Monday, June 16, 2003

 
ARE RICHARDS, EUSTACE STUCK WITH STEPAN MESS?

COUNCILMAN: CHARGE FEDS FEE FOR HOSTING THORIUM SITE
Resident says sue U.S. gov.; pols silent on Army Corps' ROD holdup

(Key passages in bold italics)

By Chris Neidenberg

As Maywood's thorium quagmire continues, Democratic Councilman Dr. Tim Eustace is suggesting that the borough try compelling U.S. authorities to pay host fees the longer they stall in initiating - and finishing - a final radioactive waste cleanup.

Speaking during the Borough Council's May 28 meeting, Eustace told Stelling Avenue resident Ed Kaminski that Maywood should have, in fact, pursued the fee concept years ago.

Eustace was reacting to Kaminski's suggestion that the borough start a lawsuit against the federal government. Kaminski wants to try forcing the feds into excavatimg and permanently disposing all of Maywood's thorium-tainted soil, into a licensed disposal facility, outside the community.

Kaminski heads the Maywood Station Historical Committee, which is renovating the old New York Susquehanna and Western Railroad stop off Maywood Avenue.

"What's going on down at the Stepan site and with the final plan of the Army Corps of Engineers?" asked an anxious Kaminski, suggesting the town has waited long enough.

Political intrigue at the toxic waste site not abating


Kaminski's demand for a final resolution comes after over 20 years of suspicious political intrigue, questionable conduct by public officials and regulators at all levels, inaction and delay.

This all occurred amid a climate of fear, intimidation and scorn - directed against critics of Maywood's worst polluter, Stepan Chemical Company.

This climate was encouraged by politicians sympathetic to the politically-connected chemical company - a campaign donor to one-time Democratic Congressman and Senator Robert Torricelli.

The former federal lawmaker played a major role in arranging what Stepan critic Michael Nolan derided as "a sweetheart deal." He was referring to an arrangement that ultimately absolved Stepan of liability for paying to finance cleaning up the vast bulk of radiological (separate from chemical) contamination.

Torricelli, who argued in 1983 that this act eould speed up the cleanup, moved only a few months after U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official Lawrence Diamond informed a Stepan executive that his agency was initiating enforcement action against the West Hunter Avenue plant as a cited "potentially responsible party" for "radioactive contamination." This complicated the cleanup picture. That's because much of the roughly 300,000 cubic yards of Maywood's remaining waste is "mixed" with radiological and chemical pollutants.

Chief among the antagonosts against Stepan's critics locally is the municipality's Democratuc nominee for mayor, and Torricelli's biggest ally, Councilman Thomas Richards. He worked with Torricelli locally during the early years to help exempt Stepan from major thorium liability and in bypassing the EPA - despite that agency's efforts.

Stepan, in fact, had local supporters on both sides of the aisle, including the deceased former Republican mayor (and Richards' political enemy/crony, the legendary John Steuert). Even Richards' Republican mayoral opponent. Councilman Thomas Gaffney, has generally had cordial relations with Stepan.

Corps has taken almost 10 months to try finalizing major part of ROD

Kaminski's beef also comes as the local governing body remains silent over the fact that federal authorities have held up releasing most of Maywood's final thorium cleanup proposal for almost 10 months - after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a public hearing on the proposed partial thorium plan Aug. 28.

At the time, Kaminski and other speakers overwhelmingly demanded a complete excavation plan.

Corps Site Manager Allen Roos is using only a projected $10 million increase in costs for using full excavation ($254 million) - over a conbined excavation/treatment proposal ($244 million) - in trying to gain support for incorporqating treatment into Maywood's final thorium record of decision (ROD).

Yet in fact, before Roos' presentation, various federal agencies had already spent (critics might say squander) even more public money just to study, analyze and perform small-scale cleanups at the thorium/chemical site once owned by Maywood Chemical Works. That company was later inherited by Stepan Chemical Company in a 1960 stock transaction, and became a division of Stepan..

It took the feds 22 years to finally tell the public at least part of what lies beneath this massive site (first placed on the EPA's National Priorities List - known as "the Superfund program" - in 1980).

The corps must definitively prove that any locally unpopular treatment scheme (such as soil separation) conclusively reaches the final, accepted cleanup criteria. But It released most of its proposed thorium plan last year, admitting that it had not yet done so.

According to the corps' latest periodic "FUSRAP Update" on the Maywood site, mailed to residents last February, "The corps is currently drafting a ROD that will document a selected (radiological) cleanup plan (for soil and buildings) at the FUSRAP Maywood site. The ROD will also include a summary for public comments received, and responses to them. Release of the ROD is expected later this year ... ,"

The corps indicated that, during a three month public comment period, it heard from over 70 individuals, totaling more than 300 pages.

The corps estimates in the first proposed thorium plan (excluding groundwater) that it will take about five yeats to completely clean up tainted buildings and soils. Assuming the projected time frame sticks, and the cleanup were to start later this year, then this partt of the site-wide cleanup won't end until 2008.

NRC, also a major player, met with Stepan on initial ROD while it was delayed

Because Stepan's property includes toxic waste burial oits licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), this agency will play a major role in any final outcome. Information obtained from the NRC's web site shows that commission staff met with Stepan and reps from other federal agencies to discuss a timetable for this initial ROD on Sept. 25, 2001, 11 months before the corps - which EPA essentially accused of stonewalling the public - finally released it.

The NRC suggests that Stepan could play a major role in financing at least some of the thorium part of the cleanup. The commission states, "On September 5, 2001, the (NRC's) Division of Waste Management, Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards, held a publicly-noticed meeting with representatives from the Stepan Company, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission storage-only licensee; the EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE); and other NRC offices.".

The statement continues, "The meeting was held to discuss the licensee's (Stepan's) and USACE's schedule for site decommissioning (remediation), and to review with the licensee the recently executed memorandum of understanding between NRC and the corps on the decommissioning of NRC-licensed sites (nationally). A constructive exchange of information took place among the participants. Preparation and timing of the ROD, for remediation of the radiologically contaminated areas, were discussed."

Once this ROD is finalized, Maywood's toxic story far from over

Yet much of the borough's contamination story remains untold 10 months after the radiological soils/buildings hearing.

That's because the feds must still address groundwater chemical and radiological contamination, as well as chemical-laced soil pollution all over the massive site. Stepan remains directly responsible for chemicals.

The EPA, which is negotiating terms of the final soil/buildings thorium cleanup with the corps, is also directly overseeing enforcement against Stepan in trying to come up with a final site-wide chemical cleanup plan. Additionally, it must still hammer out details, with the corps, on a final groundwater proposal evaluating thorium pollution.

Eustace wants money if dirt stays, but what about the cleanup?

Eustace, running for re-election on Richards' mayoral ticket, maintained that the tawdry Superfund mess has caused a local revenue shortfall through the years. He said pushing for a host fee, the longer the sites stay unremediated, would ease some of the sting.

"I'm looking into the information," he told Kaminski, without mentioning sources. "All of it is (costing Maywood) something close to $20 million. The problem is, forcing the government to pay us if we keep it here."

Eustace raised the possibility that Maywood years ago was improperly designated a "low-level radioactive waste" repository.

The councilman, however, did not discuss with Kaminski his view on just what should be done in trying to more quickly start - and finish - the biggest phase uf the entire cleanup.

Maywood's Democrats (led by Richards and former Borough Attorney William Rupp), along with Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), have historically opposed any effort to abrogate Torricelli's original agreement on behalf of his campaign donor as one option.

The corps has not ruled out trying to do this, in an effort to speed up the entire cleanup. Other Bergen Democrats at the county level, most notably County Executive Dennis McNerney, have taken the position (at least outside Maywood) that polluters should pay for cleanups.

Kaminski demands swift action

Despite the corps' stated five-year Phase II cleanup timetable, Kaminski said an Internet site has indicated Maywood will not be fully remediated until 2015.

He asserted that this is unacceptable, if true, and called for drastic action.

"As a test, the town should go out with a suit against the federal government," the citizen urged. "It's holding back ratables. It's holding back development of the town."

The fact is, Maywood's more senior governing body members, particularly Gaffney, Mayor Wayne Kuss, Richards and Eustace, knew very well that the feds were hiding a final thorium cleanup plan ffrom their neighbors for over eight years.

This was spelled out in a 1994 EPA status report. It indicated that the "draft final cleanup plan was on hold," under the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), "due to community concerns over soil washing." The corps replaced the DOE, as the lead thorium cleanup agency, in 1997.

Long before Kaminski appeared, these governing body members were repeatedly reminded of this fact by Nolan and others with the Concerned Citizens of Maywood (CCM). The council made sure it said little, or nothing, in response.

Development a factor in driving local pols' current concerns

Kuss told Kaminski that the council's objectives, in seeking final action, are two-fold.

"A. - We want to move in getting it cleaned up and out of our backyards," he said. "B. - Our position is we'd like to get the property turned over to us because if the town wasn't cleaned up, it wouldn't be developed."

Richards emerging as Rothman's messenger during mayoral run?

Richards participated in a national DOE stakeholder committee in the mid- to late 1990s. At the time, he fully knew the DOE was hiding a cleanup plan from Maywood residents.

Additionally, he teamed with Torricelli in the '80s and '90s in periodically trying to deliver news from the federal government on the program to the council. These messages included a failed assurance that Maywood would be fully cleaned up by the end of 1985, and false promises pledging no more tainted soil would be trucked in from Lodi.

On May 28, he assured Kaminski that he would seek out Rothman in trying to arrange a meeting involving the council, congressman and federal officials. If history is any judge, Richards will likely try keeping the public out of any such session.

"I called up, in the last two weeks, Congessman Rothman's office and spoke to his new chief of staff," said Richards, who has said he now backs moving all of the borough's thorium "up and out." -

This position was embraced years earlier by the Concerned Citizens group, while Richards - a harsh CCM critic - questioned whether it was really necessary..

"I told him of our historic frustration," he added.

Richards explained that because Rothman's new top office liaision comes from Wisconsin, he knew almost nothing about the local problem, and had to get up to speed on it.

For more information, visit various other articles, including, "Richards still cozy with town's worst polluter Parts I and II," "Corps proposes only partial thorium cleanup plan," and, "Residents pan corps' thorium cleanup proposal."

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Sunday, June 15, 2003

 
CITIZENS’ PETITION: ‘LIGHTS ARE A TURNOFF’
Merchant offers signatures to keep Memorial Park dark

By Chris Neidenberg

A local merchant has offered the Borough Council a citizens’ petition demanding that it “call out” a plan to erect lights over the baseball field on Memorial Park’s west side.

At the council’s May 28 meeting, Rich Hennion, owner of Another Facet jewelers along West Pleasant Avenue, recited a litany of reasons on why members should declare the plan dead.

A council majority wants to offer the Maywood Youth Athletic Association (MYAA) the chance to play night games on a diamond near Spring Valley Road and Coolidge Avenue. Yet some residents living in that area have complained doing so will only bring them headaches.

Though a majority (all except Councilman James Petrie) created a debt of close to $300,000 by bonding for the lights last December, council supporters assert that their installation will hinge on whether they can be reimbursed through outside grant monies. Hennion seemed skeptical of that claim.

The council is already funding professional services out of pocket to design the lighting scheme.

Only Petrie has publicly asserted that the governing body already created so much debt, through initiatives such as the new but troubled John A. Steuert Municipal Complex, it simply cannot afford the lights at this time.

Barring any change in position since Hennion’s appearance, opponents have nowhere to go in the upcoming mayor’s race on this issue. Democratic Councilman Thomas Richards and Republican Councilman Thomas Gaffney, vying for the top job, have endorsed the initiative.

Council members did not comment on Hennion’s petition. Yet they also heard from perhaps the initiative’s biggest booster: David Holmes, head of the MYAA. He took pains to assail the different points Hennion raised.

“They (lights) will have a negative effect on property values and will infringe on our (residents’) quality of life.” asserted Hennion, who while not quantifying the number of names, suggested that there are more than enough to indicate overwhelming opposition

“The petition is a work in progress,” said the merchant, inferring that he will continue seeking signatures. “It will only be considered complete once this project is shelved entirely.”

Hennion maintained that the 14 60- to 80-foot tall poles needed for the lights will tower over the surrounding homes.

“It’s a financial issue, it’s a quality of life issue,” he explained. “The negative effect on property values will lead to a decrease in ratables. You’ll have extended playing time, resulting in a painful disruption of everyone’s lives, along with a resultant increase in spectators.”

Other key points Hennion raised included the expense Maywood will incur in added electric costs, his questioning of how the council can say no final decisions have been made while paying professionals to design a lighting scheme, and possible conflicts of interest involving at least two council members.

Hennion mentioned no names. Yet it is known that Councilman Fred Zigrest is active in the MYAA, while Councilman Dr. Tim Eustace has at least one adopted child playing in the association’s recreation programs. Eustace has stated that his support for the lights stems, in part, from the fact that he has a child who would benefit (along with many others).

Borough Attorney Andrew Fede previously ruled that there are no conflicts, according to state law, since neither man stood to profit financially from any installation.

Still, in rejecting Fede’s interpretation, Hennion asserted that both men have major conflicts.

“The council members with pronounced conflicts of interest did not comply with a state law requiring that they refrain from voting,” he charged.

In urging the council to hold firm, Holmes took Hennion to task on a variety of points. He claimed that supporting the initiative will simply make things better for the roughly 500 MYAA youth participants.

“All I can tell you is that the lights will be a valuable asset to the town,” said Holmes, “and will help our organization in putting quality programs out there for the kids.”

The MYAA president stressed that he was on the same page with the council as to its funding approach.

“The association agrees that if you can’t get the money without bringing the taxpayers in, then let’s not do it,” he pointed out.



Holmes explained that, by installing the lights, the association will have greater flexibility in terms of scheduling games involving its baseball, girls softball and soccer programs – now limited by the daylight hours - reducing opportunities for playing in Maywood.

Supporters - such as Eustace - have suggested that extending playing times into the evening will enable the playing of more games in Maywood, thus, reducing travel to other communities with nighttime facilities.

Holmes told council members the lights will also make things more convenient for working parents.

“It’s difficult to get the parents out at 5:30 (p.m.),” he explained. “We’re looking for an extra hour and a half of playing time.

Though the MYAA wants more parents to attend the games, Holmes insisted that the lights will not bring hordes of new spectators into town, despite Hennion’s concerns.

“We’re not putting in more fields,” he pointed out. “This just adds lights so we can play into the evening.”

In addressing another of Hennion's points, Holmes assured his association supports leaving all decisions for operating the lights entirely in the hands of the entity which will pay the electric bills: the borough.

For more background on the lights controversy and its history, please read, "It's 'lights out on disputed bond ordinance," and, "Council agrees to go into debt for field lights."

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