2010-01-21 / Front Page

Cleanup well under way at National Lead site

Court will hear motion to dismiss environmental groups’ lawsuit
Redevelopment of the former National Lead site has continued to progress despite a federal lawsuit filed in September against 11 entities involved with the project, dubbed Sayreville Seaport.

Remediation of the 70-acre waterfront section known as Parcel A is nearing completion, and approvals are now being sought from the state to begin cleaning up a second portion, known as Parcel C, according to Sayreville Economic Redevelopment Agency (SERA) attorney Mike Baker.

The work is continuing despite a federal lawsuit filed by the Edison Wetlands Association, the NY/NJ Baykeeper and Raritan Riverkeeper alleging that the parties involved with the redevelopment project have contributed to pollution of the Raritan River.

Defendants in the lawsuit include SERA, National Lead Industries, Middlesex County, the state Department of Transportation, Sayreville Seaport Associates, O’Neill Properties Group and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

The environmental groups said their goal is to stop the discharge of pollutants and sediments into the Raritan River, because these have posed dangers to human health and the environment.

But Baker said that instead of filing an answer to the charges, the defendants have filed a motion seeking to have the activists’ complaints dismissed, saying the suit is inappropriate. A federal judge will hear the motion on March 15.

“Everyone believes the lawsuit at this point is premature if not inappropriate,” Baker said. “The fact that the parcel is finally now in public hands and being redeveloped and is being rapidly and continuously processed for cleanup under state order and state authority, it’s very hard to make a case that the plaintiffs’ wish to make that no one is doing anything about cleaning up the site.”

The attorneys for the various defendants have been addressing the lawsuit, including holding telephone conferences among themselves and preparing briefs and motions, according to Baker.

But despite the suit, the project has continued to progress. Parcel A, which will be retained as open space, is in the process of being capped and remediated. Almost all soil has been brought on site, and the cleanup is more than halfway complete, Baker said.

When that work is completed, the planting of nearly 70,000 pieces of vegetation will commence in mid to late spring, Baker said. Vegetation includes trees, shrubs, native grasses and “all the appropriate things you’d want to see on a waterfront,” he said.

Approvals are being attained to begin cleanup work on Parcel C, the largest of the three National Lead sections. The parties conducted a remedial investigation, which was reviewed by the state Department of Environmental Protection, and are awaiting approval of a remedial action work plan. Baker said this might take a few more months. Once that plan is approved, Parcel C remediation can begin.

“They’ve made a lot of progress in just a little over a year,” Baker said.

The other section, Parcel B, located between the bridges for Route 35 and the Garden State Parkway, is the least environmentally troubling of the sites, Baker said, and will be the last to undergo remediation.

National Lead processed ilmenite ore with sulfuric acid to manufacture titanium dioxide pigments used in paint from 1935 to 1982. SERA took ownership of the site through eminent domain in 2005 and later selected O’Neill Properties Group as the redeveloper of the 400-plus acres.

O’Neill, which committed $110 million to the redevelopment project, including $82.75 million to purchase the land from SERA, has proposed 2,000 residences, a marina, a performing arts center, offices, retail space and over 1.1 million square feet for a hotel and convention center.

At the borough’s Jan. 4 reorganization meeting, Mayor Kennedy O’Brien said the land is finally being cleaned up, and he expects O’Neill to break ground on the construction this year.

“The redevelopment of this property will undoubtedly stabilize the property tax burden our residents face, create jobs, and present a source of pride and family enjoyment for Sayreville residents and visitors,” O’Brien said.

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