of NJ Transit Project

In this sketch taken from a December 2015 report, New Jersey Transit outlines improvements it hopes to perform in New Brunswick.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — It’ll cost the city more than first expected to understand the scope of pollution at the Department of Public Works yard on Jersey Avenue.

In 2014, the New Brunswick City Council struck an agreement with the firm Remington, Vernick and Vena Engineers to perform remediation and environmental services on the property. The council this month agreed to increase the contract by $12,800, for a total of $56,140, according to city documents.

“There is the thought that there is an old landfill or ash dump,” City Administrator Thomas Loughlin III said, “and this engineering firm is trying to define the limits of that.”

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The site in question sits near the railroad tracks behind 400 Jersey Ave., Loughlin said. Environmental experts have been examining the area for “a couple of months,” he noted.

New Jersey Transit plans to build a $386 million project next to the municipal yard. According to a December 2015 report from the agency, the site would be able to house 144 train cars—or 12 full-length trains—once the project is finished.

County Yard, as it’s called, has existed for years on a much smaller scale. The Amtrak-owned facility has consisted of abandoned railroad tracks, paved lots, a tower and three active tracks that could store just four trains.

When Superstorm Sandy damaged more than 300 train cars in 2012, NJ Transit officials began searching for better places to store trains during severe weather.

They chose the New Brunswick site for its relative strength against flooding and close proximity to the Northeast Corridor Line.

During Sandy, for instance, many trains were housed in a yard in Pennsylvania, according to NJ Transit. Staffers couldn’t make immediate use of those trains because miles of track, some of it damaged, sat between the trains and Jersey Avenue.

The County Yard in New Brunswick, meanwhile, sits next to the Jersey Avenue Station. That means it’s also much closer to one of the most densley-populated areas in the nation, where many people rely on the railroad.

NJ Transit officials hope to expand the 13-acre yard by 2 acres. They had eyed for acquisition a 1.8-acre parcel and a 0.3-acre permanent easement that both belong to the City of New Brunswick.

But it’s unclear if that’ll come to fruition, or what a deal between the two entities might look like.

The city and NJ Transit are in talks over the matter, city spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw told TAPinto New Brunswick. They are considering proposals on the table.

“Nothing has been determined or agreed to at this point,” she said. “A small land acquisition may be requested. Most other land matters will likely be addressed by temporary and permanent easements.”

The council’s remediation contract applies only to work being performed on the public works site.

Bradshaw said the city doesn’t expect any form of reimbursement from NJ Transit or the state for the environmental work.

“We entered into this contract to protect our interests,” she said.

Officials believe the landfill or ash dump under that’s under the microscope to be more than 75 years old. Loughlin, the city administrator, said few data or records exist regarding the cause of the pollution.

In its report, NJ Transit noted the presence of several contaminants—including those often found in old landfills—on the site of its proposed project.

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