A potential scandal is brewing in Rockland County over contaminated soil in a public park and other locations.
The I-Team has unearthed evidence that shows the town of Rockland was paid $400,000 up front in February 2016, to remove 35,000 cubic yards of soil stockpiled in the village of Sloatsburg community park and near a cemetery In Hillburn.
Some of the soil is in the flood plain of the Ramapo River.
The Ramapo town supervisor, who signed a six-month contract with the local sewer district to remove the soil, acknowledged that some of the soil was never touched. The total contract was $800,000.
“When we bid the project, we thought it would be a six-month project, but it was much more intensive than we thought,” said Christopher St. Lawrence.
"We are continuing to work upon it and trying to find a home where we can put this," he said.
He said work had not been done anywhere on the project for at least two years. He was unable to give specifics as to how much soil was removed or how the $400,000 was used.
St. Lawrence, who was a member of the sewer board when he signed the contract and later became its chairman, is under federal indictment for unrelated federal corruption charges. He has pleaded not guilty. He resigned from his post as chairman after he was charged last spring.
The current chairman, George Hoehmann, said, “I was shocked, I was absolutely shocked when this was brought to my attention.”
Hoehmann said that testing results as recently as last summer showed the soil had elevated levels of certain chemicals, including some linked to cancer.
Hoehmann added, “At the best case, it’s financial mismanagement and misuse of the public trust. At worst case, it’s financial fraud.”
He is calling for a forensic audit of the project’s finances.
Hoehmann said he wants the soil removed immediately or he will ask the sewer board to sue Ramapo to get the $400,000 back. In the meantime, he said the piles should be isolated with protective tarps covering them.
Rockland County legislator Charles Faciglia called the issue an environmental and financial boondoggle, adding he learned about it after there had been a request for a contract extension for the project though the end of 2017.
“That set off another question and another question, and people went out there and we couldn’t determine if any work was done,” he said.
He added, “The work is not completed and it’s five years later.” “Was the work ever started? We need answers. We need an accounting.”
Local residents who use the park in Sloatsburg said they were stunned. “That’s outrageous, that’s just not right,” said David Voss.
Seventeen-year-old Nick Mazzucca said he and other kids often play on the piles of dirt.
“We had no clue, I don’t even know what to say,” he told the I-Team. “Now, what happens if kids get disease or whatever, what happens to them. What can the contaminants do. That’s the real question.”
St. Lawrence said he doesn’t think the sites pose a danger to people but added, “I do think it needs to be cleaned up.”