Railside Waste Transfer Brought Under State and Local Rules

TRENTON, New Jersey, October 21, 2008 (ENS) - After a four year legal battle, operators of five railside waste transfer facilities in North Bergen have agreed to follow state solid waste and local health rules under a settlement approved today by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

The operators have agreed to pay $1 million to the state of New Jersey and refund another $1 million to the City of North Bergen that had been held in escrow.

The railside waste transfer stations accepted tons of trash daily at open dumps near homes, businesses, motels and restaurants without safety equipment or pollution controls, while railroad officials claimed that federal transportation laws exempted solid waste transfer on their properties from local and state rules.

The Meadowlands encompass a large ecosystem of wetlands in northeast New Jersey stretching along the mouths of the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers as they flow into Newark Bay. Within sight of Manhattan, they are known for being the site of large landfills and decades of environmental abuse, now reversed in many places by the work of the Meadowlands Commission.

"We cannot return to the dark ages of illegal dumping in the Meadowlands, when waste fires smoldered and unknown chemicals oozed into our fragile ecosystem. This is the 21st century, and all businesses need to operate in a safe, environmentally sound manner," said Robert Ceberio, executive director of the commission.

The Meadowlands Commission got another break on Thursday when President George W. Bush signed legislation that included language from the "Clean Railroads Act of 2008," requiring solid waste facilities along railroad tracks to meet state and local guidelines for environmental protection, health and safety.

The battle to regulate these five North Jersey facilities became a nationwide issue when six other states filed briefs to support New Jersey’s legal challenge to the railroad’s activities.

The fight began in 2004, when the commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection first tried to regulate five open-air dumps operating with no safety or environmental protections within a two-mile stretch of North Bergen alongside the tracks.

The state called on the operators to install fire-suppression systems and other safety equipment, along with pollution controls, and fined five facilities $2.5 million for environmental violations.

Officials with the New York Susquehanna & Western Railway Corp. argued in court that federal transportation laws exempted solid waste transfer on their company's properties from local and state controls.

"This settlement puts a stop to those unacceptable practices and gives us the tools to ensure residents, workers and first responders are protected from fire hazards, pollution and other dangers, said Joseph V. Doria, Jr., Department of Community Affairs commissioner and chairman of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

"These facilities cannot operate outside of the law, without sprinkler systems or, in some cases, marked safety exits," he said.

Governor Jon Corzine praised members of New Jersey’s federal delegation along with state officials for their success in getting the legislation enacted. "For residents and workers in New Jersey and around the nation, this is an enormous victory," said the governor, who introduced the legislation with U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey when they both served in the Senate.

"This legislation clarifies a federal law that operators have exploited in order to accept thousands of tons of trash daily at open dumps near homes, businesses, motels and restaurants," said the governor.

"More importantly, thanks to a cooperative effort of local, state and federal officials, our citizens and our communities are now protected from those who seek to evade oversight and regulation," he said.

The legislation to require compliance of solid waste facilities operating along railroad tracks was sponsored by Senators Lautenberg and Robert Menendez and U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone, all Democrats.

"Senator Lautenberg and New Jersey's congressional team have shown tremendous leadership in crafting this legislation, which gives the DEP the authority to ensure rail waste-transfer stations are held to the same tough environmental standards as all solid waste facilities," said DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson.

"Our focus from the start has been to work with the Meadowlands Commission to protect the safety of our residents and the environmental integrity of the region," says North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco. "To see these facilities now meeting DEP standards is an enormous step forward from where we were just a few years ago."

{Photo: Rail lift bridge over the Hackensack River, photo credit unknown}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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