New Jersey also puts an end to statewide illegal dumping scheme, obtains $8-million court-ordered penalty
TRENTON — New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette are proud to announce today several recent advancements protective of public health and the environment and new case filings targeting polluters across the State whose toxic legacies continue to threaten New Jersey’s overburdened communities. Begun under the Murphy Administration in 2018, this initiative seeks to remedy past inequities in environmental law enforcement affecting communities of color, low-income communities, low-English-proficiency communities, and those subject to cumulative environmental stressors. This selected list of recent results includes:
- The State obtained a court order requiring 24 defendants, who were engaged in an egregious statewide illegal waste dumping scheme centered in Newark, to immediately stop working in the solid waste industry, remove the solid waste they deposited, and pay $8 million in penalties;
- Fillit and Jersey Recycling Corporation in Palmyra will create a conservation easement of 31.34 acres along Pennsauken Creek, remediate the unauthorized solid waste, properly close the landfill, and pay civil penalties amounting to $4,012,000;
- A court order directed the shutdown of unsafe wells and the drilling of new wells to provide safe drinking water for migrant workers and their families housed on the Blueberry Bill farm in Hammonton; and
- British Petroleum agreed to fully remediate the harmful soil and groundwater contamination emanating from underground gas storage tanks at Monk’s Amoco in Camden, compensate DEP at least $260,000, and pay up to $100,000 to the City of Camden.
In addition, the Attorney General and DEP filed six enforcement actions on Thursday seeking to hold additional polluters accountable in overburdened New Jersey communities.
“Thanks to Governor Murphy, New Jersey is a national leader in the fight to secure environmental justice in communities that for far too long were ignored,” said Attorney General Platkin. “On our watch and in conjunction with the DEP, we have filed 62 enforcement actions and secured nearly $28.8 million in penalties and more than $1 million in damages for the State. And our efforts achieve environmental clean-up and compliance with laws aimed at restoring New Jersey’s environmental resources for the benefit of all to improve public health.”
“These cases reflect DEP’s ongoing commitment to ensuring the cleanup of contaminated sites, especially those in communities with environmental justice concerns where the proliferation of contaminated sites is often greatest,” said Commissioner LaTourette. “Today’s actions embody DEP’s steadfast priority to use all available legal tools to hold accountable those who have caused or contributed to environmental injustice. My DEP colleagues and I thank Attorney General Platkin for his partnership in protecting public health and combating historic injustices that have burdened low-income and minority communities with a disproportionate amount of pollution.”
M.J. & Sons, Newark and Statewide
On September 7, 2023, the Superior Court ordered 24 defendants in an illegal statewide dumping scheme to remove solid waste and return dumping sites to their original conditions, exit the solid waste business until they have the proper permits and licenses, and to pay over $8 million in penalties. The Attorney General and DEP sued 25 individual and corporate defendants in April for illegally transporting and dumping solid waste and fill material on properties in 15 locations around the State. In some of the cases, the defendants dumped solid waste on private properties without the owners’ permission, who thought they were receiving “clean” or “free” soil or fill based on advertisements on Facebook Marketplace. The defendants also illegally dumped waste on properties with no warning, including on preserved farmland in Montgomery Township. The illegally dumped materials included demolition and construction debris, plastics, metals, vehicle parts, and other waste, causing risks to human and environmental health. Homeowners are urged to be wary of “clean” or “free” soil or fill advertisements. Soil or fill material sold or offered free of charge may contain debris or contaminants that should not be on residential property. For information on how to protect against unwanted residential soil dumping, please visit https://www.nj.gov/dep/guardyourbackyard/.
“The action by the court sends a clear message that illegally operating a solid waste business and dumping waste on the property of unsuspecting homeowners will not be tolerated,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Our environmental enforcement and environmental justice laws provide for steep penalties in order to deter this kind of behavior and to strip profits from illegal activities. Moreover, justice and equity demand immediate action to address ongoing environmental harms affecting multiple New Jersey communities.”
“These defendants advertised ‘free clean fill’ to lure unsuspecting homeowners to receive harmful contaminated solid waste on their residential properties. The court’s decision sends the message that DEP will not tolerate illegal dumping and will vigorously pursue those who engage in this harmful activity in violation of our environmental laws,” said Commissioner LaTourette.
The largest penalty, almost $4.7 million, was levied against Walter Miranda-Vicuna, Mirian L. Miranda, Bryan Miranda, and the companies they owned and managed, including MJSons Excavating, LLC; MJ & Sons Excavation, LLC; MJ & Sons Contractors Trucking, LLC; B. Brothers Management, LLC; and Excavating BJ Corp. The other defendants in the case are Edwin G Miranda-Vicuna of Newark; Bruce Licausi, Jr. of Bangor, Maine; Andre “Dre” Salinas of Elizabeth; Ana Pancheco-Vega of Easton, Pennsylvania; Joe Wallace of Sussex; Henry Chimbo of Newark; and Angel Bravo-Gomez of Lafayette.
The home base of this illegal dumping scheme was on East Bigelow Street in Newark, which was used to stockpile waste, including from construction sites, without a solid waste facility permit until it could be dumped elsewhere in the State. Another overburdened community significantly affected by the illegal dumping scheme is Montgomery, as the area surrounding the protected farmland has a significant minority population. Other sites are located in Woolwich, Lafayette, Delaware Township, Alexandria, Southampton, Hamilton, Pohatcong, Bedminster, Liberty Township, Pittstown, and Readington.
Under the State’s groundbreaking Environmental Justice Law (N.J.S.A. 13:1D-157) signed by Governor Murphy in September 2020, overburdened communities are those in which at least 35 percent of the households qualify as low-income; at least 40 percent of the residents identify as minority or as members of a state-recognized tribal community; or at least 40 percent of the households have limited English proficiency. While these enforcement matters are not being brought under the Environmental Justice Law, all of the cases being celebrated today affect these overburdened communities or populations and are brought under New Jersey environmental laws such as the Spill Act, the Underground Storage of Hazardous Substances Act, and the common law.
This settlement will protect 31 acres of waterfront land, including wetlands, on the Pennsauken Creek and Palmyra Cove along the banks of the Delaware River. Past owners had illegally accepted and stockpiled mulch, painted and treated wood, piles of concrete, and contaminated soil at the site. The Judicial Consent Order with Fillit and Sansone Urban Renewal Entity II, LLC on August 15, 2022 resulted in a conservation easement of 31.34 acres along Pennsauken Creek, removal of solid waste, closure of a historic municipal landfill on the site, and implementation of green infrastructure best management practices for managing stormwater. Fillit also paid a civil penalty of $450,000, plus $12,000 in an outstanding penalty from 2011. Separately, the Department secured a $3,550,000 judgment against former operators at the site, Jersey Recycling Services, LLC, and its owner, Bradley Sirken, who were the subject of a 2017 SCI Investigation into organized crime’s ties to the solid waste industry in New Jersey.
Blueberry Bill Farms, Hammonton
In August 2022, the Attorney General and DEP brought suit against Blueberry Bill Farms, Inc., Booper, LLC, and the owner/operator William A. Mortellite, seeking a court-ordered shutdown of unsafe drinking water wells, as well as a shutdown of two unpermitted septic tanks then in use on the farm. Minority migrant farm workers are hired and housed along with their families at the farm to tend to the blueberry plants and harvest the fruit. The wells did not meet New Jersey health standards and yet were providing water for drinking, dishwashing, and bathing to seasonal migrant workers on the farm and their families, putting them at risk from disease-causing bacteria and viruses, phosphorous, and nitrogen, which is especially dangerous because it can interfere with the body’s ability to carry oxygen, particularly in infants. At DEP and the Attorney General’s urging, the court ordered Blueberry Bill to stop using the wells, decommission them, abandon their unpermitted septic fields, and get all related wastewater treated properly. In March 2023, the farm drilled new, safe drinking water wells ahead of the 2023 season.
Monk’s Amoco, Camden
The Attorney General and DEP announced the June 2023 settlement of a 2018 case against Monk’s Amoco, in Camden, in which the gas station leaked hazardous substances (including gasoline, which can cause damage to internal organs and cognitive function) into the surrounding soil and groundwater from underground storage tanks. Under the settlement, to protect public health and the environment, Amoco’s corporate successor, British Petroleum, must fully clean up the harmful soil and groundwater contamination at and emanating from the property, reimburse DEP $260,000 for the cost of its previous cleanup efforts, and pay up to $100,000 to Camden and the remainder to DEP when the property is sold, ensuring that New Jersey taxpayers do not bear the cost of cleaning up harmful contamination.
Six Environmental Justice Enforcement Actions Filed Thursday
Additionally, the Attorney General and DEP filed six enforcement actions seeking to hold polluters accountable in overburdened New Jersey communities:
- Canrad Hanovia, Newark: In April 2023, DEP issued a Directive requiring vapor sampling and other work at this former industrial site where the soil and water are contaminated with volatile organic compounds, including trichloroethylene (“TCE”) and tetrachloroethene (“PCE”). These contaminants can have numerous health effects. Now the Attorney General and DEP have filed suit to compel the vapor sampling, site remediation, and payment of outstanding fees, costs, and penalties.
- Martin Service Center Corp., Union City: This case arises from the 1990 gasoline spillage from Martin Service Center Corporation’s underground storage tanks (USTs) in Union City and failure to comply with two subsequent DEP orders directing removal of the USTs. Gasoline and its components pose threats to the environment and public health when they enter the soil and the groundwater, and persist in soil for long periods of time. The action seeks to enforce the two previous DEP orders and compel the investigation and cleanup of the site to reduce potential health and environmental risks, in addition to seeking civil penalties.
- 304 Main Street, Metuchen: This is the site of a former gas station in Metuchen with long-standing soil and groundwater contamination with high levels of tert-butyl alcohol, methyl tert-butyl ether, and benzene discovered in 2001. Exposure to these hazardous substances poses a danger to human health, including damage to the liver, kidneys, central nervous system, and eyes. The current and former owners of the site, 304 Main Street and SGS & DHIND, have refused to remediate the soil and groundwater contamination. In addition, the operator of the site’s USTs, Ravi Oil, never complied with a 2019 Final Administrative Order and did not pay required penalties for having USTs that did not abide by environmental regulations. The suit demands remediation of the soil and groundwater contamination, closure of the USTs, repayment of remediation costs to the DEP, and civil penalties.
- Zebs Auto Service & Detailing, Inc, Millville.: Zebs, in Millville, has not complied with a DEP final agency order issued in 2022 ordering it to close unused USTs, perform a site investigation, remediate any contamination, and pay a penalty. The suit seeks penalties and to enforce the previous order.
- John Street Commons LLC, Haledon: This former industrial site in Haledon, where the soil and groundwater is contaminated with high levels of hazardous substances PCE and TCE, was turned into 19 residential condominiums by John Street Commons LLC, which purchased the property in 2005. To date, the owner has not remediated the pollution on the site nor paid a previous court-ordered penalty. The State is suing to compel John Street to complete remediation begun by the DEP, reimburse the DEP, and pay past and present penalties.
- Sparkle Cleaners, Jersey City Enforcement Action: The site of this former dry cleaner in Jersey City is contaminated with TCE and PCE, both of which pose a threat to human health. The owner has disregarded a previous consent judgment and a separate, subsequent court order to clean up the site and pay liens placed on the property for violating environmental laws. The current motion resurrects the prior lawsuit and seeks to force the owner to remediate the site, including cleaning up the TCE and PCE contamination, and pay sanctions for violating the previous order.
To view photos of the sites, click here.
The enforcement actions and case outcomes announced today are being handled by the Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice (EEEJ) Section within the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group. Those handling the cases include: Section Chief Gary Wolf; Assistant Section Chiefs Jessica Palmer, Kevin Fleming and James LaBianca; and Deputy Attorneys General Dianna Shinn, Willis Doerr, Andrew Verdone, Nell Hryshko, Debra Allen, Paige Hensor, Domenico Stockton-Rossini, Candice McLaughlin, Samuel Simon, and Matthew Novak, under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General Aaron Kleinbaum, Deputy Director Jason W. Rockwell, and Director Michael T.G. Long.
The Attorney General and the Commissioner ask for the public’s help in bringing environmental enforcement actions in overburdened communities and in all communities in New Jersey. If you are aware of an action that you suspect may negatively impact human health or the environment, please report the action using the WARN DEP app or by calling 1-800-WARN-DEP (1-800-927-6337) or email firstname.lastname@example.org,gov.