N.J. DEP Under Fire Over Illegal Landfill for Orthodox Artifacts

By Brian Thompson
|  Tuesday, Oct 5, 2010  |  Updated 9:27 PM EDT
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DEP Under Attack Over Religious Artifacts Dump

NBCNewYork

The landfill

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DEP Under Attack Over Religious Artifacts Dump

The burial Jewish religious artifacts in an illegal Lakewood landfill has New Jersey's DEP taking a Rabbi to court.But as New Jersey reporter Brian Thompson tells us, the DEP is also under attack.
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What do you do when you discover a big pile of thousands of black plastic bags of Jewish religious items about to be buried in an unpermitted landfill?

If you are the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, you allow it to be buried and then, according to the contractor who did the work, you have to dig it all up again.

"Nobody said 'stop,'" Contractor Vincent Mettee told NBCNewYork about what the DEP now says is an illegal landfill he dug off Vermont Avenue in Lakewood.

Mettee did the job for a Rabbi he had worked with in the past, Chaim Abadi, who was unavailable for comment.

Abadi charged $15 a bag for the Shaimos items -- mostly religious texts that have to be buried by the end of Passover.

He and Mettee did the same thing in nearby Jackson Township in 2008, and Mettee claimed the DEP informally approved of their action, even after Jackson Police tried to stop them.

The DEP admits it is aware of the Jackson landfill, and in fact the agency is asking Ocean County Superior Court to order both illegal landfills to be dug up and their contents disposed of properly.

A spokesman won't comment on any informal approval its inspectors may have given at either site.

Mettee, however, showed a picture from the DEP's legal filing that has a man in a DEP windbreaker looking at the pile of bags before they were buried.

That, to him, is proof that he was told to bury it, since the DEP could have shut down his operation at that point.

All of this has concerned residents of Lakewood who couldn't believe the landfill was carved out of a large wooded area in the first place.

"To come out here and see this area turned into a dump was just shocking," said Chris Abrams who lives nearby.

Maybe a hundred yards away is a water well for New Jersey American Water Company.

And while a company spokesman had no comment, Lakewood open space Advocate Gerri Ballwanz did.

"How can they do this?" Ballwanz asked and then added "Don't they know American Water Company is here and this is the source of our drinking water?"

At least one religious leader in Lakewood seemed to criticize Abadi in an email to NBC New York.

"The individuals who have done Shaimos burial are private parties who are not sponsored, directed or affiliated with any community bodies or community groups," wrote Rabbi Aaron Kotler.

"A proper and full permitting process can and should take place prior to the establishment of any such site," he added. 

Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY

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