VERNON TOWNSHIP, NJ (Sussex County) – State authorities took legal action Friday to force the closure of a 75-foot-high pile of soil and solid waste in Sussex County that its owner has refused to remove, according to Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.
In an order to show cause filed Friday in New Jersey Superior Court, the DEP alleges that property owner Joseph Wallace is operating an unlawful solid waste dump that sits on his property in Vernon Township. The State’s filing seeks to force Wallace to cease operating the alleged solid waste dump and immediately ban any further dumping at the site; to test for contaminants and dispose of any solid waste; and to give DEP access to the property for inspections and sampling.
The order to show cause builds on two Notices of Violation that DEP issued the property owner on Wednesday, February 20, 2019. The first was for the maintenance of an unlicensed solid waste facility, and the second was for the failure to permit entry to DEP inspectors.
“For years now, the families of Vernon have feared for their health and safety, constantly exposed to the actions of a known, convicted polluter, Joe Wallace. After months of requests to the state urging action, the DEP finally informed me earlier today that they had tested the areas surrounding the Waste Mountain in Vernon. As the town’s own independent tests had indicated months ago, the DEP found indications of elevated levels of lead, other chemicals, and solid waste in the surrounding areas – enough to allow for probable cause to conduct further testing of the Waste Mountain itself. Today was an important first step, but we will need the results from additional testing immediately. The DEP, along with the Attorney General, has also asked the court for the authority to stop additional trucks from delivering more waste to the property,” Congressman Josh Gottheimer said.
“Today’s Order to Show Cause and the Notices of Violation issued on Wednesday are the culmination of several months of proactive investigation and the discovery of some contaminated soil at this site,” said DEP Commissioner McCabe. “This legal action is intended to stop the accumulation of unpermitted solid waste at this site and to protect the environment in response to the concerns of Vernon residents.”
“State law is crystal clear: No one has a right to operate an unlicensed solid waste dump, and especially not in a residential area,” said Attorney General Grewal. “So today, we’re going after an operator to stop building his 75-foot high pile of soil and solid waste and start removal of contaminants immediately. I’m committed to protecting New Jersey’s natural resources and the environmental well-being of all our communities, whether that means pursuing big natural resource damage cases and environmental justice actions, or tackling unlawful dumps in the heart of towns like Vernon.”
The DEP has conducted more than a dozen inspections of the site in recent years. On Friday, February 15, 2019, the DEP obtained the results of two soil samples collected from fill that had sloughed off the site onto a neighboring property, which DEP then tested with consent from the neighboring owner. One of the samples indicated the presence of low levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) and lead above residential standards, which renders the affected soil a “solid waste” under New Jersey law. On that basis, DEP classified the site as an unlicensed solid waste facility.
“If the next phase of testing confirms these initial results, we will need a clear timetable for core testing, enforcement, potential remediation, compensation for residents, and a detailed plan to address any ongoing health risks to families. Additionally, should the facts bear out, Mr. Wallace must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, Gottheimer said.