VERNON, N.J. – State lawmakers representing Sussex County vowed Friday to take legislative action after a state agency failed to act against an unlicensed waste dump on private land in Vernon Township. The lawmakers said they were committed to working with local, state and federal elected officials to explore “any and all solutions,” including enforcement mechanisms.
“This landfill has evolved from an eyesore to a multi-acre threat to our health, welfare and property values,” said Assemblyman Parker Space. “We must get this neighborhood hazard under control immediately.”
Dump trucks loaded with dirt and construction debris have made deliveries to the property in a neighborhood of five homes since at least 2014. Nicknamed “waste mountain” by local residents, the sprawling pile now consumes two acres and rises seven stories tall.
Despite concerns by local residents, the state Department of Environmental Protection said that there was no need for the state to test the soil in an October letter to Rep. Josh Gottheimer.
“This waste dump continues to grow and we take the environmental concerns very seriously even if the DEP seems deaf to it,” said Assemblyman Hal Wirths. “Water tested by Vernon’s Environmental Commission was found to have elevated levels of lead. All New Jerseyans deserve clean and safe drinking water.”
Test results in August showed the water contained 78 parts per billion of lead. That’s more than five times higher than the federal drinking water standard, which is 15 parts per billion. Lead exposure can cause serious health problems – even in tiny amounts.
“The waste pile in Vernon presents a serious public safety issue for the whole community,” said Sen. Steve Oroho. “While we don’t know the severity of the waste that is being dumped there, we do know that the property owner has been convicted on multiple counts of illegal dumping in New York.”
Joseph Wallace, the property’s owner, pleaded guilty in 2017 to six counts of unlawful disposal of solid waste at six locations in Warwick, N.Y. He was also fined $75,000 by a Vernon municipal court judge in May for violating a local stop-work order issued in 2014. He is currently appealing that decision.
The three lawmakers also applauded Mayor Harry Shortway and a local citizens group for testifying at a state hearing in Trenton Thursday. The group spoke before the Senate Environment and Energy Committee as it considered legislation to close loopholes in the state’s solid waste regulatory and oversight system.
The bill (S1683) would expand background checks to include more people who work in the solid waste industry, such as salespeople and consultants. It would also ensure those engaging in soil and fill recycling services are held to the same regulatory standards as to those working in the solid waste sector.