ROXBURY, NJ – A judge has rejected an attempt by the owner of the former Fenimore Landfill in Ledgewood to collect money from Roxbury and other entities that used the old dump.
The ruling means Roxbury has won all court actions involving the site, officials said today.
Fenimore site owner Strategic Environmental Partners (SEP) argued it was owed millions from Roxbury, Mine Hill, Jefferson, Netcong, Madison and other defendants who sent waste to the Ledgewood dump for decades.
SEP argued it was owed the money under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the New Jersey Spill Act. Those law allow parties that clean contaminated sites to sue those who caused the contamination.
The Fenimore Landfill operated virtually unregulated for about 30 years before SEP bought it. It was used as a dumping ground by local municipalities and others and tests have shown it contains hazardous waste.
SEP bought the site about seven years ago, claiming it wanted to turn it into a solar panel farm. It cut hundreds of trees and began site preparation, but the project went awry after construction debris that included wet wallboard material, was used as fill material. The rotting wallboard emitted clouds of noxious hydrogen sulfide that spread across large parts of Roxbury.
In 2013, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) evicted SEP from the land, covered the landfill and installed high-tech filters, still operating, that remove the hydrogen sulfide. The site is now covered with vegetation, but the waste that was dumped there before SEP came to town - material that contains toxins - remains deep below.
In the federal court case, SEP argued that its work on the site – before it was kicked off - constituted a form of site remediation. It said it was, therefore, entitled to money – under CERCLA and Spill Act rules – from the entities, including Roxbury, that used the site for dumping.
Vazquez, the federal judge, did not buy that argument and he granted dismissal requests by Roxbury and the other defendants. In his order, he said SEP provided “no evidence that the proposed capping would meet the definition of remedial action.”
The Roxbury Mayor and Council, at its meeting Tuesday, praised Roxbury Township Attorney Anthony Bucco for winning not only the federal court case but several state Superior Court and municipal court cases related to SEP and the hydrogen sulfide debacle.
“It didn’t come by accident.” said Roxbury Councilman Fred Hall. “In my opinion … we owe tremendous gratitude to our attorney, Tony Bucco, for the hard work, perseverance, diligence and professionalism Tony has shown through this entire effort."
Bucco said he was grateful for the kind words. “It has been a long, tough process,” he said. “But for me, I was just doing my job.”
Bucco said the township is still involved in several bankruptcy actions filed by SEP’s principals. He said the goal is to get Roxbury “in position to get funds if they remain available after bankruptcy.”
SEP and its principals also continue to face criminal charges.