ROXBURY, NJ – A recent tour of the former Fenimore Landfill left members of the Roxbury Township Council impressed by the state’s efforts there and even hopeful that the controversial site might someday serve a recreational function.
Grass and clover is growing on the property. The lush green vegetation now hides the glaring white impervious “cap” installed by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to trap noxious hydrogen sulfide so it can be burned off.
The high-tech equipment doing that incineration is likely to be replaced within a year by an “iron sponge” filtration system that will eliminate the system’s telltale plume of white steam, they said.
“It’s a very impressive operation up there,” said Roxbury Councilman Bob DeFillippo. “The first thing you’re struck by is the enormous amount of money and effort that’s gone into remediating that site. Right now, for those of us who’ve lived through this process - where it was an open sore on the landscape that turned into sort of a moonscape - today it looks like a field. Grass is growing on top of it and the machinery is extracting the gasses.”
Aesthetics are one thing, odors another. At the peak of the Fenimore problem in 2013, the site spewed clouds of hydrogen sulfide that reeked of rotten eggs, an odor that spread across much of Ledgewood and Succasunna. The gas was created by fill brought to the site in a scuttled plan to create a solar panel “farm,” material that contained wet, rotting wallboard particles that likely came from Hurricane Sandy cleanups.
But while the councilmen were there last week, the Fenimore air carried only the scents of unadulterated Nature in spring. “There is absolutely no hint of a smell” now, said DeFillippo. He also praised the tour guides, describing them as being “very sincere and extremely committed to working on and remediating the landfill down the road.”
On that note, the councilman said “it is not outside the realm of possibility” that Fenimore, a site that caused a great deal of strife in Roxbury recently, might someday become a community asset.
“There are other places in the country, not far from here, where this has been done,” he said. “Those sites have been turned into things like golf courses and other recreational facilities, so there is that possibility, down the road, that at some point it will be a suitable site for perhaps some use.”
He was quick to add a caveat: “That’s very far off.”
Indeed, although Fenimore could someday become a hillside haven for Roxbury family fun, other issues might keep its unsavory image intact. Beneath the welcoming new skin of the Mooney Mountain tract, and beneath the reeking fill material that was dumped there several years ago, lies the potential for more trouble.
The site was, for decades, an unregulated dump, an out-of-the-way place where the detritus of the area’s residential, commercial and industrial growth was buried out of sight and mind. Nothing was done - such as the laying of a liner beneath the waste - to prevent the disintegrating trash's runoff from reaching the groundwater below.
And when the carefree burying ended in the late 1970s, nothing (beyond a layer of dirt) was done to seal it from above. Left alone for three decades, the site became overgrown and blended with the surrounding woods. Until the recent solar farm boondoggle hit, Fenimore was largely forgotten. Homes were built nearby.
Having lost their campaign to have the newly deposited fill “trucked out,” members of the Roxbury Environmental Action Coalition (REACT) are now focusing on whether the old dump is poised to become a threat to nearby drinking water wells. Recent tests showed some elevated concentrations of benzene and dioxane in the subsurface water.
So while REACT President Bob Schultz agrees with DeFillippo that Fenimore looks a lot better today than it did a year ago, he isn’t ready to celebrate. “It’s lipstick on a pig,” he said. “Yes, the landfill looks better. Absolutely. It looks pretty. But what is lurking underneath? That is more the question.”
Roxbury Mayor Jim Rilee somewhat reluctantly pointed out that, while the hydrogen sulfide problem at the site was traumatic for the town, it “in some ways” had an upside: It prompted the drilling of groundwater monitoring wells and a new focus on the status of the water below the old dump.
“I’m grateful we have wells now that can monitor what was there,” said the mayor. “It’s actually been a benefit for the drinking water.”