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June 28, 2008

Slowness of tar cleanup fuels gas company complaints

By Terry Gauthier Muessig

Project update becomes bash NJNG session

ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS — Shoddy work at Fireman’s Field, a patched driveway and cleanup crews using a park were just some of the complaints residents wailed about during the meeting with gas company representatives.

New Jersey Natural Gas Co. may be spending millions to facilitate its coal tar cleanup project here, but one resident called the company “cheap and chintzy” when it comes to dealing with the members of the community.

The project involves removing contaminants resulting from the operation of the former Atlantic Highlands Manufactured Gas Plant on West Lincoln Avenue, now owned by New Jersey Natural Gas.

NJNG representatives held a town meeting Thursday to update the public on the coal tar cleanup project, including its proposed three-year plan.

However, residents immediately began firing questions as to why the project is taking so long and about the problems with the work already completed.

“You’re not doing the job,” said Lou Miele of Highlands Avenue. “You’re not being fair to the community.”

Although the remediation project surrounding his home was completed to the satisfaction of the state Department of Environmental Protection, and the almost two-year project was completed around December, Miele said he is dissatisfied with what he termed the company’s lack of commitment.

Since December, Miele has been requesting the company install a new driveway. After the work was completed, the company had to install a gas line to the house, destroying a portion of the new driveway. Since then, the company has patched the driveway.

“I don’t want a resurface job. I want a new driveway,” Miele said.

Sally Sanzone of South Avenue complained about the company’s use of the park on her street.

“You have inconvenienced us enough,” she said.

The plans for the coming work include the company resuming its use of the park.

“The last time you (the company) used the park, it was left unsafe,” Sanzone said.

She said spikes as well as other debris, were left in the ground.

“I hope your workers are going to clean-up after themselves this time,” Sanzone said.

In 1983, the company was notified that the borough had coal tar at Fireman’s Field, where Pop Warner Football, local school softball teams and the Sandy Hook Little League play. It was not until 1999 that the company began its remediation work.

When the topic of the field came up at the meeting Thursday, the crowd of about 80 residents became volatile.

In 2001, there was a project to rid the field area of the coal tar that was left as a by-product of producing gas from coal and coke. The project was completed in 2003. However, the company had to remediate half of the field a second time because the DEP found additional levels of contamination in the ground.

“You (the gas company) are disappointing the kids,” said Mike Coranetti, the Sandy Hook Little League T-ball coach.

After a heavy rainstorm, he said, the water does not drain properly on portions of the field.

About two years ago, Firemen Incorporated, the business subsidiary of the borough’s Fire Department, entered into a lawsuit against the gas company.

Throughout the duration of residents complaining, Micah Rasmussen, spokesman for NJNG, said he understood the residents concerns and that the company was commited to getting the project completed.

However, when Borough Councilman Peter Doyle demanded an answer as to why the project was taking so long, John Raspa, environmental case worker for NJNG, said that 20 years for a project of this magnitude is not uncommon.

“Just get it done,” Doyle said.

Rasmussen said some of the delays are caused by negotiations with residents. When the company has to conduct its remediation work, the residents have to be relocated. The options are for the company are to relocate the homeowners or buy the property.

Adam Hubeny, borough administrator, has firsthand experience with the issue.

About eight years ago, the gas company purchased Hubeny’s house on Leonard Avenue, which is adjacent to Fireman’s Field, and relocated the family to East Mount Avenue. It was one of the first homes to be bought by the gas company in the project to decontaminate properties.

Hubeny and his wife, Diane, had to sign a confidential agreement with the company and could not give the details of the agreement.

Company representatives said it will continue its monitoring of wetlands, conduct investigations and construct and remediate public and commercial properties. The plan calls for the company to be working on Highland and Center avenues.

“I’ve heard all this before. I heard this since 1983,” said Helen Marchetti of Center Avenue. “I’m the one that started this.”

In 1983, Marchetti was mayor, and initiated the investigation after seeing tar stains on a football jersey worn by a Pop Warner youth.

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