Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Yet Richards, Gaffney insist there are no differences between Dems, GOP
(Key passages in bold italics)
After insisting only last October that the Maywood Democratic and Republican parties basically offer borough voters no difference in philosophy, Democratic Councilman Thomas Richards and Republican Councilman Thomas Gaffney will be facing each other in the 2003 mayoral contest.
Both met an April 7 filing deadline to run in the June primary, but since they will be running unopposed, their nominations are assured for the fall matchup. It will mark Richards’ third run for mayor, the previous two ending in defeat.
Yet Richards nomination also raises questions as to if the Bergen County Democratic machine, led by Chairman Joe Ferrerio, has decided to send a different signal on the question of whether the county party cares about fighting polluters to Maywood residents.
The councilman is a major backer of Maywood’s worst polluter, Stepan Chemical Company, even though Richards’ party bosses at the county level took a tough stand against “polluters” in last year’s triumphant county executive race.. More on this later.
Richards lost the mayoralty in 1987 and 1991 to his longtime Republican crony/enemy – the legendary John Steuert. He has long coveted the top spot and could be salivating over the prospects for victory this time. if only because the late Steuert is no longer around (in terms of his being a potential adversary).
Richards has been active in Maywood politics, serving as a major player whether he’s been on or off the council, since his initial victory amid the post-Watergate fallout in 1974.
The filings mark the eventual end of the one-term reign of Republican Mayor Wayne Kuss, who opted not to run for re-election. Also leaving after one term this winter will be Democratic Councilwoman Jeanne Matullo.
Joining the seriously ethically-challenged Richards on the Democratic ticket this year to replace Matullo is newcomer John Savage. He will run with two-term Democratic Councilman Dr. Tim Eustace, president of the Maywood Chamber of Commerce.
Old names will be running on the Republican council ticket. Past defeated GOP council hopefuls Robert Tarleton, a member of the Planning/Zoning Board, and Hackensack attorney Daniel Pallazzo, will give it one more try.
Are these guys a little two-faced?
In one of the great ironies, both mayoral candidates – re-elected to the council last year – fawned all over each other during an October debate in assuring voters that the local “Democratic” and “Republican” party tickets are mere labels which offer those casting ballots no differences in approach.
Their re-election came after the editor of a local newspaper – the wife of a former Democratic mayor – accused both parties of running "an unusually quiet” campaign.
In fact, Gaffney and Richards only announced last October that they would endorse efforts to change Maywood’s municipal charter so the town eventually converts to “non-partisan” elections, like Lodi, once every four years.
Whether that agenda will be pursued eventually remains to be seen. Under a plan advocated by Richards, the mayoral position he is now seeking from the voters would be decided based on an annual vote of the council.
Any way, for the next seven months, cronies Gaffney and Richards – who admittedly have a mutual admiration .for each other – could be forced to radically change the message they gave last fall because they will have to at least make it seem as though they are really opposing each other.
And it appears, to an extent, both men could be suddenly reverting into a “Democratic v Republican“ mode - at least on the perpetual “hot potato” issue of lifting the overnight parking ban to help tenants.
Richards, even with his serious moral and ethical problems related to Stepan Chemical, can count on the active support of some tenant leaders he seems to be courting. That is because he supports giving tenants parking relief. Gaffney has solidly opposed this relief, at least in the form of allowing overnight parking.
Following a rather contentious March 26 council meeting on the topic, however, the two factions (one of those rare issues which loudly splits Maywood Democrats and Republicans) supposedly were trying to iron out a compromise – as Republican Councilman Fred Zigrest proposed.
However, one should not discount the possibility that Richards might not be too upset if a political stalemate leaves the tenant parking issue unresolved through the fall, to help juice up his mayoral run against Gaffney.
Haven't we been here before?
In a sense, the 2003 frenzy over tenant parking marks “political déjà vu’ all over again” in Maywood.
Richards, in winning a special December 1999 council election sparked by strange ballot irregularities that triggered an eventual tie in the November contest (where Richards was first declared the loser), also promoted helping tenants on parking.
He ran against the original winning Republican candidate, Al Ballerini, and independent Tom Kennedy, the latter who endorsed dropping the overnight ban from a homeowner’s perspective. Upon taking his seat in 2000, Richards pushed the issue momentarily, even asking the council to examine if it could create “special improvement districts” around apartments to mandate that landlords provide space.
For some reason, he stopped pursuing it, and Kennedy fast faded from sight.
A primer on the incumbent candidates
Gaffney – A 10-year council veteran, he has courted the Bergen County Republican establishment, running as a 37th District assembly hopeful in 2001. He has traditionally taken stands that have appealed to certain electoral blocs, such as senior citizens and parents. He was a big supporter of building the Maywood Senior Citizen and Recreation Center and is taking credit for helping implement a new borough senior citizen discount drug plan. Additionally, Gaffney advocated radically changing what had been a modest renovation project at 15 Park Ave. into a plan to construct an entire new borough hall. Critics warned that this could lead to major cost overruns – a matter now under study
He also backed a rough $800,000 bond ordinance, which included roughly $300,000 for a controversial plan to install lights in Memorial Park. His support is predicated on the town’s being reimbursed through grants.
Eustace – A veteran of two three-year council terms, Eustace, as Chamber president, is perhaps the borough's most ardent advocate for creating new parking in the West Pleasant Avenue region – even if it means inhabitable homes must meet the wrecker’s ball.
For instance, he supported Maywood Market’s winning approval for a big parking lot expansion (he’d like to see it used for some municipal parking) that will lead to the destruction of two residential units in the area of Palmer Avenue and West Passaic Street. Eustace is also trying to take the lead in making West Pleasant Avenue a special improvement district. A one-time foe of the new and big Borough Hall, Eustace (who once called for moving borough hall to the Serex building on West Passaic Street) quietly cast his concerns over the issue aside upon rejoining the council in 2001 – even as questions concerning its construction persisted. Like Gaffney, he was a major supporter of the senior center, and of installing the Memorial Park lights.
Richards – During a career riddled with repeated ethical and moral questions over his public conduct, Richards, who has suffered occasional defeats in elections for mayor or council, has nonetheless managed to retain a major influence in Maywood. It hasn't mattered if he's on or off the council.
Some of this can be attributed to the borough’s dysfunctional political establishment and Richards’ own relations with people and groups (Maywood Station Historical Committee, Maywood Rotary, MADCAP, the volunteer ambulance corps and Our Lady Queen of Peace Church) based on longtime associations.
These people are apparently willing to overlook his serious ethical lapses, as Richards has built these contacts over 30 years.
Within this establishment, a somewhat curious relationship has historically existed between the local Democratic and Republican parties. For instance, Steuert once endorsed Richards for council – over the Lydecker Manor issue, = as well as Richards’ major ally, one-time Democratic Congressman Robert Torricelli. Richards has managed to outlast Torricelli (who dropped out of last year's Senate race due to ethical lapses), even though the duo engaged in very odd behavior together that - critics say - has seriously undermined Maywood in the thorium fight.
In turn, Richards has “scratched the backs” of local and county Republicans from time to time.
For instance – at the behest of Torricelli in 1985 – Richards helped prominent Bergen County Republicans John Schepisi and J. Fletcher Creamer in getting a former Democratic council majority to approve using roughly 90 percent of the Maywood Interim Storage (MISS) site to store toxic Superfund waste from the then-vacant Ballod Associates site in Rochelle Park.
This unsightly mound of toxic pollution sat behind homes on West Central Avenue for at least another nine years, as Schepisi, Creamer and Moses Sternlieb profited when the site became the Bristol Manor Nursing Home.
Richards supported prioritizing cleanup of this commercial property for storage in Maywood even though he has historically maintained his primary concern was to clean up Lodi to help people living over contamination in homes.
Recently, Richards, installed as Maywood Volunteer Ambulance Corps captain this year, has placed an emphasis on spending more tax dollars to help emergency volunteers, coincidentally, a potential voting bloc. He insists that old equipment and facilities must be improved and/or replaced.
He joined Gaffney and Eustace in backing the Memorial Park lights, the senior citizens center (while off the council) and backed the big new borough hall – even though he has called for investigating the project (Richards even once checked with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office about reviewing the case).
Richards has said he only supported the effort, based on the bad advice he received from Construction Code Official Joseph Mellone.
Richards has been criticized for being, at times, mean-spirited and a control freak. One of those who complained is Joanne Perkins, wife of one-time Borough Administrator John Perkins. He was formerly a close Richards associate - before the two had a falling out. She called, in a 2001 local letter to the editor, for voters to defeat him in his next electoral bid.
Joanne Perkins essentially accused Richards of trying to bully those disagreeing with him. She further asserted that his demeanor was not appropriate for someone holding public office.
Some four years earlier, attorney James Segreto – representing a group opposed to the Commerce Bank application and the original proposal for putting a strip mall at Essex Street and Maywood Avenue, even threatened to sue Richards over his conduct.
Segreto alleged that Richards was trying to harass some neighborhood objectors fighting one of the projects he supported (Richards was a private citizen at the time). Segreto reminded Richards in a letter that objectors to development applications enjoy certain “Constitutionally-protected” rights that cannot be interfered with.
Eustace/Gaffney thorium scorecard
When it comes to trying to advocate cleaning up thorium-tainted soil, Eustace and Gaffney have essentially towed the local “Republicrat” line preached by Richards.
That is, Maywood is completely helpless and subordinate to the federal government, based on the parameters of Torricelli’s original agreement with Stepan Chemical.
Both, like Richards, advocated using Maywood in prioritizing the cleanup of sites in Lodi – without first calling for releasing the mandated proposed plan – even as they knew the federal government was knowingly hiding most of Maywood’s own plan from their own constituents.
The two said almost nothing when repeatedly reminded of this by members of The Concerned Citizens of Maywood.
Yet both always seem to take more forceful positions as candidates.
For instance, when running in 1994, Eustace said Maywood should act as forcefully in trying to clean up thorium in his community as did local elected officials fighting the Kerr-McGee Chemical Company in West Chicago Ill.
There, officials at every level took an aggressive stand leading to a massive cleanup in the Chicago suburb. Eustace even spoke with a representative of that community's Thorium Action Group.
Once he joined the council however, the new councilman suddenly adopted Richards’ own “anti-West Chicago” approach. It calls for keeping Maywood a helpless ward of the federal government under Torricelli's agreement..
And as to whether Stepan Chemical should pay more than it has under Torricelli’s agreement with his contributor (a stand thus far opposed by Richards and Ninth District Congressman Steve Rothman), Eustace has been largely silent. Yet the very fact that he has agreed to run with Richards raises the strong possibility that he opposes any move to make Stepan Chemical pay more.
Eustace also once promised Concerned Citizens of Maywood Secretary Louise Torell that he would fight to force release of a cancer incidence study performed by Hackensack University Medical Center, assessing the impact of the local toxic waste site. Once elected, however, he dropped the matter entirely despite Torell’s vociferous complaints.
Gaffney has – at least publicly - stated that the federal government should try aggressively moving against Stepan Chemical also it pays whatever it takes to clean up Maywood as quickly as possible..At the same time, he has been generally supportive of Stepan Chemical.
Richards "pro-polluter" thorium stance differs from McNerney
The nomination of Stepan-Chemical booster Richards for mayor marks a major change in tone for the Bergen County Democratic Party, compared to the stance the party took in the County Executive’s race last fall.
That contest pit then-Democratic Freeholder Dennis McNerney against Republican State Senator Henry McNamara (R-40). The successful McNerney, in an aggressive pitch for votes, accused McNamara in radio ads of going easy on “a polluter’ employing his daughter.
In contrast, Richards and another Maywood Democratic mover and shaker, former Borough Attorney Wiliam Rupp, played leading roles 20 years ago in helping town polluter Stepan Chemical avoid having to pay untold millions in thorium costs toward helping clean up Maywood. Both worked in concert with Torricelli. Their moves shifted the burden to taxpayers.
Torricelli negotiated the infamous 1983 “DOE-Stepan” agreement – after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was ready to aggressively move against Stepan Chemical in requiring the plant to clean up “radioactive contamination.”
Stepan Chemical is owned by F. Quinn Stepan, a prominent Democratic fundraiser, who subsequently donated to Torricelli’s various House and Senate campaigns after the agreement was concluded. On the local end, Rupp and Richards help set up the MISS in the early 1980s. Both have since taken the position that Maywood is completely helpless at the hands of the federal government and must rely solely on the feds for all thorium-based cleanup funds.
What will Richards do?
Richards, now without mentor Torrriceli at his side, still seems determined to try shielding Stepan Chemical for paying a much greater share of the thorium costs (a separate issue from chemicals). He seems to have a new partner working with him in Rothman (D-9).
Before she decided to not seek re-election, Matullo and Richards were working with Rothman in pushing legislation to turn ownership of the former Stepan Chemical-owned MISS site from the feds over to Maywood – once it is certified as clean. Doing this will close out a major portion of Torricelli’s original and suspicious agreement.
Given that Richards now says he wants to mandate the complete cleanup of thorium from Maywood (mandating a minimum level of five picocuries per gram), it will be interesting to see how he juxtaposes this view with his historical lockstep support for shielding Stepan Chemical.
Expect Rothman and Richards to team up, in an effort to sell the Army Corps’ thorium cleanup to Maywood voters, to try building up Richards during this year’s campaign.. Others, likely to gush up to Richards are those legislators who - unlike Richards - claim polluters should pay for cleanups: 37th District state Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg and State Senator Byron Baer.
AN ADDENDUM - DO THE POLS REALLY WANT "NON PARTISAN" GOVT.?
By Chris Neidenberg
Councilmen Thomas Richards (Democrat) and Thomas Gaffney (Republican) are running for mayor this year on the premise that their parties offer different approaches to borough problems.
Yet only last October, during a candidates' forum at Trinka Hall, Richards and Gaffney told residents that the two parties in Maywood are only mere labels, and that there were no philospohical differences between them.
Gaffney and Richards were re-elected to three-year terms after the two fawned all over each other in expressing a mutual admiration, making it almost seem as though they were running on the same ticket.
In fact, the editor of a local weekly newspaper, the wife of a former Democratic mayor, accused both sides of running an "unusually quiet campaign." Longtime borough critic Michael Nolan has long accused both major parties of running a "Republicratic" government, while engaging in questionable actions together (such as on thorium), and burdening Maywood with continuing problems.
During last year's forum, moderated by resident John Shanahan, the mayoral nominees were joined in their non-partisan endorsement by Richards' current Democratic running mate, John Savage. He spoke from the audience then as a local party committeeman.
Now, only seven months later, Richards and Gaffney - along with their four running mates - will most assuredly have to act in a partisan manner, and suddenly act again as though their party labels mean something in their push to accumulate more power. Party control is at stake. For if Richards' Democrats sweep, they will wrest control from the GOP.
In coming up with their respective tickets, the local party organizations undertook a formal process in screening competing candidates.
Yet if Gaffney and Richards were true to their supposed principles, Maywood's Democrats and Republicans could have joined together in presenting a three-person unopposed "unity" slate, with candidates approved by leaders in both parties..
Since their statements made at the forum, the parties in 2003 - at least initially - have gone into a partisan mode on the issue of improving parking conditions for tenants, with the Democrats apparently pushing to lift the overnight parking ban and the Republicans opposing it. Richards has, at times, thrived within Maywood's dysfunctional political establishment - in appealing to factions within various local organizations and groups (such as tenants) he is either active in or whose issue agenda he is willing to carry (see more on this point in the above story).
Richards is trying to court a coalition of tenant leaders on this issue during his run for mayor, despite the fact that - when the Democrats had prior council majorities - his own party failed to offer tenants less restrictive parking (only then-Democratic Councilman Frank Beatrice vocally expressed any real interest in doing so).
Yet speaking during the forum last year, Richards stated emphatically that Maywood's Democrats and Republicans - at least the parties' hierarchy and committee people - were one united front.
"I believe when it comes to Maywood, it's very difficult to say you're a Republican or Democrat because the issues are not Republican or Democrat, the issues are Maywood's," said Richards, addressing audience members who endorsed a government change.
Yet during a March 26 council meeting, less than two weeks before his party nominated him for a third mayoral run, Richards told an upset group of tehants that there has been a traditional, sharp party split between the two sides on improving tenant parking.
He asserted that the governing body's four Republicans (including Gaffney) were the major stumbling block to any change - even as his own party never implemented such relief when holding the majority.
Mayoral opponents Richards and Gaffney have signed onto a proposal - Richards initiated in 2000 - that would, ironically, take the power to vote for mayor out of the hands of the people they'll be courting this fall.
This, even though Richards has conceded that making Maywood a "Faulkner Act" municipality will likely lead to more apathy and a lower voter turnout.
Under Richards' plan - modeled after neighboring Lodi - the people would only get one shot to vote for the governing body every four years via choosing among tickets that do not carry the major party labels. These stand-alone elections would take place in May.
Under the Richards-Gaffney initiative, the governing body would collectively vote amongst themselves on picking the mayor annually, somewhat similar to government forms now in place in area communities that include Lodi, Garfield and Fair Lawn. The latter, however, holds partisan local elections in November every two years.
And while Richards had maintained last October that Maywood's own elections should not be tied to national tickets and issues, the councilman had no problem subsequently issuing - under his name - highly partisan Democratic campaign literature which included an endorsement of him from Congressman Steve Rothman (D-9). This, as Rothman was seeking re-election to his seat in Washington.
Even though they will now vie for votes along sharp partisan lines, Gaffney and Savage joined Richarrds in reviving the "non-partisan" bandwagon during last fall's forum.
"Yes, I do believe in it (non-partisan elections)," said Gaffney, current council president and a councilman since 1994. "We're all serving for the people, time and time again."
Said Savage, at the time, "I just say to you all, this non-partisan government makes a lot of sense to me."
Following this November's outcome, questions will remain as to if Richards or Gaffney will continue the "non-partisan" push. That's because the victor will be comfortably seated in the mayor's chair (possibly with his own party controlling the council) - barring any charter change - for a four-year run.
For more on Gaffney and Richards, please read, "Richards Still Cozy With Town's Worst Polluter Parts I and II," "Council Agrees to Go Into Debt For Field Lights," "Dem, GOP Hopefuls Admit Parties Not Different," and "Richards, Gaffney Knew Feds Hid Thorium Cleanup Plan."
SAGA OF WHITMAN'S "FAKE" DUVIER LOAN JUST DRAGS ON
Council's effort at transferring monies to new Briarcliff park hits snags
By Chris Neidenberg
Eleven months after the Borough Council reported that the McGreevey administration gave it the green light for using a $128,000 Green Acres (GA) loan in its grand plans for a new Briarcliff Avenue park, efforts at transferring the loan - from an old request involving Arthur Fenniman Park - have hit repeated delays.
This continued on March 26. During the council''s meeting that night, Borough Clerk Maryanne Rampolla, without elaborating, simply asked the council to pull a resolution set to award a $124,915 bid to Abbott Contracting, Co., Inc. Her request was granted.
Even though the council has indicated that the Briarcliff proposal is an entirely new park, the resolution' says the bid is for "improvements to" Briarcliff Avenue Park.
Abbott was one of five companies which submitted bids Jan. 29
This Green Acres loan, administered under a program within the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), has a strange and curious history dating back at least four years.
On July 1, 1999, then-Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman - over a year before she took the reigns of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - falsely announced that her administration approved using the loan for drainage improvements to then-"Duvier Park" (later renamed "Arthur Fenniman Park" for the deceased Maywood volunteer).
The kiddie park lies directly across from the Maywood Senior Citizens and Recreation Center.
Whitman, apparently either misled or misinformed by her own officials, made the grand (though erroneous) announcement at a highly-publicized ceremony while accompanied by state police officers. She presented then-Democratic Mayor Thomas Murphy an oversized dummy check at the Fenniman site.
At the time, Whitman was promoting an initiative to preserve open space in New Jersey.
Yet the loan funds kind of laid around dormant for almost four years, as the council eventually scuttled the idea. In May of 2001, it decided to try"reprogramming" the monies. It ultimately received state permission for transferring the request to Briarcliff.
In defending this move, Democratic Councilman Thomas Richards once claimed that creating the new park will bar a state agency, such as the Department of Transportation, from forcibly acquiring the land if it wanted to use open space for a road project tied to nearby Route 17.
But in examining the fine print of the Green Acres regulations, resident Michael Nolan, environmental chairman of the Concerned Citizens of Maywood, eventually forced Republican Mayor Wayne Kuss to concede Rivhards' claim is not necessarily true.
Kuss has since stated that creating the park only reduces the chances for - but does not entirely eliminate - the scenario of a forced state takeover under the principle of eminent domain. More on this loan's strange and tortuous road later.
At a meeting last yeat, Nolan asked why the council needed to use a state loan in funding the initiative (saddling taxpayers with interest payments) given that the borough maintained a surplus at the time in the area of $1 million. Nolan contended that the council could have simply financed the park from this surplus.
At one time, Whitman Green Acres Administrator Thomas Wells approved a request from then-Borough Administrator John Perkins to wave a requirement, calling for an "environmental assessment" of area conditions around Fenniman.
Wells stated that GA had the discretion to exempt Maywood from this requirement, based on information Perkins supplied the program.
This, after an employee under Wells, GA principal planner Martha Sapp, told Perkins in 1999 that it was an important requirement and precondition for the loan.
Yet any assessment would have forced Perkins to address what impact Maywood's thorium problem might have on the Fenniman site..
Shortly after Whitman made her false statements in 1999, Wells, before reversing his stance in waving the requirement, said Maywood could not get the loan until after performing the assessment Sapp outlined.
He speculated that Whitman was misinformed in stating, during her visit, that Maywood already received the loan.
Yet last Feb. 19, Borough Attorney Andrew Fede and Republican Councilman Thomas Gaffney reported to the council that requlations, being imposed via the Democratic McGreevey administration, required a further delay in final action on applying the loan to Briarcliff.
Gaffney explained then that Green Acres was directing that Maywood perform "a preliminary site assessment" on the Briarcliff location - to be done by the borough's Lyndhurst engineering firm, Neglia Engineering.
He revealed this some two weeks after Maywood already awarded the bid to Abbott - the same deal shelved at Rampolla's request on March 26.
In this case, compared to Wells' actions of four years ago, McGreevey's DEP apparently would not wave this particular requirement.
"They (state) need that (assessment) for Green Acres to give us approval for Briarcliff Avenue Park," Gaffney explained. "It's part of what we need to submit in our package for that."
Fede, speaking on Feb. 19, conceded that he thought Maywood would have more time to comply with the requirement. He suggested that 60 days was too brief a period for Neglia to analyze and prepare its report.
"That's not a lot of time," Fede said on Feb. 19. "I thought it would be three or four months. And if we really run into problems, we'll need to apply for an extension on the 60 days."
During two separate meetings in 2002, Nolan questioned the council's actions on this issue. During one meeting, he focused attention on a discrepancy in Richards' rationale for using the GA funds at Briarcliff.
Richards and Kuss suggested that Nolan's opposition made no sense, since the council's only objective was developing residents a new and needed park
Nolan cited an article in a major daily newspaper examining the Green Acres program. It shoots some holes in Richards' claim of absolute protection using GA funds.
The article pointed out that a Trenton group, known as the State House Commission, reviews and grants virtually all requests,to remove Green Acres development restrictions from lands protected under the initiative, for various reasons.
Examples cited in the published report included specific requests to permit expansion of senior citizens housing (Mercer County), to build a community college campus (Cape May County) and the general inclination of the state Department of Transportation to extend public roads through park sites, rather than in populated neighborhoods to try reducing any public opposition.
Fede said at the time that he was aware of the commission, and the fact that sites initially receiving Green Acres protections can be removed from the list.
Yet he told Nolan last summer that he had not read the article, at least as of then. Nolan urged the lawyer to read it.
"What you're reading sounds accurate to me," Fede told Nolan, regarding excerpts from the article.
The attorney added that, if a future council wanted to sell the Briarcliff piece, Maywood would have to "replace" the parcel with another tract that would then receive protection.
In fact, in accepting the Briarcliff funds, the council had to send Trenton a list of all local parkland that could qualify as replacements.
While the article cited the fact that any property removed from GA must be swapped for another tract, critics were quoted as saying such tradeoffs can involve land which isn't as desireable.
. . .
MEET SOME OF THE PLAYERS IN THORIUM'S "DIRTY" GAME
These people have played key roles while Maywood still suffers
By Chris Neidenberg
The following individuals and concerns are definitely a factor, for better or worse, during Maywood's continued and tortuous quest to see some kind of final cleanup program implemented for tons of toxic radiological and chemical contaminants sitting under the community.
Their ongoing, continuing roles are examined.
Since holding a hearing on Maywood's proposed radiological cleanup plan Aug. 28, federal authorities have now passed the six-month mark in trying to reach some final conclusion.
Allen Roos, site manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District
Since replacing Ben Wood as the corps' local manager in 1998, Roos has overseen the corps essentially serving as an "Army of occupation" of sorts in Maywood - while his agency improperly pursues the cleanup.
Though critics have valid and firm documentation legitimately challenging his actions, Roos - a Livingston resident - has methodically and doggedly moved forward in forcibly imposing the corps' will on the community.
The corps has rammed through cleanup actions which have effectively placed Maywood's own long-term interests on the back burner.
Roos certainly has not done this alone. He currently reports to Col. John O'Dowd, head of the corps' New York district.
Roos' efforts in undertaking "removal actions" onder highly questionable and clearly inconsistent premises, presents the worst-case scenario those arguing for a "Maywood first" cleanup strategy years ago warned would happen.
He has succeeded because Maywood's impotent Borough Council simply continues letting the federal government do whatever it wants locally - without making certain the community's long-term interests are safeguarded.
The corps' legal basis for proceeding is shaky at best. However, Roos and his agency have removed much more area contaminated soil within the last five years than did the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), during its 14-year Maywood occupancy.
Still, the corps joined the DOE in hiding most of Maywood's own cleanup plan from the public in the process.
And Roos repeatedly balked at signing a Federal Facilities Agreement with the impotent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to give the EPA a strengthened oversight role. The EPA complained that the corps, under Roos, needlessly delayed final action.
In fact, Roos would not even be a factor right now if then-Rep. Robert Torricelli (D-9) had not negotiated the 1983 agreement relieving his campaign donor, Stepan Chemical Company, of major financial liability for the thorium part of the cleanup.
If this hadn't happened, Stepan Chemical today (and not Roos) would be directly responsible for pursuing all radiological cleanup actions - and solely accountable to the community - while answering only to the EPA.
The latter agency would have retained much more power, without Torricelli's"DOE-Stepan" agreement.
Right now, the corps apparently has more muscle in acting within Maywood than the EPA, since the former is part of a presidential Cabinet department (Defense).
Yet it is only through these political deals that the powerful corps keeps forcibly exerting its authority upon the people living in small and politically weak Maywood. This, while standing on shaky legal ground.
By now, Roos and his corps superiors must certainly know all the details regarding the questionable political dealings which ultimately triggered their agency's involvement, along with Stepan's cocaine connection.
Still. the corps' project manager has shown litttle interest in examining the site's past and highly troubled history.
Roos simply maintains that the corps is not responsible for any action taken before Congress' transferred cleanup authority to his agency in late 1997.
Angela Carpenter, Maywood site manager with U.S. EPA's Region II headquarters in New York
In fairness to Carpenter, the EPA's abandoning its prior Maywood promise - that one complete proposed plan affecting the entire site would be released before any cleanup work commenced - happened before her involvement.
Carpenter replaced Jeff Gratz as EPA project manager in 1995.
To her credit, an honest Carpenter (in 1995) stated publicly that Stepan's supporters helped slow down the cleanup's progress - and effectively weakened EPA's role.- in undertaking political action to relieve the plant of major financial liability for the thorium pollution. Had Torricelli not acted, she said then, Maywood would have remained "a garden variety Superfund site."
This weakening has let the federal government forcibly ram area Superfund contamination through Maywood's borders during Carpenter's tenure, while concealing most of the borough's own cleanup plan from Maywoodians (for at least an eight-year period).
By being put in the front lines as the EPA's Maywood point person, Carpenter has the unenviable task of trying to legitimate all which has occurred since Torricelli's early dealings severely weakened the EPA's authority.
She has little choice but to almost completely defer to the questionable desires of Maywood's ethically-challenged politicians, and similarly-challenged politicians at the federal level.
This, despite the EPA's one-time claim that the public-at-large would play a major role in helping influence and shape the entire cleanup's outcome.
Currently, Carpenter - a career agency employee - reports to political appointees, EPA Region II Administrator Jane Kenny, and ultimately, national Administrator Christine Todd Whitman.
Thus, while she will likely do her best in helping execute a final Record of Decision (ROD) with the corps, anything ultimately decided will be out of Carpenter's hands.
Democratic Councilman Thomas Richards
While the entire Maywood council should collectively be monitoring the federal government's actions in this area, it has historically (and rather inexplicably) deferred to Richards to carry the ball - whether he's been on or off the council.
The results? Quite poor at best.
Richards has certainly operated on the margins of propriety throughout the history of Maywood's thorium quagmire.
He remains Stepan's most passionate and ardent supporter, and seems determined to try shielding Stepan from shouldering major financial liability for all of Maywood's final cleanup until the very end.
Yet Richards is in a somewhat awkward position. That's because he no longer has his longtime mentor, Torricelli, around to help carry the ball.
Still, certain Bergen County Democrats - including those who allege they want polluters to pay for cleaning up contaminated sites and say that a clean environment is a high priority - flock to Richards as Maywood's best hope.
Richards, who has lately generated reams of positive publicity from Bergen County's "mainstream daily" print media, now asserts that he backs a complete cleanup of the borough's thorium - a position he once questioned as necessary.
Originally, the Concerned Citizens of Maywood (CCM).most forcefully advocated this position
While the Concerned Citizens long labored in getting the council to advocate this view, Richards tried fighting them at every step.
Now, perhaps grudgingly, Richards claims that he and the CCM are on the same page.
In mid-April, Maywood Democrats will nominate a mayoral candidate and Richards is more than likely a leading contender, even though he espouses getting rid of Maywood's two-party system.
He ran unsuccessfully for chief executive in 1987 and 1991 against longtime Republican Mayor John Steuert. But now Steuert is no longer around, and Richards could see an opening that finally helps thrust him into Maywood's top spot.
Even though Richards has lomg desired to minimize Stepan's final cleanup costs, Carpenter has said the councilman (who will assuredly try exerting his influence on the entire council) could have some say in determining how much contamination will be cleaned up from Maywood's various sites (through measures such as rezoning).
Richards has also made clear that he wants to play a major role in helping redevelop the polluted Sears Distrubution Center property (which could be impacted by any final cleanup)..
Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9)
For those who have been happy with the status quo when it comes to Maywood's thorium - shielding Stepan from paying for both thorium and chemicals, and tolerating years of delay in reaching some kind of final action, Rothman has been quite effective.
For those seeking someone prepared to use the weight of such a powerful office in raising valid questions over the federal government's poor conduct, and in trying to get Stepan (and not taxpayers) to shoulder more responsibility in financing the cleanup of thorium (with chemicals), the four-term incumbent has clearly been wanting.
Still, Rothman, with a safe seat that includes a good portion of Hudson County's Democratic machine strongholds, is practically invincible.
He basically ran unopposed in last November's election. Thus, the congressman needn't worry about taking strong stands on Maywood's behalf, in trying to end the thorium debacle.
In fairness, Rothman was not around when Maywood's whole thorium mess was created.
Yet Rothman (so far) has shared Richards' view for sustaining Torricelli's original agreement, preventing his campaign donor from accepting more financial liability for the entire cleanup.
To that end, he is pushing federal legislation with Richards to help close out a major portion of Torricelli's suspicious agreement. It would transfer eventual ownership of the Maywood Interim Storage Site (MISS) - which Stepan once owned - from the federal government to the borough.
He and Richards also opposed legislation - passed in 1997 - transferring responsibility for the thorium cleanup from the DOE to the corps, even as the DOE continued hiding Maywood's final cleanup plan from his constituents.
Additionallly, Rothman refused meeting a public request to force the federal government's compliance with the Federal Advisory Commuttee Act (FACA) by disclosing the full costs for Maywood's long-defunct Cooperative Guidance Group (CGG) on thorium.
FACA mandated that the CGG keep accessible public records on all expenses, including those paid to a Somerset County PR firm, between 1997 and 1998. Yet the DOE and the corps refused to do so - despite repeated requests made under the U.S. Government's so-called Freedom of Information Act. These costs are still apparently concealed.
For those seeking a complete thorium cleanup, Rothman says he supports mandating (and not merely trying to achieve) this outcome. He also opposes any use of the corps' soil separation technology, which Roos and the agency still might be trying to force into the ROD, despite massive opposition voiced at the corps Aug. 28 public hearing.
More than likely, expect Richards (now without Torricelli) and Rothman to team up this year in trying to deliver any news regarding Maywood's final thorium outcome to the community, whether Richards runs for mayor or not.
Meanwhile, Stepan and the feds continue trying to hammer out the final details of any proposed chemical cleanup.
In Richards' 2002 council campaign literature, Rothman praised the incumbent - along with his unsuccessful running mate, Bert Heaney. He stated, "Honesty, integrity and experience are buzzwords at campaign time. But from my experience, they truly fit these two Maywood candidates."
Mike Nolan, Concerned Citizens of Maywood's environmental chairman
During his 18 years of activism on the issue, Nolan has repeatedly cited the federal government's own documents in trying to validate his group's positions, yet has been branded "an environmental terrorist" by one major Stepan supporter (one-time Democratic Mayor Thomas Murphy) for it.
Stepan sued Nolan and other CCM members in the mid 1990s. This, after lawyers filed suit against the company on behalf of a wider group of area residents alleging that the plant's historical pollution caused sickness and death. Stepan settled these matters out of court.
The tactic, used against Nolan and other plant critics, is commonly referred to in civil litigation as SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation).
Nolan has offered documents proving that the EPA was ready to start enforcing the Superfund law against the company, for "radioactive contamination," before and after Torricelli's intervention made taxpayers liable.
Additionally, he has cited DOE documents, dealing with a 1981 meeting between the department and Maywood's one-time congresswoman, Republican Marge Roulema, stating that the federal government never entered into a contract with Maywood Chemical Works for manufacturing thorium-based products.
In 1994, a Stepan Republican supporter, then-Mayor Steuert, ousted Nolan and other plant critics from his advisory committee on thorium after reacting to a newspaper headline concerning the critical findings of the group's consultant, Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, of the New York-based Radioactive Waste Management Associates. Torricelli praised this action. Currently, Nolan's group still works with Resnikoff under terms of an EPA-funded Technical Assistance Grant (TAG).
Republican Mayor Wayne Kuss and the rest of the Maywood Borough Council
If history is any guide, the council - sans Richards - could very well sit back and try doing or saying very little as Maywood enters into a critical stage that could be helped by its activism.
In fact, the Republican-controlled body could defer to Richards, for carrying the ball on the issue once again.
The council's traditional position is that Maywood is completely helpless at the hands of the federal government - operating within the parameters of Torricelli's original deal.
The council historically supported using the MISS to largely clean up other towns, while saying nothing about the federal givernment's hiding - and delaying release of - the vast bulk of Maywood's own cleanup plan.
After the corps held its public hearing Aug. 28, the governing body refused taking a public vote on the agency's proposed thorium cleanup plan. Rather, it quietly authorized Borough Attorney Andrew Fede to prepare comments from the body as a whole, which it sent the corps during a public comment period ending last fall.
Only Richards, Gaffney (who both ran for re-election) and Republican Councilman James Petrie commented on the proposed plan Aug. 28. Democratic Councilwoman Jeanne Matullo, more than likely an ardent Richards supporter, did travel with him to Washington last year, where they met with Rothman in discussing his MISS ownership legislation
Presumably, the entire seven-member body backs requiring "up and out" for all of Maywood's thorium. The position will only be known once the corps responds to all public comments, as part of its "responsiveness summary," accompanying the ROD.
In terms of listening to Nolan, the council's historic record has been trying to seem as though it ignores his recommendations during hearings on environmental matters, even though it undoubtedly listens more than it lets on.
Kuss, Matullo and Democratic Councilman Dr. Tim Eustace are up for re-election in 2003.
Stepan Chemical Company
? perhaps best describes how the firm could ultimately be affected in the final thorium outcome.
Additionally, Stepan must still submit the EPA a final chemical cleanup plan. Since 1991, it has operated under a unilateral EPA order for addressing this part of the problem.
Ironically, the feds mentioned thorium, and said nothing about chemicals, when it first cited the plant as a "potentially responsible party" in 1983. While Stepan is not the only entity that polluted the site, it is by far the biggest.
Within Maywood, Stepan has always had friends on both sides of the aisle, and has campaign fundraising ties to the national Democratic Party. Its relations with Torricelli have been well-documented on this web site.
All this, despite a spate of serious Maywood plant mishaps through the years that have defiled the surroundung environment and injured workers.
Stepan incorporated Maywood Chemical Works as "a division" of its company after acquiring the latter's financial assets circa 1960. It profited handsomely in selling some of Maywood Chemical's surrounding property to other concerns. This led to other businesses occupying the area, including Myron Manufacturing, AMF-Voit (later Federal Express) and the Sears Distribution Center.
The Army Corps contends that it can reopen Torricelli's original agreement in trying to seek more cleanup funding from Stepan to address removing thorium.
With its vast network of chemical plants around the world, the multi-billion dollar conglomerate certainly has deep legal pockets to try endlessly litigating the matter in court, as is its right. These pockets are certainly deeper than those which any small town, or any environmental or community group, can match.
BOROUGH EXITS TRINKA HALL WITHOUT FANFARE
Town Council vacates site it's called home since 1960s
With no fanfare or ceremony whatsoever, town fathers departed from Trinka Hall at the close of the Feb. 26 Borough Council meeting, bringing a quiet end to a significant chapter in Maywood's, at times. loud and controversial history.
Yet despite the significance of the moment, neither Republican Mayor Wayne Kuss nor any of his governing body colleagues took time to look back, somewhat nostalgically, at the council's longtime home in the basement of its now former borough hall.
"Just remember, when we convene the next time, it isn't here," said Borough Administrator Jack Terhune, acknowledging the end somewhat subtly.
As of March 3, the borough's address officially changed from 459 Maywood Ave. to a location it previously occupied at one point, before moving to Trinka over three decades ago: 15 Park Ave.
It will start operations in the new three-story "John A. Steuert Jr. Municipal Complex," which, critics have derided as a boondoggle/luxury that has come at a heavy cost.
Even though the new site is apparently ready, council members have not ruled out investigating the controversies surrounding construction of the project, which took about four years to complete - under questionable and shadowy circumstances.
The council is expected to convene its March 5 work session in the new Steuert site. The facility is named after the deceased longtime mayor, who spent much of his public life presiding over hotly contested meetings in the Trinka chambers.
It was Steuert who proposed consolidating municipal offices with the police headquarters (renovated as part of the project) in the early 1990s.
This proposal evolved into a political football to say the least, as Maywood's Democrats first fought the Republican mayor's proposal. The Democrats eventually ascented to accepting the new site after Kuss proposed in 2000 enlarging, what had been a more modest firehouse/volunteer ambulance corps renovation project, into Steuert's original concept. Steuert died in 2000.
The council's first regular public agenda meeting, in the second-floor chambers of the new site, is scheduled for March 26. Kuss has said an official dedication could come around April or May.
Though the new building could turn out to be quite costly, leaving future Maywoodians with a heavy debt, the site will at least enable the municipality to occupy a building providing its own identity.
Since the inception of its Trinka Hall tenure, the borough government's administration has essentially occupied the basement of the Maywood Public Library. In fact, the borough's vacated space will be used to expand the library, in conjunction with a renovation project.
In the 1960s, during the tenure of Mayor Chester Eccleston, the borough settled upon a new quarters for the library at 459 Maywood Ave., after negotiating to acquire the land from the then-owners of the Trinka-Faustini Funeral Home.
Steuert has been credited with helping bring about this transfer, while a councilman in the early 1960s. The new library opened in 1965.
A policy decision was made to eventually place Maywood's muncipal offices and council chambers in the same site. At one time, the council held its meetings in the old public safety building at 15 Park. Thus, the council is returning to an old address.
Compared to many council chambers in surrounding communities, Trinka Hall was quite modest - even somewhat inauspicious - in comparison.
Subtracting the plastic chairs and council dais (basically folding tables) from the room, one might conclude that the site could be just as appropriately used for a dance floor or small catering hall.
Yet during the borough's time in Trinka, major municipal issues were debated and discussed, whether they pertained to Maywood's tragic (and continuing) thorium quagmire, establishing the Lydecker Manior senior citizens complex, creating the Maywood swimming pool, and in more recent years, debating issues regarding Maywood's future development.
In addition to the council, all of Maywood's major boards, Planning/Zoning, Swim Pool, Rent Monitoring, Shade Tree and Recreation, have called Trinka Hall home.
In contrast to some of Trinka's more controversial moments, the council's final chapter was relatively bland and non-controversial. The session lasted about an hour, and was attended by about 10 residents.
The major issue discussed concerned whether tenants living in the borough's major apartment complexes in the southern end of Maywood could get more parking space - an issue - in fact - heatedly debated at Trinka in the past.
As usual, Terhune and the other governing body members offered their reports. "We are continuing our move to 15 Park Avenue," said the administrator, noting that municipal offices would close Feb. 28, so the transition could continue into the weekend.
Terhune said that while Maywood will keep its 845-2900 main number, every department will receive a new extension upon moving to the site.
Five mayors have presided over council meetings held in Trinka Hall since the site was established, circa 1965. Here are their tenures, in chronological order:
1. CHESTER ECCLESTON (R) 1965-1967
2. JOHN STEUERT JR. (R) 1968-1969
3. FRED HILLYER (R) 1970-1971
4. JOHN STEUERT JR. (R) 1972-1983
5. JAMES PANOS (D) 1984-1987
6. JOHN STEUERT JR. (R) 1988-1995
7. THOMAS MURPHY (D) 1996-1999
8. WAYNE KUSS (R) 2000-
INVISIBLE" MONIES WILL FUND FIREHOUSE REPAIRS
Richards wants to use dormant bond funds for Peerless fix
By Chris Neidenberg
The Borough Council, already criticized by one member for excessive bonding, will tap into a surprise funding source involving bonds to fix the Peerless Firehouse.
It will draw these monies from $111,980 in "unexpended" funds, found in four old bond ordinances.
At the council's Feb. 19 work session, Democratic Councilman Thomas Richards said he learned that the unused monies were available. Richards told colleagues he wants to take about $15,000 from the surprise pool of funds for implementing repairs. He called on adopting an ordinance for moving forward "as soon as possible." Yet Maywood's Republican mayor questioned whether the find means the borough must improve its financial accounting practices.
Thus, the council, already under fire from critical residents for adopting an $815,000 bond ordinance in December for various capital purchases when it already racked up a significant debt, has uncovered over $100,000 in new monies it didn't even realize it had from existing bond ordinances.
Richards said this unexpected windfall - rather than being given back to the taxpayers - should be spent on future borough programs.
Yet Mayor Wayne Kuss expressed some unease over the development.
Kuss questioned whether the borough needed to better keep track of such unused stealth monies, which remain idle in the budget - apparently unnoticed - even though residents finance the expenditores with their property taxes.
"Something is wrong with the system we've used," complained the mayor. "We have (unused money in) four other bond ordinances left over.
"The monies are just sitting fallow," added a concerned Kuss, suggesting that council members should only authorize bond funds for those purposes they plan to carry out.
The revelation of these unused capital funds comes after Republican Councilman James Petrie has warned that Maywood "has approached a level of debt never seen before in the history of this community."
Additionally, in recent years, Maywood has maintained surpluses at times reaching over $1 million. In 2001, the state rejected a borough "extraordinary aid" petition, to give property owners tax relief, due to a high surplus.
The council also is still tallying the cost overruns amassed at the new "John A. Steuert Jr. Municipal Complex" due to alleged shoddy construction and lax oversignt. Taxpayers could be retiring the debt from these overruns for years to come.
Borough Attorney Andrew Fede told Kuss the unused monies, from an apparent hodgepodge of inactive bond measures, can be reprogrammed legally for new purposes such as Richards' idea.
Richards endorsed keeping these newly-found old funds in reserve, for meeting any upcoming needs.
But the councilman said the first priority should be the West Hunter Avenue firehouse near Stepan Chemical Company.
"I was there all day Saturday (Feb. 22), and it was in pretty bad shape," said Richards, a possible 2003 mayoral candidate, who has made catering to emergency volunteers' needs a high priority in recent months. "I'm asking (the council) just to keep it in mind, and have a target date for that."
Richards called for bringing the building "up to a standard of repair" that improves conditions for the volunteer firemen using it.
He said items which must be addressed include repairing the catch basins in front, "redoing the upstairs," upgrading floor drains, applying new cement and removing dust and soot.
Richards cited meeting the emergency volunteers' needs as a high priority in backing the earlier $815,000 bonding ordinance. That measure finances new equipment and vehicles, as well as a completely unrelated request drawing fire - installing ballfield lights at Memorial Park.
COUNCIL OPPOSES NJ DOT'S ROUTE 17 CHANGES
Army Corps "twists" cleanup laws to help state start project
By Chris Neidenberg
(Key passages in bold italics)
Residents can apparently now count on the Borough Council's advocating for the town against the state Department of Transportation's (DOT's) planned massive overhaul of Route 17 and the Essex Street Bridge.
Yet to help facilitate the state's plans, the federal government has already begun moving through Maywood toxic thorium-tainted soil from some areas of the planned project, which fall within the Superfund site.
During the council's Feb. 19 work session, Mayor Wayne Kuss reported that a neighboring municipality has agreed to come on board in fighting the proposal which, Maywood officials now apparently feel, will significantly encroach on their municipality..
"Rochelle Park said they will suppprt a resolution opposing the changes," said Kuss.
He was referring to major proposed interchange alterations which will include increasing the number of lanes along Essex Street, and big Route 17 ramp improvements.
The borough is expected to send a letter to State Senator Byron Baer (D-37) urging him to join the council in opposition.
Trenton is determined to implement these changes - unless the DOT initiative is somehow altered or slowed down.
For at least the last four years, the municipality has been well aware of the state's general intentions. The DOT held informational sessions last year, involving residents and area officials, at the Bergen Mall.
The proposed changes will also impact an area of Lodi, near sites including the National Guard Armory and CVS drug store.
The DOT has negotiated access agreements with some borough property owners in the Maywood Avenue and Essex Street areas.
While there is apparently general agreement that something must be done for easing traffic congestion and improving flow, the disputing parties apparently now differ over the means for accomplishing this goal. Municipal officials have previously complained of a high area accident rate.
Additionally, the council has set its sights on eventually seeing a motel built at the current Sears Repair Center building - not too far north of the Route 17 South exit ramp - by zoning the tract for future motel development.
Sears, however, has at least maintained previously that it has no intentions of leaving the facility, lying within the polluted Superfund site.
But Lillian Single, coordinator of the Alliance to Protect Maywood, questioned whetner the council is suddenly changing its tune. She spoke after learning of Maywood's intentions.
When she warned the council of the coming changes a while ago, the resident alleged, members sat in cold silence and refused any response.
"It surprises and disgusts me when a serious issue, that the council has previously ignored, suddenly becomes politically popular and grabs its attention," Single complained. "The fact is, up until this time, they've offered no opposition at all."
She speculated that candidates, running in the 2003 mayor and council election, could be trying to use the issue to their advantage - but will then drop the matter once all the votes are tallied.
"I remember when I pleaded with the council to aggressively try preventing the state from implementing this same exact plan over two years ago," Single recalled. "At that time, they just looked at me and said nothing. Now they're against it?"
She warned that the current proposed changes will bring Route 17 much closer to Maywood's doors, and more directly impact traffic on Maywood Avenue. Previously, Single has fought Bergen County's efforts to widen the entire stretch of Maywood Avenue, from Essex Street to Spring Valley Avenue.
According to the New Jersey DOT's Region II Bureau of Preliminary Engineering document, the state's proposed changes will significantly improve regional conditions.
The DOT contends that the "recommended improvements" were derived following an extensive study and analysis of area conditions, including traffic, by various DOT bureaus.
"These improvements will provide relief for some of the operational and safety problems experienced by motorists using the interchange," the docuiment states.
Proposed changes impacting Maywood:include (but are not limited to):
A. Widening the Essex Street Bridge to two through lanes, adding one left-turn only lane and six-foot wide sidewalks, on each side.
B. Lengthening the span to three travel lanes and a shoulder underneath on Route 17 in each direction.
C. Relocating the exit and entrance ramps for Route 17 South and North so the ramps will be oppositre each other - and signalizing all four ramps.
D. Adding two left-turn slots and a right-turn slot at the terminus of the Route 17 North and South exit ramps.
E. Adding a right-turn only slot from the Maywood Avenue-Essex Street intersection to the Route 17 North entrance ramp.
F. Coordinating two proposed new signals and the existing signal, on Essex Street, so they provide "an optimum level of service through the interchange."
The U.S. Army Corps rammed more toxic soil through Maywood, in colluding with the state, just to launch DOT's project
While Maywood officials now say they oppose the DOT project as presently construed, they have no problem in continuing allowing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers force toxic soil through their community - to the Maywood Interim Storage Site (MISS) - in accomodating the controversial initiative. Soils are taken to the MISS for rail shipment.
To do all of this, the corps - under the direction of Site Manager Allen Roos - continued abandoning the federal government's one-time pledge to release a single proposed cleanup plan (covering residential and commercial phases) for all properties throughout the entire Superfund site - consistent with laws governing that program.
In carrying this latest cleanup out, the corps unilaterally moved forward this January with work involving some of Maywood's Phase II polluted commercial sites (and a smaller site in Lodi).
The EPA did release one proposed plan before cleaning up any of the nearby former U.S. Radium Company Superfund sites, affecting the Essex County communities of Montclair, Glen Ridge and West Orange.
The feds once took the position within Maywood that it would only do "removal actions" under the first residential phase (which in itself, broke a prior promise). Yet Roos and the corps subsequently reneged on this stand as well - with the EPA's full knowledge and consent..
The reason? Roos and his superiors relented only to let New Jersey begin the Route17/Essex Street project that the Maywood council now claims it opposes.
Thus, the state, which (through its Department of Environmental Protection) has generally remained silent on the controversial question of cleaning up Maywood area Superfund sites without a Record of Decision (ROD), moved ahead in this instance - via actually colluding with the Army Corps behind the community's back.
The state refused to wait as a courtesy to Maywood. The DOT's compelling interest in disturbing toxic Superfund waste was to move ahead with its project.
Yet the normal policy, at least under Superfund, would have entailed requiring the corps and the EPA to discuss cleaning up these properties during a public hearing under a proposed plan, and then waiting until issuing a final ROD .This process is preceded by release of a feasibility study.
The federal agencies did convene such a hearing - for radiological contamination - on the other Phase II sites last Aug. 28 (but well after the corps already decided on launching work at the selected DOT project sites)..
According to a recent U.S. Army Corps FUSRAP update brochure, released to residents in late February, over 12,000 tons of contaminated soil and debris have been removed from three properties (at 113 Essex Street and 200 Route 17 South in Maywood, and a third site - no address provided - on Essex Stret in Lodi) so far.
The corps points out in its latest update that the agency continued "removal actions" under the authority vested within regulations governing an Environmental Engineering and Cost Analysis (EE/CA) document.
The corps further states that authority for doing this work was granted in November 2001 after "a mandated regularory and public review and comment process" the EE/CA requires. Yet the EE/CA regulations - unlike the ROD - only permit written public comments.
The agency says work done at another commercial property, on Route 46 in Lodi in March 2002, also commenced using the EE/CA process. It asserts that 11 remaining sites qualify for EE/CAs.
In every instance under EE/CA, the corps (as the U.S. Department of Energy - DOE - before it) rejected criticial residents' claims (despite offering strong documented evidence) that it should have followed the more extensive proposed plan/ROD process mandated (and once promised) under Superfund in carrying out these cleanups.
In every instance, toxic soils emanating from removal actions have been removed (and often stored) within Maywood at the MISS.
In fact, the EPA and the DOE originally promised Maywood in 1993-94 that it would follow the proposed plan/ROD procedures - but abandoned the promise with the Maywood council's full knowledge and consent. Thus, federal agencies, using their awesome power and weight, instead proceeded to force the cleanup upon a small and politically weak Maywood.
Yet the fact remains that the corps, and its DOE predecessors, have inconsistently applied the circumstances under which "removal actions" can be carried out. The rationales have varied from the need to remove contamination under homes (such as in Lodi) to helping facilitate construction (as in the DOT's case). The EPA has not interfered.
Thus the DOE and the Army Corps managed to evade issuing a ROD for all of the Phase I sites (breaking a prior promise to Maywoodians) as a result. Critics complain that this has significantly weakened the borough's bargaining position in securing the best possible cleanup in Maywood under Phase II.
Maywood council now tries fighting the state over Route 17 - after rejecting more aggressive stands on other "quality of life" causes (such as thorium and the Duane Reade drugstore)
The same Maywood council, that has decided to try opposing the state on the Essex Street/Route 17 issue, has historically refused taking a more confrontational stance with the federal government on the thorium matter.
It asserts that there is nothing the borough can do to challenge the feds in further advancing Maywood's cause. This, despite documents showing what was once only a private issue - originally involving the EPA and Stepan Chemical Company (thorium contamination) - was shifted entirely to the federal government under questionable pretenses. Since that time, the DOE and the corps have replaced Stepan in taking the lead on addressing this pollution. Yet EPA has maintained, even after the switch, that Stepan is still liable for handling the thorium cleanup.
And while the council fears now that the Route 17/Essex Street project will increase borough congestion, Maywood officials (with the exception of now-former Councilman Frank Beatrice) did not oppose adding more congestion to the intersection in another controversial matter - the Duane Reade drug store.
A council majority applauded the Planning and Zoning Board's approval in 1999 (despite heavy neighborhood opposition and a prior board rejection) of an original "srtip mall" application. This replaced the first five homes on the southwest side of Maywood Avenue, near Essex Street.
This planned "strip mall" eventually became a Duane Reade. In approving thr original plan, all voting board members (except Beatrice) agreed gutting the homes for the business would blend in better with the commercially-zoned area just across the street in Lodi. Yet critical Maywoodians, who lost out, pleaded with the board to preserve their own area's residential character.
In acknowlwedging that there was massive opposition to the project in the south end of Maywood, then-Board Member John Perkins (borough administrator at the time) claimed that the development would benefit residents throughout the town..
Yet in the opposite end of the borough, next to the Bergen Mall in Paramus, the council helped upset residents in fighting to limit the size of a larger proposed Sears Great Indoors Store.
The final building will sit behind homes in areas including Rutherford Place and Cedar Avenue. Late last year, the council approved an agreement with the developer limiting the store's scale and impact to the surrounding neighborhood
Monday, April 21, 2003
THE ONE "MAYWOOD TRUTH" TOM RICHARDS JUST DOESN'T WANT YOU TO KNOW
RICHARDS STILL COZY WITH TOWN'S WORST POLLUTER
But what do he, Rothman do now with Robert Torricelli gone?
By Chris Neidenberg
(PART I - Offers an overview of Richards' suspicious and dubious role in Maywood's sad thorium mess from the very beginning
It also examines his clear and continued support for protecting Stepan Chemical Company from shouldering much more of the financial responsibility for the radiological waste portion of the cleanup, his efforts toward this end with former Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli and ex-Borough Attorney William Rupp, as well as their efforts in taking the thorium focus entirely away from Stepan and shifting this burden to the borough, via forcing it to completely cooperate with the United States Government.
The piece concludes by examining EPA's early enforcement efforts, and Torricelli's role in stopping it, as well as Richards' relationship with higher-level Bergen County Democrats, who have consistently praised him (despite Richards' ardent advocacy for this polluter).
(Key passages in bold italics)
In a year when major decisions will be made on whether massive volumes of toxic radioactive and chemical soil will ever leave his community's borders, Democratic Councilman Thomas Richards remains perhaps Maywood's biggest ally of its worst Superfund site polluter - Stepan Chemical Company.
Yet this year places Richards in possibly the most uncomfortable political environment, regarding thorium, during his over 20 years of highly questionable involvement on the issue. Richards was re-elected to a three-year term in November.
Richards has championed the cause of trying to seriously limit Stepan Chemical's financial liability, in paying for the thorium part of the overall cleanup, since the earliest beginnings of Maywood's sordid thorium affair (1981-83).
In the early stages of what then-Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley once described as "Maywood's thorium crisis," Richards worked locally and with federal elected officials in trying to help Stepan Chemical avoid accepting major responsibility for the thorium problem.
This, despite the early efforts of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in aggressively trying to enforce the Superfund law against the West Hunter Avenue plant.
EPA named Stepan Chemical a "potentially responsible party (PRP)" for "radioactive contamination" in 1983. This designation was based on the fact that the firm inherited the financial assets of the company which largely produced the waste, Maywood Chemical Works.
Under the Superfund law, companies currently operating on sites can be held financially liable for problems stemmiing from the businesses they inherit. In fact, Stepan Chemical incorporated Maywood Chemical directly into its company. The old firm became known as "the Maywood Chemical Division" of Stepan Chemical.
Yet through the intervention of then-Rep. Robert Torricelli (D-9), authority for addressing the thorum part of the cleanup was switched from the EPA and Stepan Chemical to the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP). Richards endorsed this action.
Since that time, U.S. taxpayers have paid hundreds of millions of dollars for all radiological cleanup costs, save for a small contribution (roughly $2 million) owner F. Quinn Stepan made during the initial stages of the effort 20 years ago. Torricelli negotiated this donation.
In fact, Richards has engaged in highly questionable moral and ethical conduct (dealing with thorium actions taken in an official capacity on and off the council) - with Torricelli and others - from the beginning.
The tortured thorium saga spans a period of over 20 years in Maywood's history. Richards frist joined the council in 1975. He's been on and off it ever since.
These ethical questions continue hanging over Richards to this day. And the councilman, at least up until recently, continues opposing making Stepan Chemical financially liable for any remaining radiological cleanup costs.
He reaffirmed this view during last October's Candidates Night debate. At that time, Richards said Maywood must keep relying solely on annual federal government appropriations in solving its radioactive waste problem.
He described the borough's Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), related to the Maywood Interim Storage Site (MISS), as its "shield" against accepting from the feds radioactive waste now at other contaminated sites in New Jersey. Richards has held this view since the 1980s.
The MOU was negotiated between then-Borough Attorney William Rupp snd the DOE, in helping Torricelli create the MISS.
Rupp was Richards' and Torricelli's key ally in the early chain of events leading to seriously limiting Stepan Chemical's thorium liability. He remains an active player in borough politics.
Rupp now serves as special counsel advising the municipality on issues related to another major Maywood mess - construction of the "John A. Steuert Jr. Municipal Complex."
Rupp and Richards were the chief local architects - with Torricelli - of subverting Maywood's will for solving the thorium problem entirely to the federal government (DOE).
Once political action sidetracked the EPA, and the DOE relieved Stepan Chemical of financial liability for thorium cleanup costs, Rupp and Richards then promoted the notion that Maywood's problem could not be solved unless the borough fully cooperated with the feds.
They rejected all calls for placing the onus on solving the problem squarely upon Torricelli's campaign donor - as the EPA intended.
In the mid 1980s, Rupp and Richards insisted that the Borough Council had to let into the MISS outside toxic soil linked to the Superfund site.
This thorium contamination was primarily produced by Maywood Chemical, and sat under Lodi and Rochelle Park properties. While Richards has asserted his concern for taking soil in from the Lodi homes was based on fears for the occupants' health, a full review of his policy shows glaring inconsistencies. More on this in Part II.
Rupp called this concept of U.S. Government superiority, "federal preemption."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (which inherited responsibility for the thorium pollution from the DOE under a 1997 act of Congress which Richards and Torricelli opposed) has, thus far, sustained Torricelli's original "DOE-Stepan Agreement." The corps is working with the EPA on finalizing a radioactive waste cleanup plan affecting roughly 300,000 yards of toxic soil buried under Maywood's big commercial properties.
This deal was negotiated with Torricelli's campaign donor, company President F. Quinn Stepan. Yet the corps has raised the possibility of trying to recover more radiological cleanup funding, at FUSRAP sites nationally, from private parties such as Stepan Chemical.
The firm is already financially liable for chemical contamination. It must still present the EPA a separate chemical cleanup plan. Yet much of Maywood's remaining waste is mixed.
Thus, this year perhaps presents the most uncomfortable political environment for Richards during his entire career on the council for two major reasons.
First, his longtime mentor, partner and hero during the long and suspicious thorium affair, now-former U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli, left office in January.
Second, Richards and other Bergen County Democrats who have long supported him, including Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) and 37th District state Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg and State Senator Byron Baer, have said they want all Maywood's thorium tainted soil excavated and disposed into an outside permanent facility.
Rothman, however, has thus far agreed with Richards that Torricelli's campaign donor should not be held financially liable for cleaning up radiological contamination to help his Maywood constituents.
If he opposed this position, then Rothman would be going against Torricelli's original agreement limiting Stepan Chemical's liability.
Local Maywood Democrats who have also backed subsidizing Stepan Chemical's costs include former Mayors Thomas Murphy and James Panos, and former Councilman Thomas Berntson.
Weinberg and Baer participated with Rothman in attending a highly secretive meeting with federal officials (at Richards' invitation) during 2000 to view their controversial soil separation machine being tested on site. They have remained silent over Stepan Chemical's ultimate thorium cleanup culpability.
The company has a campaign fundraising relationship with the national Democratic Party. In 1992, Weinberg returned a campaign check from the Stepan Political Action Committee (PAC) upon joining the assembly. This same PAC also steered monies to Torricelli's various campaigns.
When he was not serving on the council, Richards kept engaging in questionable acts related to the thorium issue while off it - in serving the governing body as Environmental Legislative Action Committee (ELAC) chairman.
Yet ELAC, which quietly folded in 2000 sometime after Richards rejoined the council, offered no significant achievements or recommendations to the governing body concerning thorium, as was its original charge.
For instance, according to minutes filed with the borough clerk's office, Richards' committee offered no thorium progress reports for a roughly three-year period.
Richards also took the view as chairman that ELAC did not have to hold public hearings with residents. He did eventually halt residents from speaking. This, despite the fact that part of ELAC's original charge was identifying and addressing residents' environmental concerns.
The councilman while ELAC chairman, also participated in a national DOE "stakeholder" committee - with Stepan Chemical representatives - under the DOE's Environmental Management Advisory Board.
Richards took part even as he knew the DOE was actively concealing the details of the bulk of Maywood's own thorium cleanup plan from his fellow residents. The corps continued stalling the plan's release for another five years, and did not finally release it until last Aug. 28.
Richards has run for mayor twice, in 1987 and 1991, losing both times to the late former Republican Mayor John Steuert. GOP Mayor Wayne Kuss is up for re-election this year. While he has not publicly revealed his intentions, Richards, a long-time mayoral aspirant, can't be counted out as a potential candidate.
Richards' support for Stepan has been clear and consistent throughout
The councilman has claimed that, because the federal government was involved in making thorium at Maywood Chemical, taxpayers are solely responsible for solving the rest of Maywood's radiological mess.
Richards, Rupp and other Maywood Democrats lobbying on Stepan Chemical's behalf since getting Torricelli to seriously limit the polluter's liability, have tried claiming this policy is justified given the plant's history.
They have claimed that Maywood Chemical's plant was placed under the trusteeship of the U.S, government during World War II. The plant's local Democratic supporters maintained that the feds took control because German nationals owned the plant.
Yet this claim did not stop the EPA from originally enforcing the Superfund law against Stepan Chemical, for all radioactive waste (in addition to chemicals), before Torricelli intervened.
For the past 20 years, in fact, Richards has repeatedly refused to even consider making Stepan Chemical more accountable for the thorium in trying to quicken his community's cleanup. Richards says it wouldn't.
Richards has always harshly verbally attacked anyone even daring to criticize Stepan Chemical's operations, as well as Torricelli's efforts at significantly lowering the plant's ultimate cleanup culpability - at least until this point.
Those most vocal over the suspicious conduct of Richards, Torricelli and Stepan Chemical - and who have most loudly met Richards' ire - are residents active within the Concerned Citizens of Maywood (CCM). The CCM, Richards' longtime nemesis, is led by group Environmental Chairman Michael Nolan, of Lenox Avenue.
Whenever the Concerned Citizens swayed a council majority to stop the trucking of toxic soil in from Lodi, and pleaded with officials to protect Maywood's interests first, Richards instinctive reaction was to blame them for delaying the U.S. Government's cleanup schedule.
He has also blamed them for causing the feds to divert cleanup funds to other parts of the country.
Richards has also taken an active part in Stepan Chemical's PR campaigns that have arisen occasionally in response to negative publicity.
For instance, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined Stepan $115,000 for a 1995 accident where a tank exploded near highly-flammable benzene containers.
An OSHA inspector surveying the scene maintained that the mishap came close to reching the "catastrophic" level of the fatal Napp Technologies plant fire and explosion in Lodi earlier that year.
In response to this, Richards helped Stepan Chemical conduct public tours of the chemical plant. This occurred during an annual Maywood Sidewalk Fair and Festival event.
What the feds - and Stepan - say about Stepan's liability
The EPA's original position on Stepan Chemical's radiological cleanup liability is spelled out in a Jan. 17, 1983 letter to plant executive John O'Brien from Lawrence Diamond, then with EPA's Enforcement Division. Torricelli, who began his own negotiations around that April, put a final halt to EPA's efforts five months after Diamond's letter.
Diamond writes: "Responsible parties under CERCLA (Superfund) include current or past owners or operators; ,,, who generated the substances or were involved in transport or treatment, or disposal of them; and successors to such persons. Under CERCLA and other laws, responsible parties may be liable for money needed by the government to take necessary corrective actions at the site …"
He adds: "EPA has information indicating you may be a responsible party. This information includes site inspection reports and data from aerial radiological surveys, conducted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, (NRC); other documents in NRC files; and records supplied by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.(DEP)."
Torricelli later tried claiming that the EPA was stalling on efforts to take action against Stepan Chemical. But the company's February 1983 response to Diamond, from plant attorney Richard Jacobson, suggests otherwise.
Jacobson tells Diamond that Stepan Chemical would agree to pay for starting the remedial investigation on radiological contamination. He even proposed employing a certified health physicist.
Jacobson writes back: "While Stepan is not responsible for the creation of these wastes or for any remedial action that might be appropriate, Stepan will assume responsibility for performance of an approved EPA remedial investigation."
He further tells Diamond that it appears "premature" to determine Stepan Chemical's legal liability and "any corrective action that needs" to be taken. Still, the company attorney indicates a willingness to start carrying out the EPA order, saying, "A discussion regarding implementation cannot meaningfully be conducted until the feasibility study is complete and the most cost-effective remedial alternative is identified."
Later that year, Torricelli takes credit for securing a deal between owner F. Quinn Stepan and the federal government. Torricelli also secures a small amount of federal funding for startup throigh an energy and water appropriations bill.
In negotiating this deal, Torricelli claims in a June 1983 press release he was wrongly assured previously that "the EPA was involved in active negotiations with the Stepan Chemical Company and that they were resolving issues of liability and payment."
He adds that he concluded it was unlikely the negotiations would end in 1983. This, even with Jacobson's assurance that Stepan Chemical was ready to start the remedial investigation.
In this June release, Torricelli announces: "Congressman Robert Torricelli (D-9) citing unacceptable delays and continued inaction by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, has negotiated a joint government-industry plan which will expedite the cleanup of radioactive waste in Maywood-Rochelle Park."
It continues, "The plan, negotiated by Torricelli, will involve a combined cleanup effort by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Stepan Chemical Company, which now occupies the plant where the radioactive waste was produced until 1954."
Under the deal, Torricelli says in the release, the House Appropriations Committee would provide $2 million for the DOE to use in cleaning up sites needing action under its "remedial action program (FUSRAP)."
He adds that F. Quinn Stepan agreed to donare another $1 million - if more cleanup funds were needed beyond the federal allocation - and to finance "engineering work."
Also as part of the deal, Torricelli says, Stepan Chemical agreed "to donate a portion of their land - valued at $1 million - to aid in the cleanup process." This led to setting up the MISS.
Torricelli initially asked that U.S. Secretary of Energy Donald Hodel place the Maywood project under his department in getting the effort - referred to as "a research and development project" - rolling.
In a response, Hodel states that he has "accepted the congressman's request to place the Maywood project into the FUSRAP." Thus, the EPA was officially removed as the lead agency directly overseeing Stepan Chemical's now-aborted radiological investigation effort. Locally, Rupp and Richards start advocating the idea that Maywood's thorium interests are totally reliant on - and subordinate to - the DOE's FUSRAP program.
Ever since this press release, two federal agencies and two contractors have spent at least $200 million in taxpayer dollars for cleaning up sites largely outside Maywood, while forcing toxic soil into the community. This, even while Maywoodians tolerated lengthy delays tying up release of their own proposed plan.
Thus, the feds stepped in to finance solving a problem Stepan Chemical would have largely been liable for - had Torricelli not intervened.
And despite Torricelli's repeated assurances of a much quicker cleanup time frame for Maywood, the U.S. Government delayed release of a proposed plan at least nine years after this announcement was made.
The Army Corps did not actually release a plan detailing the bulk of Maywood's cleanup until at least eight years after EPA first reported a delay in releasing the plan - and over 20 years after Torricelli's initial announcement of an agreement with Stepan Chemical to "expedite" the cleanup.
Yet critics asserted that if these moves - by Torricelli, Richards and Rupp - were not made, Stepan Chemical would have been held liable for picking up much more of the thorium cleanup bill - in line with the EPA's original "PRP" order.
Even Maywood EPA Project Manager Angela Carpenter has acknowledged that such steps taken by Stepan Chemical's supporters somewhat complicated her agency's enforcement efforts - and slowed the overall project.
Had these moves not been made, Carpenter said in a 1995 interview, the EPA could have dealt directly with Stepan Chemical in solely overseeing one combined chemical and radiological cleanup effort.
Thus, she said in 1995, Maywood would have remained "a garden variety Superfund site."
In other words, according to Carpenter, had Torricelli not intervened for Stepan Chemical, the DOE would not have become the PRP. Thus, this added layer of bureaucracy would have been avoided. Despite this, the EPA has willingly cooperated with the likes of Torricelli and Richards in continuing their questionable endeavor.
Are Bergen County's Dems simply two-faced when it comes to Stepan/Richards?
Richards has served on the state Democratic committee and loyally served the Bergen County Democratic Party for many years. He has received constant praise from prominent Bergen Democrats at the state and federal levels - despite his ardent advocacy on the polluter's behalf for over 20 years.
Yet some Democrats backing Richards have attacked "polluters" themselves.
After candidate Torricelli pledged during his initial 1982 Congressional run to work with Concerned Citizens of Maywood Secretary and longtime loyal Democrat (and Stepan Chemical critic) Louise Torell in helping clean up Maywood, freshman Congressman Torricelli gravitated toward Richards and Rupp the next year.
Shortly after taking office, he helped the two local officials absolve Stepan Chemical of major financial liability for the thorium part of the problem.
From that point on. Richards served essentially as Torricelli's constant liaison and messenger between Maywood's council and the legislator on all thorium matters.
In turn, Torricelli, continually heaped praise upon Richards while making residents a slew of false promises.
These included a failed assurance that Maywood would be cleaned up by late 1985, and various false promises to keep Lodi's contamination out of the borough
In the mid- to late 1980s, Richards and Torricelli tried passing the buck to the state in urging the DEP to find an in-state disposal site.
Richards other big Bergen Democratic backers have included: Rothman, Weinberg , Baer and now-former state Assemblyman Charles "Ken" Zisa. Weinberg and Zisa have cited the need for environmental protection - and fighting "polluters" - in past campaign literature.
Additionally, other prominent Democrats backing Richards have tried attracting votes in attacking "polluters" in their own campaigns.
For instance, during his successful election against State Senator Henry McNamara (R-40), new Democratic Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney attacked his opponent in radio ads for going easy on "a polluter" who employed his daughter.
Current U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg assailed Republican challenger Douglas Forrester - who earlier attacked Torricelli's Maywood conduct - for opposing making "polluters" pay to clean up Superfund sites. Forrester denied the charge.
Despite Richards' highly questionable behavior over the many years on one of ^Maywood's most critical safety and health issues, Rothman, Richards' chief partner now in the thorium effort, praised the councilman's service to Maywood in 2002 campaign literature.
"Over the past 15 years, I have had the pleasure of working with Tom Richards and have been impressed with has knowledge, passion and commitment on behalf of his fellow Maywood residents," he writes.
Rothman in the literature also touts Richards' efforts in working with him on a bill to transfer ownership of the cleaned-up MISS, Stepan Chemical once owned, to the municipality.
He cited a Washington visit Richards made last year, with Democratic Councilwoman Jeanne Matullo, to discuss this legislation.
If Rothman's bill becomes law, it will mark an end to Torricelli's suspicious agreement, made in tandem with Rupp's MOU, creating the MISS and relieving Stepan Chemical of ownership.
PART II to follow.
THE ONE “MAYWOOD TRUTH” TOM RICHARDS JUST DOESN'T WANT YOU TO KNOW
RICHARDS STILL COZY WITH TOWN’S WORST POLLUTER
But where do he, Rothman go now with Robert Torricelli gone?
By Chris Neidenberg
(PART II – Actually continues from Part I. In this second and final chapter, we examine how Maywood’s desire for a complete cleanup at the Phase II sites could affect Richards’ relations with – and loyalty to - Stepan Chemical Company.
Also addressed is the councilman’s loss of Robert Torricelli as a key ally in future thorium dealings during a critical period, his shifting positions on whether Maywood should indeed be completely cleaned up, his inconsistent position on helping people living in Lodi homes, Maywood’s curious dealings pursuant to Rochelle Park’s Ballod property, and the strange interaction between the local politicians and the federal agencies overseeing Maywood. Richards’ strange relations with Maywood’s Republicans are also touched upon.
(Key passages in bold italics)
Will Richards’ loyalty to Stepan be tested in 2003?
This could be the year when Richards’ unabashed loyalty to Stepan Chemical is put to the ultimate test.
Once federal authorities issue their Record of Decision spelling out how Maywood’s vast sites will be cleaned up, they could enter into negotiations with Stepan Chemical seeking a major financial commitment from the company.
Richards, in a radical shift, now insists he wants to mandate (not just try achieving) the removal of all thorium from Maywood (which, in fact might not be completely true, when examining his campaign statements).
Still, Richards faces a major dilemma.
Richards loses Torricelli as a major ally in efforts supporting Stepan
The councilman’s most important and revered political mentor over a 20-year period, Sen. Robert Torricelli, left office in January.
The senator exited in disgrace after having to withdraw from his re-election campaign against Republican challenger Douglas Forrester.
Last September, while Torricelli was still running, Forrester visited the Maywood site and assailed the senator for his conduct on the issue through the years.
Forrester insisted that he wanted “polluters” to pay, and challenged Torricelli’s commitment to such a stance given his Maywood/Stepan record.
Torricelli’s shocking exit - which paved the way for the entry of victorious Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg – stemmed from questions centering on his ongoing relationship with political fundraiser and businessman David Chang of Cresskill.
While still a Ninth District congressman (a position he held for 14 years), Torricelli teamed with Richards (as documented earlier) in circumventing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) efforts to name Stepan Chemical a designated “potential responsible party (PRP)" for “radioactive contamination.”
Questions over the now-former legislator’s actions back then remain relevant even today – given Torricelli’s longtime campaign finance relationship with Stepan Chemical company President and prominent Democratic fundraiser, F. Quinn Stepan. His company is headquartered in Northfield, Ill.
According to the video, “Stepan: The Poisoning of a Mexican Community,” Quinn Stepan’s brother, Paul, served as finance director for Chicago Democratic Mayor Richard Daley. A sister has served as a Democratic assemblywoman in the Illinois legislature.
While he never seemed to care about holding his own campaign donor, Stepan Chemical, to the same standard, Torricelli introduced a bill in 2002 demanding that “polluters” pay a greater share for Superfund site cleanups. Forrester suggested this was hypocritical, given the then-senator’s longtime Maywood stance.
Yet in explaining during 1996 why Torricelli decided on intervening with Richards on the polluter’s behalf in Maywood, Jamie Fox, his then-chief of staff, said his boss simply wanted “to help a businessman (F. Quinn Stepan) in his district.”
As for Chang, he was convicted of raising illegal campaign cash for Torricelli’s 1996 Senate bid following an extensive investigation by now-former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Mary Jo White.
White, however, declined to also charge Torricelli for accepting the funds. The federal prosecutor claimed that there was no hard evidence fingering Torricelli in the scheme. Yet the U.S. Senate’s Ethics Committee eventually admonished Torricelli last year for his role in the sordid affair. After Chang provided the press more damaging information on his role from a federal prison cell, Torricelli ultimately withdrew from the race..
White’s Chang/Torricelli probe actually included a Maywood angle, of sorts
In 2001, White subpoenaed Torricelli’s bank deposit records from Bergen County’s Bridgeview Bank. Two of the bank’s major officers then were prominent Bergen County Republican fundraiser J. Fletcher Creamer, and former Bergen County Republican Chairman John Schepisi.
Schepisi and Creamer are also partners in the Ballod Associates property in Rochelle Park, which lies within the Superfund site.
In 1985, Torricelli lobbied federal officials on behalf of his bank's officers to clean up thorium and chemicals from part of the vacant property – even while contamination sat under the homes of residences primarily in Lodi.
A council majority, including Richards, voted to accept putting Ballod’s huge waste pile (making up about 90 percent of the MISS’s own mound) into their community. It was moved into the MISS, with a small smattering of residential-tainted soil from Maywood, Lodi and Rochelle Park.
This waste sat untouched behind homes off West Central Avenue for about nine years – until the DOE started moving it. The pile was derisively known as "Mt. Torricelli."
The Ballod site is on the west side of Route 17. It was later developed into the Bristol Manor Nursing Home, from which Creamer and Schepisi profited.
Torricelli’s Ballod stance contrasted to his years of silence (along with Richards and other Maywood elected officials) on the ultimate culpability of his own campaign donor for polluting Maywood.
Yet, Torricelli took a far different stand at the polluted thorium site in Wayne
The architect of the “DOE-Stepan Agreement" subsidizing his campaign donor, denounced federal authorities in 1999 for forcing taxpayers to “subsidize” W.R. Grace’s own cleanup costs. The U.S. Department of Justice, which Torricelli lobbied, ultimately concluded negotiations with Grace for a greater share of Wayne’s cleanup funding.
In 2001, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cleaned up what had been the remaining unremediated Ballod piece for Creamer and Schepisi, lying in a commercial zone, to a residential, unrestricted use” radiological criteria of five picocuries per gram (pcI/g). Yet questions have lingered as to whether the earlier Ballod piece, which Torricelli pushed to clean up and is now occupied by senior citizens, was indeed safely cleaned up.
Just about every Maywoodian addressing the corps during its Aug. 28 hearing on the proposed thorium cleanup plan (including Richards) demanded that Maywood’s much bigger, and similarly-zoned, commercial properties be cleaned up to the same tough standard.
Richards did not always support excavating all of Maywood’s soil - and his current stand raises questions
Yet Richards’ position on whether Maywood should be cleaned up completely has shifted through the years.
The “mainstream media” recently quoted the councilman as saying he would fight to have all toxic soil removed from the Sears Distribution Center. In his campaign literature, Richards cited “redevelopment” of the 29-acre Sears site as the top priority.
At one time, Richards, who now wants to place a park at the Sears site, took a far different stand.
His other position was expressed as a private citizen in 1994. Richards spoke during a DOE public presentation at Maywood Avenue School. At the time, the DOE tried promoting using an unpopular “soil washing” technology in town. This method, somewhat similar to the soil separation technology the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has tried proposing more recently, was then opposed by the Borough Council. Richards was off the council at this time.
Richards said back then that he favored eventually placing new commercial developments in the Superfund site once cleaned up. Given the commercial nature of these developments, Richards said, the sites could support a far less stringent radiological cleanup standard than the accepted “health-based” level of five pcI/g.
Yet the current councilman said in 1994 that he was confident that soil washing could “suck out all the thorium anyway.”
He took this position then, even though the technology had not proven it could attain five pcI/g.
And his 2002 campaign literature also raises questions as to if Richards really even backs mandating five pcI/g for the roughly 300,000 cubic yards still in Maywood.
He seemed to suggest supporting this comprehensive criteria during the corps’ Aug. 28 publichearing.
“Mr. Richards suggests that we accept no more than background levels,” his literature states.
This statement raises the possibility that he could live with less than five pcI/g in some locations. Despite Richards’ stated desire last August, cleaning to “background levels” does not definitely mean you will achieve five pcI/g – the very level Richards backed in cleaning up the Lodi homes
Richards’ lobbying for Stepan presents a conflict, but EPA might still look to him in helping make cleanup decisions
Richards says (at least on the surface) that he wants to see all of Maywood’s thorium waste cleaned up. Yet questions remain over just how he can separate that position with his historical support for Stepan Chemical – which might be asked to kick in a greater share of the overall funding in achieving this.
Still, after the Aug. 28 hearing, EPA Project Manager Angela Carpenter said cleanup decisions could be based upon actions Richards and the other council members take. For instance, she said EPA could implement with the corps a more restrictive cleanup – if the council zones part of the Sears property for a recreational use.
Richards’ empathy for taking toxic dirt under Lodi homes is inconsistent
During the corps' hearing, Richards said he always gave priority to cleaning up soil underneath Lodi’s homes, even while most of Maywood’s own cleanup plan was delayed, out of his concern for the health and safety of the occupants.
Yet the very fact that Richards, in 1985, voted to let the federal government truck Ballod’s soil from the-then vacant property into Maywood in creating the MISS shows his concern is inconsistent. That’s because Richards knew the DOE - acting at Torricelli’s request to help Creamer and Schepisi – cleaned up Ballod while knowingly leaving thorium contamination under many more occupied Lodi homes.
Maywood’s Republicans, including the late former Mayor John Steuert, have always had suspicious relations with Richards
Perhaps, in part, because of Creamer’s and Schepisi’s involvement,. Maywood’s local Republican organization has always had a curious relationship with Richards - and Stepan Chemical.
The best example is the man Richards twice lost the mayoralty to – Steuert. Like Richards, Steuert was a longtime supporter of the Stepan Chemical plant, and friendly with F. Quinn Stepan. Steuert also endorsed, Richards’ chief ally, Torricelli, over Republican Peter Russo during the Democrat's last House run in 1994. After losing his 1995 mayoral re-election bid, Steuert endorsed Torricelli in 1996 over his Republican U.S. Senate opponent, then-Rep. Richard Zimmer.
In fact, during the last campaign Richards won with GOP Councilman Thomas Gaffney, both the Democratic and Republican parties came under fire from the local establishment weekly newspaper editor (actually, the wife of a former Democratic mayor) for allegedly running a quiet campaign in the interests of each other. Ironically, this small newspaper is the one most courted by the local politicians (perhaps with the exception of Democratic Councilman Dr. Tim Eustace).for favorable coverage.
Before the thorium issue broke, Steuert even teamed with Richards in his 1981 council campaign. The mayor appeared with him during some stops. He praised Richards’ stand on the Lydecker Manor Senior Citizens project – putting Steuert at odds with some fellow Republicans.
And after Maywood’s Republicans once fought Richards' and Rupp's efforts to subvert Maywood’s thorium interests to the federal government, and on using the MISS for cleaning up Lodi ahead of Maywood (as exemplified by the GOP's 1985 and 1986 Borough Council campaigns), the local GOP has long since joined Richards and the Democrats in putting Maywood’s long-term thorium ckeanup interests on the back burner.-
Stepan’s using cocaine in manufacturing adds a web of intrigue to the thorium affair – and to the dealings involving federal officials and Maywood’s politicians
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration constantly monitors Stepan Chemical’s plant, since the company is the only one in the United States with a legal permit for storing cocaine.
In fact, the building where the cocaine is used is in the heart of a polluted area. According to the book, The Kings of Cocaine, cocoa leaves (through which cocaine is derived) are routinely flown from Colombia - where they are picked - to the Maywood plant. Stepan Chemical grinds the leaves down in this building to use cocaine in legal drugs, such as novocaine. The plant has also used these leaves in flavoring Coca-Cola
RICHARDS, TORRICELLI AND THE THORIUM FACTS
EPA and the politicians abandoned Maywood's interests
(Key points in bold letters)
By Chris Neidenberg
As Maywood enters into a major phase that could ultimately decide its thorium fate in 2003, MAYWOOD TRUTH HURTS looks back and recaps some of the rather questionable actions Democratic Councilman Thomas Richards and now-former Senator Robert Torricelli have taken in tandem on the issue over the many years.
Additionally, the acts of other major players and organizations, such as the Borough Council, federal agencies and Congressman Steve Rothman (D-9), are also examined.
In the end, at least as it related to the first thorium cleanup phase, Maywoodians concerned about their future progress saw their interests entirely abandoned - despite earlier promises from politicians and agencies.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are engaged in major ongoing discussions in deciding how some of the most extensive area low-level radioactive waste (approximately 300,000 cubic yards) will be remediated under the second phase in the community over the next several years.
This pollution sits under large commercial properties and near residential areas. The outcome of these discussions could have serious national ramifications. The issue is being carefully monitored in locales as far away as Colorado and Utah - states where Maywood's remaining thorium could permanently wind up.
The consensus of those speaking (officials and residents) during an Aug. 28 hearing on the corps' proposed radiological cleanup plan (excluding any separate chemical plan Stepan Chemical Company still must release) is to mandate that all the municipality's low-level radioactive thorium waste be excavated and disposed into an outside pernanent storage repository.
Over 90 percent of voters participating in a 1991 non-binding referendum also approved a similar position (on excavation). At the time, voters also simultaneously opposed having the feds use the Maywood Interim Sturage Site (MISS) as a base to clean up contamination from neighboring Lodi.
Subsequently, the involved state/federal agencies and Maywood's own elected and appointed officials (such as those on the now-defunct Environmental Legislative Action Committee, which Richards once chaired) ignored these pleas.
Instead, they tolerated a minimum eight year delay in releasing the vast bulk of their own community's thorium cleanup plan, while catering to interests outside Maywood in the process. In fact, the DOE was ready to release the plan, but scuttled it.
And, with the exception of some smaller amounts of contamination left on commercial properties in Lodi, the relatively small borough is now left to fend all for itself in dealing with these powerful state and federal bodies.
This, after most of the non-Maywood Superfund properties (with smaller waste volumes) were cleaned up via transporting hazardous radiological and chemical soil into the MiSS through borough streets.
During the site's early years, some opponents of this policy - such as one-time Republican Councilman William Grunstra - warned doing this without first resolving Maywood's ultimate cleanup status could weaken the community's final negotiating position. In fact, the two major parties fought vociferously over taking soil in from Lodi and Rochelle Park. Local Republicans once opposed this policy - before relenting.
As one remaining option, the council could conceivably try halting the corps from cleaning up the remaining Phase II commercial sites in Lodi using the MISS area. They can try doing so until the agency agrees on definitively removing radioactive waste under the bigger Maywood tracts to the standard officials demanded last Aug. 28.
History, however, suggests that the council will throw up its hands and maintain that Maywood is powerless to stop the federal government - the philosophy Richards and his allies started espousing once Torricelli sidetracked the EPA's early enforcement efforts.
Maywood's final outcome remains uncertain. It will come in a difficult political atmosphere that seems highly favorable to the chemical industry lobby under Republicans President George W. Bush and EPA Adminstrator Christie Whitman. Stepan Chemical's plant owner, F. Quinn Stepan, is politically connected and has served as president of the Chemical Manufacturer's Association of America.
Whitman, herself, served as governor (1994-2001) during seven years of the tortured site's history. Whitman, like her Democratic and Republican predecessors (Jim Florio, Tom Kean), did virtually nothing to advocate on Maywood's behalf directly during the long and ongoing dispute.
This indifference at the higher levels was complicated further by the seemingly inexplicable indifference, even secretive conduct at times (particularly in cleaning up Lodi), Maywood's own appointed and elected officials demonstrated.
As the process in determining the parameters of how the most significant radiological waste within the municipality will be cleaned up, the Army Corps could decide to try flexing its muscles as part of a Cabinet-level department (Defense). They might try doing this if the EPA (a lower-level, non-Cabinet agency) objects to elements of its thorium cleanup proposal given community concerns.
The key will hinge on just how much weight these agencies give to the community's comments and concerns (such as those voiced Aug. 28). EPA plays an oversight role in the outcome.
The corps, as the Department of Energy (DOE) before it, is taking the position that thorium waste now sitting under Maywood's sites fall within the realm of a federal facility.
Yet this federal facility status is certainly questionable, given the site's early history and political action.
For had Torricelli not intervened on behalf of his campaign donor (Stepan Chemical) in exempting it from paying a major portion of the thorium-related costs, via bringing in the DOE, the EPA likely would have served as Maywood's direct advocate against the plant for the entire problem.
That is, the EPA likely would have treated this case solely as a matter between the agency and a private party (Stepan Chemical), as is common with many other Superfund sites. This is the case now for chemical pollution beyond the MISS area.
The EPA would have tried pressuring Stepan Chemical (rather than federal agencies) into cleaning up the entire site as the community's major "potentially responsible party (polluter)" for thorium and chemical soil and water contamination.
The EPA was ready to do this, in fact, before Torricelli intervened.
He maintained that his strategy would lead to a faster cleanup (which remains unsettled more than 20 years later) after he sidetracked the agency's enforcement efforts and intervened for Stepan Chemical. In doing this, Torricelli crafted legislation and negotiated an agreement with the company
From that point on, the EPA was somewhat hand-tied in Maywood.
Perhaps because of Torricelli's power and influence, the agency willingly took a back seat in terms of its thorium enforcement role. It then deferred completely to the desires of Torricelli, the DOE, Army Corps - and the questionable behavior of Maywood's own officials. The EPA has continued doing this even now.
In trying to validate and honor a major part of Torricelli's earlier "DOE-Stepan Agreement," Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) and Richards are currently touting proposed federal legislation seeking to turn ownership of Stepan Chemical's formerly-owned MISS area from the federal government over to Maywood. Stepan Chemical has campaign finance ties to the national Democratic Party.
Throughout the site's history, Torricelli and Richards:were two of the most visible figures in helping set up the Maywood site (see the two-part "Richards Still Cozy With Borough's Worst Polluter" for more information). The following synopsis on both contains some other information not in that series. The actions of other players in the thorium saga are also synopsized.
A. At one time Torricelli did urge that EPA take the proper steps in following the Superfund law. He called for promulgating one complete cleanup plan addressing the entire Maywood site (proposed plan-Record of Decision - ROD) for the residential and commercial phases.
Then-Congressman Torricelli urged that the EPA start finalizing the ROD way back in 1991. Yet, for some reason, the congressman and future senator dropped the demand. He never raised the ROD issue for his remaining 11 years in office.
Subsequently, the EPA and the DOE abandoned a prior commitment to do this - and ultimately piecemealed the cleanup using "removal actions" - much to Maywood's disadvantage.
A proposed plan (and only for thorium) was not released until 2002.
B. In 1994, Torricelli praised another Stepan Chemical ally, now the late-former Republican Mayor John Steuert, for ousting five residents from his mayoral advisory committee on thorium - all longtime critics of his campaign donor's plant.
These included the most vocal members of the Concerned Citizens of Maywood (CCM). Steuert actually punished the group in response to a daily newspaper headline dealing with a study raising concerns over health risks at the site.
The CCM, whose most highly active members were actually sued by Stepan Chemical, possessed damaging documents questioning Torricelli's role in relieving the company of thorium cleanup liability.
C. Even though he verbally attacked the Concerned Citizens, for among other things, allegedly spreading undue alarm, Torricelli himself used very strong language in discussing the extent of Maywood's contamination problem.
The legislator described the pollutants as "deadly toxins" in one press release.
D. In another 1983 press release, Torricelli, in heralding his relieving Stepan Chemical of this major financial liability, maintained that the EPA was stalling in taking actions on starting the process for cleaning up the Maywood area sites.
In discussing his legislation/negotiations, the then-congressman maintained that "it became increasingly clear my advice (to EPA on taking action) would not be followed."
Yet four months earlier, an EPA official and Stepan Chemical lawyer Richard Jacobson painted a somewhat different picture. Jacobson told the EPA's Lawrence Diamond that Stepan Chemical was ready to pay for starting the process..
He told Diamond, "Stepan will assume responsibility for the performance of an EPA-approved remedial investigation to determine the degree and extent of the contamnation in the area ..."
Yet it was the DOE, and then the Army Corps, which inherited Stepan Chemical's thorium problem due to Torricelli's dealings. They assumed the financial burdens for this task.
After Torricelli claimed that this act would "expedite" the borough's thorium cleanup, it took the feds over 20 years to complete the process for even proposing some kind of plan.
Stepan Chemical is directly liable for the chemical contamination costs. However, much of the affected contamination is mixed.
Is Richards now the "establishment media's" best friend?
Within the past year, "the mainstream North Jersey daily amd weekly print media" has given Richards - a potential 2003 mayoral candidate - highly favorable and glowing press on items concerning his agenda.
The councilman has emerged front and center in some articles, including a recent weekly write-up crediting him with pushing for a complete cleanup of the Sears Distribution Center - an action he once asserted was unnecessary.
Richards is now emphasizing the need to "redevelop" the Sears site. The town has held quiet talks with real estate interests on this issue.
Additionally, the councilman has received favorable press in daily and weekly newspaper articles that have credited him with helping save the old New York Susquehanna and Western Railroad train station, proposing naming the new municipal complex after his one-time political adversary (and occasional strange ally), Steuert, and in praising a local group home for the handicapped.
Yet this same "North Jersey mainstrem daily print media" has hardly ever written directly on some of Richards' more questionable actions.
One example is his conflict of interest (with Torricelli) in trying to continue limiting Stepan Chemical's financial liability for implementing Maywood's final cleanup.
A. Richards, in fact, now wants to take credit for championing a complete cleanup of Maywood's thorium - a cause espoused for a much longer period by his longtime critics, the Concerned Citizens.
In prior years, meeting after meeting the CCM asked elected officials (including Richards) to embrace this idea and compel federal authorities into finally divulging the proposed plan they were long hiding from Maywoodians.
Yet Richards (and other council members) refused any response to such pleas. They silently tolerated the government's stalling.
And pehaps more than any other council member, Richards consistently - and most vocally - tried belittling the group's ideas in achieving the cleanup goal he now claims to advocate.
B. The current councilman has harshly verbally attacked anyone daring to criticize Stepan Chemical for its myriad of environmental-related problems and safety issues.
In the mid 1990s, Richards' verbal attacks against one resident even brought the threat of a lawsuit from an attorney representing the citizen in another, wholly unrelated matter (to thorium) also dealing with environmental issues. The issue concerned building the Commerce Bank at East Pleasant and Maywood avenues.
Attorney James Segreto, representing this citizen through a group challenging the bank, cited an alleged threat against the individual. In a letter, he reminded the current official (off the council then) that his client enjoyed certain First Amendment protections. Segreto further warned Richards, a strong bank supporter, that any continued effort at intimidating and interfering with his client's freedom to object would trigger a civil suit.
C. Richards had to deal with groundwater pollution issues affecting the location of his own business. AC Packaging, at Hergesell and West Central avenues. The state Department of Environmental Protection cited the property's owner, Solar Compounds, as having problems meriitng the tract's inclusion on its Known Contaminated Site's List. Some DEP-ordered on-site well tests were done.
While Richards does not own the site, he has subleased part of the land to the Saddle River Tours bus company. His ally, former Democratic Mayor Thomas Murphy, owns the business with his family.
A. He has endorsed mandating the complete cleanup of all of Maywood's thorium-tainted soil, as outlined in a 2002 letter to the corps, and opposes soil separation. Yet, upon joining Congress Rothman (like Torricelli) has thus far opposed having Stepan Chemical pay more for the thorium freight in helping Maywood.
He has also embraced Stepan Chemical supporter Richards as his key ally in all future discussions on the topic
B. While the DOE was still concealing details of the thorium cleanup plan from his Maywood constituents, Rothman fought successful Congressional efforts in 1997 at replacing the DOE with the Army Corps as the lead Maywood agency.
C. Additionally, Rothman has shown little enthusiasm for using the weight of his office in directly confronting the corps over some questionable agency decisions.
Perhaps the most glaring example of Rothman's indifference was his refusal to compel the corps into obeying a federal law requirung full public disclosure of strict accounting information on expenses incurred through the one-time Coooperative Guidance Group (Cg) on thorium.
The DOE initiated this local group in 1997. The corps continued with it until abolishing the committee the next year.
The Federal Advisory Committee Act mandated that the DOE and corps keep strict public records on all expenses a Somerset County PR group used in advising the committee of residents and officials.
Despite repeated citizen prodding under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act in getting these agencies to obey the law, Rothman failed.
For whatever reason, the congressman chose instead to tolerate their continued concealing of these expenditures from his constituents. Thus, in spite of the law. public costs for using the now-defunct CGG remain a mystery to this day.
THE FEDERAL AGENCIES - EPA, DOE and the ARMY CORPS
A. EPA - It eventually faulted the corps for needlessly prolonging delaying release of the proposed thorium cleanup plan. Yet the agency's political appointees in Washington and at Region II headquarters in New York (led by former Democratic Regional Adminstrator Jeanne Fox) eventually abandoned earlier agency efforts to advocate on Maywood's behalf. Rather. the EPA joined with the politicians in playing hardball against Maywood residents who repeatedly detailed the agency's improper conduct.
For instance, the EPA refused to require releasing the entire proposed thorium plan before starting any of the cleanup activities, as it once promised Maywoodians.
This proviso is clearly stated in the Superfund law and the EPA's own literature. The agency also eventually reversed itself by contending, with Richards, that Maywood's interests were totally subordinate to federal government decisions.
Critical Maywood residents demanded compliance with the Superfund law and were rejected. Subsequently, the agency - under Fox - looked for ways to get around this law while continuing to tolerate lengthy delays. Despite this conduct, the EPA now insists it will seriously consider residents' feelings before deciding on a final Phase II thorium cleanup plan with the corps.
Yet even as Torricelli helped implement his government-funded cleanup plan with Stepan Chemical, EPA maintained that the plant was not off the hook for financing the thorium part of the cleanup.
In a 1985 letter to a resident, the agency's Joyce Feldman flatly declared that the plant was still financially responsible for the radioactive contamination as EPA stated initially in 1983..
Feldman said that, under the 1980 Superfund law, "The party responsible for placing radioactive thorium residues can be considered ... current and past owners and operators and successors to such persons."
Yet rather than serving as a watchdog and establishing an extensive community relations program in town to allay critical Maywoodians' concerns, the EPA only added to their angst.
It did so by entirely deferring to the questionable actions taken under Maywood's local, county, state and federal offficials. Even though some local council members engaged in such questionable conduct (such as advocating lowering Stepan Chemical's financial liability), the EPA opted to bypass the general public in exclusively deferring all Phase I cleanup decisions to them.
B. DOE - After spending hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds over a 14-year period with contractor Bechtel National Inc., the department could not tell Maywood residents the nature and extent of any of the contamination buried under their community.
It also engaged in secretive conduct with Maywood's elected officials throughout.
C. Army Corps - After promising to comply with all federal environmental laws upon acquiring the site, the corps, led by local Project Manager Allen Roos since 1998, has essentially marched to the beat of its own drum in continuing the DOE's practices. It has also rejected critical Maywoodians' concerns, despite documents that have strongly validated their positions..
Corps officials have tended to treat the whole Maywood effort as a big construction project, in justifying "removal actions," rather than one aimed at lowering public heakth risks. This was evidenced by its using the law in helping the state start Route 17 improvements.
Though hundreds of millions of dollars were previously spent without using any proposed plan, the corps is asserting now that a $10 million difference in costs between full excavation and soil separation merits using the latter - yet locally unpopular- soil treatment program.
A. Before becoming EPA's national administrator, the former governor (who was likely misled by officials below her) bogusly announced that Maywood received a New Jersey Green Acres Program loan to develop the current Arthur Fenniman Park. She did this during a 1999 site visit.
Yet the borough had not yet obtained the funding because it did not complete a required environmental review. This review would have included addressing the thorium issue. The loan was never used for this purpose. Maywood officials now want to employ this money in developing a new park off Briarcliff Avenue. Whitman could play a major role in deciding Maywood's final thorium and chemical cleanups.
MAYWOOD'S "THORIUM TRUTH"
Is "day of reckoning" close at hand?(Key
(Key points in bold caps
By Chris Neidenberg
Since the very beginning of Maywood's tragic thorium mess, one theme prevails throughout.
Thanks to collusion involving various forces - that have included many of Maywood's own Democratic and Republican politicians - this small Bergen County community of under 10,000 has simply taken a back seat to everyone else involved in the whole sordid story - and suffered terribly as a result.
In the end, those Maywood residents active in efforts to secure the best cleanup possible for their communiy have been forced into a Titanic struggle that should have never gotten to that point: if key environmental laws and procedures were simply followed as once promised.
Instead, the agencies and officials that have simply engaged in easily documented, unacceptable conduct, have essentially "sneered" at the community through their arrogant acts and indifference.
A feeling of untouchability, and invincibility, now seems to prevail among those who treated Maywood so poorly throughout.
Perhaps they feel those who have documented this governmental malfeasance and obstruction will never get to the bottom of just how things could go so wrong - and why.
That remains to be seen.
The following is a snippet of some of the things that have gone on. All these doings can only lead to one inescapable conclusion:
Something's not right at the Maywood Superfund site.
A. HARMING MAYWOOD'S LONG-TERM INTERESTS THROUGH THE COMPLETE AND ARROGANT ABANDONMENT OF THE COMMUNITY, ALONG WITH THE TWISTING OF LAWS, BY THE U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIOJN AGENCY (EPA). OTHER WILLING PARTICIPANTS INCLUDE THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (DOE), U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS AND THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION (DEP).
Those probably deserving the most blame are officials above the level of the local (and helpless) EPA site manager, stationed at its Region II headquarters in New York.
They were supposed to strongly oversee the efforts of these other agencies - but they totally relented - and played politics with a serious health and safety issue.
The EPA always seemed to have an indifferent attitude to Maywood's plight - with the two other lead agencies they were supposed to carefully monitor. Yet the agency's worst behavior seemed to begin around 1994 - under the oversight (or lack of) by then New York Regional Administrator Jeanne Fox.
Fox, who departed during the change of administrations in 2001, was a Democratic Climton appointee and one-time state DEP commissioner under then-Gov. Jim Florio.
She was named head of the New York office with the blessings of then Democratic Senators Frank Lautenberg (who's back after once promoting - with Fox - doing a radiological cleanup the community and its officials now strenuously oppose) and Bill Bradley.
The EPA's conduct - carried out by the likes of Fox - essentially led to according Maywood second-class status during the entire dispute.
And things only worsened significantly under Fox' tenure.
For whatever reason, the agency which now purports to care about the community's feelings, sat idly by and inexplicably let the DOE and Army Corps knowingly delay providing a final thorium cleanup plan for Maywood's remaining sites.
This, while seemingly cleaning everyone else up surrounding Maywood via ramming their toxic soil (quite secretly and rather underhandedly) through the community. It wasn't supposed to be that way.
Some nine years ago, in fact, the DOE actually printed a local newspaper notice stating that it was ready to release the entire two-phase proposed plan for all properties. This plan, however, soon dropped from sight. Things went downhilll from there.
The EPA, under Fox, did absolutely nothing to compel the thorium plan's release and (through successive regional administrators) opted to totally abandon Maywood's interests on this issue - when once promising otherwise. .
B. THE ARMY CORPS' AND THE DOE'S CLEANUP DECISIONS SEEM EMTIRELY PREDICATED ON POLITICS.
And, almost at every step in the process, Maywood has lost out - with the willing collusion of its own politicians.
This, despite the fact that the Superfund law the EPA allegedly oversees supposedly requires the release of a feasibility study analyzing all possible cleanup alternatives before any work commences.
That step, if followed, might have removed some of the ensuing political stench from the process.
Under the law, at least as the EPA once originally advertised, individuals living within Maywood concerned about the trucking of toxic soil into their town were supposed to at least have a chance to comment on the proposal in a full public forum, where agency officials would have to respond.
As it turned out, that never happened. The DOE and the corps, using whatever convenient argument fit their situation at a given moment, pursued the concept of "removal actions." In doing so, they used seriously flawed logic rife with inconsistencies when looking at the site's entire history.
The lead agencies did allow very limited public input - via accepting written comments under a procedure known as an environmental engineering and cost analysis (EE/CA) document. While the agencies accepted the comments of Maywoodians opposed to their plans, their concerns were consistently rejected.
The EPA's response to all of this?
It simply went along with whatever the DOE and the EPA wanted at any given moment - even if their arguments were extremely weak.
The result? "Removal actions" were pursued through Maywood using whatever logic the corps and the DOE wanted to use.
Meanwhile, any plan addressing the vast majority of radiological contamination sitting inside Maywood, was nowhere to be found.
In fact, this plan was kept hidden from the public - by the corps and the DOE - with the EPA's (not to mention Maywood council's) full knowledge.
The pivotal player in cleaning up this contamination will be the company that has fundraising ties to the national Democratic Party, and which repeatedly donated to the key architect in the Maywood thorium affair - now-former U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli.
One "removal action" premise (the DOE first employed) in the mid 1990s was to assert that the contamination sitting under the remaining Lodi homes posed "near-term risks" to their inhabitants.
The DOE, with the EPA's concurrence, started mentioning presidential Executive Order 12580 as its rationale. Problem is, this argument is badly flawed.
That's because the vast bulk of Maywood's original interim storage site created in the mid 1980s (roughly 90 percent) was made up of waste taken from a vacant Rochelle Park commercially-zoned property. It is known as the Ballod property.
The site was owned by politically-connected Bergen County Republicans (see other articles for more information on this) who parlayed this cleanup windfall into developing a nursing home. As this mid-1980s cleanup work was undertaken, many occupied Lodi homes sitting with the same contamination were left untouched.
In early 2001, the Army Corps completed the cleanup of the second Ballod piece, still owned by the same politically-connected Bergen County Republicans. Yet the corps has never used presidential Executive Order 12580 as the basis in doing work on this property, or any of the subsequent Phase I sites it inherited from the DOE.
The corps, like the DOE, still says it can use EE/CAs in doing removal actions. Yet it has seemed to deemphasize the "public health" angle.
Now the corps seems to be saying EE/CAs give it discretion for doing "removal actions" simply to help facilitate cleanup of certain sites.
In certain instances, the corps has even suggested that readying certain contamnated locales for future construction work is a valid rationale for using EE/CAs.
This is particularly evident in its argument in helping the New Jersey Department of Transportation move forward in performing road upgrades along Route 17 North, and to rehabilitate the Essex Street Bridge.
Thus, the DOE and the corps managed to evade the proposed plan/Record of Decision process completely during Phase I using various rationales (critics would say ruses) - with the EPA's ascent.
Yet remember, it was the EPA which once cited the Superfund law as requiring one complete proposed thorium plan for all the affected sites That is, before the EPA abandoned this pledge to Maywood some nine years ago.
Will the borough be left holding the bag?
C. WHILE THE ARMY CORPS SAYS IT WILL CONSIDER COMMUNITY CONCERNS INCOMING UP WITH LEVELS FOR THE FINAL THORIUM PART OF MAYWOOD'S OVERALL CLEANUP PLAN, ITS UNILATERAL AUTHORITY FOR DOING THIS IS BASED ON A SHAKY PREMISE
Why? Because Maywood's designation as a so-called "federal facility" subjecting it to a Federal Facilities Agreement with the EPA - which the corps avoided signing for several years - is based entirely on political action which aided the campaign donor of a then-congressman negotiating the deal (Robert Torricelli with Stepan Chemical) in 1983. Torricelli's successor, Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) has sustained the agreement.
Any historical arguments for doing this (turning responsibility for radiological work over to the federal government) were retroactively applied.
Torrricelli acted after the EPA tried starting enforcement actions against Stepan as the major polluter for thorium (largely made by its predecessor, Maywood Chemical Works).
If the EPA had its druthers now, it would have remained the sole agency tasked with deciding this issue for the community during negotiations with Stepan - even though that would have made certain politicians tight with the firm very unhappy.
Still, without the political action, the EPA would have cited Stepan as the major "potentially responsible party (PRP)" for thorium and chemicals Stepan would have retained the right to litigate over the outcome.
In fact, the EPA asserted that Stepan was still largely responsible for taking care of the low-level radioactive waste (in addition to chemicals) - even after Torricelli negotiated his agreement turning part of the problem over to the DOE (now within the corps' domain).
Now the corps, which has tended to reject the feelings of critical Maywood residents in the past in pursuing cleanup activities, will decide the issue while consulting with the EPA.
The corps' standing as a Cabinet-level department (Defense), giving it some superiority over the EPA, combined with the EPA's past acquiesence on matters important to Maywood, raise questions over just how effectively the EPA can consider Maywood's interests in the final outcome.. .
D. ONE VERY DISTURBING PATTERN VERY CLEARLY EMERGES WHEN IT COMES TO THE MAYWOOD SUPERFUND SITE - COMMUNITY CRITICS WHO HAVE RAISED VALID CONCERNS ABOUT THE CONDUCT OF THE POLITICIANS AND THE INVOLVED STATE AND FEDERAL AGENCIES, AS WELL AS STEPAN, HAVE BEEN HARSHLY ATTACKED VERBALLY BY SOME OF THE POLITICIANS. THEY HAVE EVEN BEEN PUNISHED FOR THEIR EFFORTS.
Just as disturbing is the EPA's decision to remain in the background, and aloof from the community, amid all of this intrigue.
The agency never set up any kind of extensive community relations program to explain its rationale for backing some of these questionable decisions. Instead, the EPA has deferred entirely to the corps (and the DOE before it), the politicians and poltical action,.throughout the process.
One major point of concern - the EPA's willingmess to possibly defer some of the cleanup decisions to the Democratic and Republican elected representatives of the borough's political establisjment, most notably, Democratic Councilman Thomas Richards.
The councilman is committed to continue trying to minimize Stepan's financial liability for cleaning up any radioactive waste.
Richards has been in the forefront of verbally attacking anyone criticizing Stepan, in relation to the plant's safety record and the original questionable agreement relieving it of financial liability for the bulk of the thorium costs.
In reality, Maywood's elected officials from both parties (while appearing to now advocate for the community) have done a questionable job, at best, in representing Maywood's overall interests throughout the history of the thorium mess.
Like Richards, the local parties have been generaly sympathetic to Stepan. Their tendency has been to join the feds in conducting numerous secretive actions - against their own residents - at the site.
For instance, one-time Democratic Mayor Thomas Murphy labeled members of the Concerned Citizens of Maywood (CCM) "environmental terrorists" for raising health and safety issues relative to the site through the years.
In 1994, then Republican Mayor John Steuert, drawing praise from Torricelli, ousted CCM members from an environmental advisory committee on thorium. Before that time, the CCM researched nunerous documents raising credible questions over Torricelli's role in relieivng Stepan of major financial liability for the thorium part of the overall cleanup..
One thing remains clear in Maywood.
Even after the issues related to the thorium part of the cleanup are resolved, the disturbing questions will linger. Additionally, the EPA and Stepan must still come up with a proposed plan attacking chemical contamination.
SAME FACES DOMINATE BOROUGH GOVT. IN '03
Richards, Gaffney take seats as council is unchanged
Democratic Councilman Thomas Richards and Republican Councilman Thomas Gaffney were officially seated to new three-year terns Jan. 8, as borough Republicans retain a 4-3 majority - at least through 2003.
They were sworn in during the municipality's annual reorganization before a relatively small audience, that included 37th Democratic Assemblypersons Loretta Weinberg and Gordon Johnson, in Trinka Hall. During the night, the council reappointed many familiar names to various boards.
Most likely, this reorganization will be the last to be held in the facility - built in 1965 - and made into a combined Borough Hall/Public Library a short time thereafter. While the library will stay and expand, the council is expected to move into new and larger digs on Park Avenue sometime this year.
"We come to office after our campaigns to serve on behalf of you," said Richards," sworn in by Johnson. "Rest assured, we will work as best we can to work to serve you."
While Richards conceded the council "can't always deliver" because of outside factors it cannot control, the councilman, first elected in 1974 and who has been on (and off) the council ever since, told residents: "'We will work as best as possible for you." .
Gaffney choked up a bit in thinking of his older ailing brother - - as he started his fourth term.
"He's not doing well, but he'll make it," Gaffney said.
"This is my fourth time around and I've enjoyed every minute of it," the Republican councilman said. "All I can say is I enjoy what I do for the people of this town."
An "illuaion" of differences between the two major parties
While the borough is annually reogranized along Democratic and Republican party lines, now more than ever, party labels seem to mean little in this troubled municipality.
Its major party nominees have openly admitted that the current system offers voters only the illusion of differences - by providing candidates nominally marked "Democratic" and "Republican." .Longtime Maywood gadfly and critic Michael Nolan has derisively asserted that Maywood's government is actually run by "Republicrats."
In fact, the two successful candidates - at least superficially from competing parties - spent considerable time expressing mutual admiration for each other in 2002.
They did so during an election that even the editor of one of the municipality's establishment weekly newspapers (the wife of a former Democratic mayor) criticized as being unusually quiet.
In fact, given the lack of any real difference, Gaffney and Richards have called for revising the municipal charter to turn Maywood into a "Faulkner Act" municipaity.
If approved in a voter referendum,. the change would establish a "non-partisan" form of government - similar to the model used in neighboring Lodi. Any decision on proposing such change rests with the entire council.
If both men have their way, voters will only have the opportunity to elect "non-partisan" slates of candidates - using generic labels - in May elections every four years. An unelected mayor would be chosen annually following a caucus of the governing body.
In Maywood, voters now have the chance to at least try affecting change every year - and elect a mayor who has some strong executive responsibilities.
Republican Mayor Wayne Kuss is up for re-election this year. Richards, himself an unsuccessful mayoral candidate who lost twice to the late former Republican Mayor John Steuert in 1987 amd 1991 - and who has long coveted having the top executive spot - could conceivably try running against Kuss (assuming he wants to run again) using the present and illusory two-party system.
Gaffney, Richards and the council, face a troubled borough
Yet Gaffney and Richards - with their five other colleagues - have presided over a borough that has generated a heavy debt, prompted in part by continuing spiralling cost overruns at the new John A. Steuert Municipal Complex that is supposedly in the final stages of construction at 15 Park Ave.
Problems with the construction project have generated such concern that the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office has been approached - by at least two individuals - on possibly launching a criminal inquiry into the matter.
Richards, who said during his campaign that the council should launch its own inquiry, regardless of what the county prosecutir might decide, seemed to suggest on Jan. 8 that it was time to put the matter to rest.
"Hopefully, that whole construction project is behind us and we can work in the best interests of the town," said the councilman. "We all have."
A worried Republican Councilman James Petrie has called the amount of indebtedness "a level never before seen in this community." The council recently added $815,000 to the debt in a measure to buy new emergency equipment and vehicles - and to raise almost $300,000 of this total in bonds and notes - to fiinance installing new field lights in Memorial Park.
Gaffney and Richards, two longtime council members, have also helped direct the government during a period of repeated, questionable and secretive actions centering around the Maywood Superfund site.
The site was heavily polluted through the years by Stepan Chemical Company and the predecessor firm it bought and turned into a division of the company, Maywood Chemical Works.
Representatives of both local parties - perhaps most forcefully Richards - have essentially remained loyal to Stepan, historically praising the plant as being a responsible corporate citizen. This, despite a spate of publicized environmental acccidents that have injured employees and defiled the surrounding environment - near residential areas along Maywood and West Central avenues - through the years.
An official with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), upon fining the plant in 1996, maintained that one such environmental spill could have led to a "catastrophic" tragedy of the scale which beset the former Napp Technologies plant off Main Street in Lodi in 1994 - which killed some employees and leveled the building.
OSHA fined the Stepan facility after a small plant fire - while contained - nearly spread to an area containing large tanks of highly-flammable benzene.
A year after this fine, the Planning/Zoning Board granted Stepan approval to erect even more chemical tanks at this polluted site (which have not been erected). One-time Democratic Mayor Thomas Murphy ripped critics of the plant's operations - Nolan and others with the Concerned Citizens of Maywood - as being "environmental terrorists."
As for cleaning up the area site, the federal government is in the process of developing a plan in reacting to an Aug. 28 public hearing where overwelming sentiment demanded that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fully dig out and permanently dispose massive amounts of polluted soil -laced with radiological and chemical contamination - away from the area.
Whether such a plan is carried out could be largely dependent on how aggressively the federal government enforces the Superfund law against Stepan, which will be required to contribute funds to the final cleanup.
Richards pitches "redevelopment" as key on agenda in '03
In speaking of the town's priorities, Richards said the borough is looking at implementing a major new initiative which could forever change Maywood and be significantly impacted by how federal authorities decide on cleaning up the toxic Superfund site.
He was referring to the borough's desire to significantly build up the area near the polluted Sears Distribution Center. Richards and Gaffney, during their campaigns, called for federal authorities to mandate a complete cleanup of all Maywood properties to a definitive level of five picocuries per gram. The stance marked a radical departure for Richards, who in 1994, once said he would accept a far less extensive cleanup to put new commercial ratables in the region. The council wants to put a park in the area of the Sears site.
"We are looking at a whole redevelopment plan that will serve the interests of this community," said the councilman.
Richards has endorsed a prorposal - under consideration by the county and a North Jersey regional transportation authority - to place a light rail transit station and office buildings near the current Sears site.
Bergen County Dems stick with Richards - despite polluter stance
Richards stated during his campaign that he will continue seeking to acquire federal taxpayer funds to try minimizing Stepan's ultimate financial contribution to the cleanup.
Stepan was once cited as "a potentially responsible party" for "radioactive contamination" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Superfund law,- based on the fact that it acquired the financial assets of the former Maywood Chemical Works site. Yet Richards continues to insist that Stepan cannot be made liable for any of the thorium contamination left by Maywood Chemical.
The question will become critical once federal authorities start the process of trying to extract cleanup funds from the borough's worst polluter.
Still, Richards draws strong support from the likes of Weinberg, Johnson, Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9)
and state Senator Byron Baer, even as Bergen County Democrats - such as new County Executive Dennis McNerney - have railed against "polluters" in their own election campaigns.
For instance, McNerney ripped his Republican opponent, state Senator Henry McNamara (R-4), for having personal ties to one polluter in last year's campaign ads. During the U.S. Senate campaign, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) attacked Republican candidate Douglas Forrester for opposing making "polluters" pay for cleanups. This, despite the fact that Forrester - while still facing now-former Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli before Torricelli's forced withdrawal - visited Maywood in September and said Stepan should pay a far more substantial amount to help clean up Maywood faster.
Lautenberg did not visit the site, and Stepan President F.Quinn Stepan routinely donated campaign cash to Torricelli throughout the former legislator's career.
In terms of the thorium issue, various questions plague Richards - in terms of his historic relations with Stepan, his relationship with Torricelli, and his conduct throughout the site's entire history.. Still, Johnson spoke enhusiastically about the councilman and fellow Democratic Party colleague.
"I was here to swear in Tom tonight," Johnson.said of Richards, who was also renamed captain of the Maywood Volunteer Ambulance Corps after an absence of several years. "When I was asked, I was honored.".
Many of the same faces return to borough posts
Appointments made for professional services, and to the various boards, indicated that the council is sticking with the status quo in the new year.
The council will again look to Chief Financial Officer Charles Cuccia and Borough Auditor Steve Wielkotz to help it sort out its financial troubles. They were reapponted for one-year terms. Also reappointed for the year was Republican Borough Attorney Andrew Fede.
Kuss renamed to the Planniing/Zoning Board incumbent and longtime Chairman George Brush - who spends part pf the year in South Florida and misses some meetings as a result - along with incumbents Robert Tarleton, David Pegg and George Georgeou.
Resident Kathy DeLalla was given a seat on the recreation commission, even through DeLalla strongly opposes installing the Memorial Park lights.
COUNCIL AGREES TO GO INTO DEBT FOR FIELD LIGHTS
Yet is uncertain about being reimbursed for costs
By Chris Neidenberg
Despite heavy criticism from speakers attending its Dec. 18 meeting, the Borough Council adopted an ordinance bonding $815,000 ao it can buy various new items. The most controversial of these is a proposal to install ballfield lights at Memorial Park.
Members approved the measure by a 4-2 vote after it earlier did not have the required number of "yes" votes to adopt a bond ordinance due to the absence of Democratic Councilman Thomas Richards. The issue blurred party lines as Richards joined Democratic Councilman Dr. Tim Eustace and Republican Councilmen Fred Zigrest and Tom Gaffney in supporting the measure. Republican Councilman James Petrie held firm in his opposition, and he was joined by Democratic Councilwoman Jeanne Matullo.
Yet Matullo, who first passed with Richards before voting, cast a soft "no" vote in sending mixed signals to the attending residents. Matullo said she supported the purchases, but did not like the way the ordinance was written.
The bulk of the ordinance ($522,000) would buy various items and vehicles fpr emergency services, including a new fire police vehicle and ambulance, and self-contained breathing apparatus. Yet the council also included $293,000 for the field lights, that would be installed at the park's west-side diamond. Yet it would also bring an intrusion to neighbors in the immediate area, including Spring Valley Road and Coolidge and Grant avenues, with the playing of night games for the first time.
Those favoring the lights said it would help over 700 children playing baseball and soccer in the Maywood Youth Athletic Association (MYAA) and their parents. They claimed that the association would have greater scheduling flexibility in playing night contests, assuring working parents the opportunity of being able to catch their kids' games. They also claimed that the soccer program will be helped since it plays games in the fall, when it gets darker earlier.
Zigrest and Eustace are active in the MYAA. Borough Attorney Andrew Fede ruled that there was no conflict of interest, since neither stood to personally profit from buying the lights.
The lights' proponents argued that this big- ticket item would not actually be bought unless Maywood is reimbursed for the vast bulk of the funds via state grants and/or private donations. In the past, the borough has created debt in financing projects covered by the Bergen County Community Development Program and various state grants - which first require adoption of bond ordinances - contingent upon the guarantee that it will be reimbursed.
In this case, the council has agreed to create almost $300,000 in new debt - without knowing if the taxpayers will be reimbursed by an agency or private concern.
Yet Petrie and critical residents have maintained that the lights expenditure could not come at a worse time, since the council is already heavily into debt due to the much-troubled John A. Steuert Municipal Complex, due to be finished early this year.
The council has periodically received reports about massive cost overruns due to delays and alleged shoddy workmanship. One-time Mayor Thomas Murphy vowed in 1996 that a more limited renovation project would not exceed $2.5 million. The project, subsequently expanded, has far exceeded that total. Resident John Shanahan and developer Georgr Haag, who have periodically monitored the expenditures, have warned the final price tag could reach about $9.5 million. The council's latest action adds over $800,000 to this debt. Whenever a governing body bonds, it agrees to hit the tazpayers with added expenses in the form of interest charges which accrue over time - the price of bonding.
Resident Lillian Single, coordinator of the Alliance to Protect Maywood, read a published letter from former municipal Democratic Chairwoman Mary O'Brien-Dutkus criticizing the move. Additionally, O'Briwn-Dutkus praised Petrie for statements he made in November when an adoption vote was first taken. O'Brien-Dutkus, also a former councilwoman, did not attend.
"I am concerned over the level of debt the borough is currently in," said Single, reading Petrie's quotes off Dutkus' letter, "a level never seen before in this community. Now, I ask the mayor and council to consider the courageous words spoken by Petrie. Consider the burden the taxpayers are facing right now. Listen to Petrie's wise commentary. Quote:'Tough times call for tough decisions.'
"Yes, consider the importance to the people of Maywood for each one of these expenditores," Single continued in reading the letter. "But vote on one or two - not all of the $815,000 proposals.
"We taxpayers would applaud the mayor and council if they showed wisdom and courage on this bond ordinance. Please hear and listen to the people who elected you."
Resident Susan Dunphy, a one-time Democratic county committee member, also questioned the wisdom of the lights proposal. Given tough economic times, Dunphy said, the expense does not justify the benefits.
"I like kids," said Dunphy. "My question is, how many children in Maywood are going to benefit?"
Kathy DeLalla, another resident, accused the council of engaging in political trickery, by - she alleged - tucking the field lights proposal in with items deemed more essential to assure passage.
"You're putting this in with other things mandated by the state of New Jersey and that are necessary for our own people," complained DeLalla. "I respectfully request that the Borough Council vote on these items separately - not this ordinance."
Resident Stan Macklin agreed that the lights had no place in the ordinance.
"We have something such as lights thrown in with other things that are important for the safety of the residents of this town," said a disgusted Macklin. "It's a done deal."
Yet council backers of the measure denied any deliberate, last-minute sleight of hand. Kuss pointed out that the proposal was introduced at an earlier council meeting.
"You need to come to the meetings," said Kuss, who, while not having a vote, seemed supportive of the lights. "It's the only way you'll find it (ordinance)."
Even though new debt has been created, the mayor repeatedly asserted that passing the bond ordinance does not mean funds have been expended in that it only gives the council an OK to bond - if it so chooses.
"If the amount of funds comes anywhere near $293,000, I promise you that I will never sign it," the mayor assured residents. "That's not going to happen."
The mayor cautioned, however, that he can always be overridden by the council.
Yet Zigrest promised to vote "no" - if the municipality is not reimbursed for the vast majority of the amount.
"We have made arrangements for grants for a significant portion of this," he told the residents. "If we don't get these grants, I'm not going to vote for this."
Democratic Councilman Thomas Richards rejected the view of his one-time political leader, O'Brien-Dutkus, that the council was being fiscally irresponsible.
"The problem I see with Mary's letter is that when you put your life on the line, these are items that must be purchased and must be done," said Richards, referring to the emergency items and not the lights. In fact, O'Brien-Dutkus did not oppose all the purchases.
Richards also took issue with DeLalla, who, he said, complained the action is "a ruse and what politicians do."
"We're taxpayer's," the councilman said, speaking of himself and his council colleagues.
In other business, the council reported that it was investigating a recent on-duty auto accident involving an unidentified police officer, which it would take up in closed session. The accident caused $3,956 in damages to a patrol car. The officer was cited as being at fault, officials reported.
FEATURE PROFILING MAYWOOD'S BEST
HELPING THE DOWNTRODDEN WAS BILL WETZEL'S CALLING
Borough Council honors retiring head of Maywood Helping Fund
By Chris Neidenberg
For some 20 years, Bill Wetzel always extended a helping hand to those less fortunate.
On Dec. 18, Mayor Wayne Kuss and the Borough Council extended thier own hands to Wetzel, showing appreciation for his efforts at administering the privately-funded Maywood Helping Fund - to those who needed it.
During a brief ceremony preceding the Borough Council meeting, Kuss presented Wetzel a citation thanking him for administering the program - a social safety net of sorts for those in poverty who have basically run out of government options.
Wetzel worked year round in securing private donations from the philanthropic-minded. So whenever Christmas or Thanksgiving rolled around, those in despair needing to eat or find clothing or shelter, and with nowhere else to turn, could count on Wetzel to be there - whether the help came in the form of a food basket, turkey or Christmas gifts which brought smiles to small children and their families.
Wetzel was not a complete stranger to the task. Prior to launching the fund, he served as Maywood's welfare director.
"This is the end of an era," said Kuss, referring to Wetzel's decision to step down and eventually leave Maywood for retirement.
Wetzel stressed that the end of his tenure in the position does not mean an end to the fund. He promised that it will be placed under the trusteeship of capable associates. Wetzel, who received a standing ovation from the audience, said he hopes the Helping Fund will "continue forever." He added that the consistent support of local elected officials over the many years contributed to the fund's success.
"I truly appreciated that," the modest, soft-spoken Wetzel told the audience, referring to the community's consistent support of the fund. "The recognition is a fantastic thing and I will cherish this."
TORRICELLI'S SAD MAYWOOD LEGACY
His political career started with promise and potential, but almost immediately after taking office at age 31 upon defeating incumbent Republican Congressman Harold Hollenbeck in 1982, Ninth District Democratic Rep. Robert Torricellli created a firestorm of controversy with his first major ethical lapse that 1.) Created the Maywood Interim (thorium) Storage Site, dubbed derisively by his critics as "Torricelli Hill" and "Mt. Torricelli," and 2.) Involved negotiating a questionable deal on behalf of his campaign donor, Stepan Chemical Company, that shifted costs for cleaning up the thorium-tainted soil from his donor to the taxpayers - shortly after the Environmental Protection Agency cited Stepan as being largely responsible for creating much of the borough's thorium mess. Yet all during that time - a period spanning almost 20 years - now-former Senator Robert Torricelli remained a beloved, worshipped political figure in town among his local political allies, notably Democrats Councilman Thomas Richards, former Mayor Thomas Murphy, and even some members of the Maywood Republican organization, including legendary GOP Mayor John Steuert - who endorsed him in his last run for the House in 1994, and while in his forced retirement during Torricelli's 1996 Senate bid. Throughout his tenure, "The Torch" remained a major political figure behind the scenes within Maywood, getting his loyalists to continue supporting his thorium polices while they (loyalists) did battle with his longtime foes, the Concerned Citizens of Maywood, who simply refused to go away. This, despite repeated verbal attacks (being branded "environmental terrorists" by Murphy) and their ouster, at the hands of Steuert, from his mayoral advisory committee on thorium in 1994 (which Torricelli applauded). Torricelli's stunning decision Oct. 1 to drop out of his re-election bid against Republican Douglas Forrester (who made Maywood an issue in his campaign) followed intense criticism over the one ethical lapse he simply could not deflect attention from - his unwise, ongoing relationship with convicted illegal campaign donor, businessman David Chang. Torricelli will leave his office in disgrace as Maywood is still nowhere close to being cleaned up, almost 20 years after his initial Maywood dealings, and despite prior and repeated assurnces to the community of much quicker time frames. TRUTH HURTS plans on reviewing the former senator's conduct on the Maywood issue, as featured in a current "background" article related to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' proposed thorium cleanup plan, and a more in-depth article in the future.