Environmental Cleanup Costs Unclear at Site of Walnut Street Lot
Walnut St. site, once planned as a parking garage, has contamination from gasoline barrels and dry cleaner-based plumes and could cost $1 million to clean, according to a report commissioned by the village.
The village has begun the process to clean up contaminants at the site of the Walnut Street parking lot, but it remains unclear as to the extent of the contamination or the cost to taxpayers.
Village Engineer Chris Rutishauser reported to the council last Wednesday that the site had housed a gas station until the mid 1960s, prior to the village buying the property. Examinations of the site – in anticipation of a parking garage development in 2007 – led to the discovery of nine barrels of fuel buried underground, likely burrowed there for 50 years or more.
"It's a hydrocarbon discharge," Rutishauser said of the contamination. "We're not dealing with the nasty, deadly kinds," he said.
Should the gasoline barrels – presumed to be containing leaded gas and/or diesel – be found to have leaked, the cleanup promises to be involved and costly.
The asphalt in the parking lot acts as a protective cap, and barring any citizens using a well to extract soil and then eating the contents, Rutishauser believes the public is safe.
Under the best case scenario, the village finds the barrels intact and undamaged, and hires a contractor to remove them. The total cost could be under $100,000.
Under the worst case scenario, gasoline could have penetrated the water table, requiring hundreds of thousands of dollars in remediation work. Groundwater testing would have to be conducted, an investigation made to determine where the water migrated and then perform whatever the DEP's required course of action may entail.
The cost figure under that scenario remains open-ended according to Rutishauser, as much as the council prefer it not be.
"I can't predict a limit," he said. "It depends entirely on what we find."
According to a Ridgewood News article in 2009, Rutishauser told the council the cost could be between $800,000 and $1,000,000.
On Wednesday, the council approved Licensed Site Remediation Specialist (LSRP) Brinkerhoff Environmental Services to conduct a remediation action plan, at a bidded cost of $35,282. But it did so with hesitancy.
"I don't want this to be an open-ended cost," Deputy Mayor Tom Riche said at the prior week's council work session. He and other council members agreed that as a measure of checking costs, once the contractor hits its bidded price, it would alert the village as to its progress and what kind of work may lie ahead.
The council has $900,000 on hand from the cancelled parking garage bonding it could use toward whatever the costs are, Village Manager Ken Gabbert said. On Wednesday, he said he was optimistic the village would not need to allocate that level of funding toward the remediation proejct.
But the gasoline barrels aren't the only problem. There remain chemicals from a dry cleaner that has since gone out of business.
Should there be any "plumes" migrating from private properties onto the village's land, the municipality could initiate a lawsuit to force those polluters to pay for at least a portion of the cleanup, Village Attorney Matt Rogers said last week.
Plume dating could determine who is responsible, Rutishauser added.
It might even be able to find the original gas station polluters to set up litigation, though any case won't be easy given the length of time that has passed and the applicability of environmental standards at the time of the barrel burying.
One way or another, the cleanup needs to begin soon.
The NJ DEP notified the village last year it felt they were dragging their feet since they first found the barrels in 2007.
Asked why the village hadn't attended to the contamination in five years until the DEP's pressing, Rutishauser said there were several reasons: there isn't believed to be a public threat; the village has been busy with FEMA disasters; the parking garage proposal was in flux before a vote failed in 2008; and different councils have entered and exited in the last five years.
Remediation cleanup work could begin within a few months.
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