Freeholder Fantasia puts heat on DEP for Vernon dump

At Monday night’s meeting about the Vernon dump (aka the Wallace dump), DEP officials – led by Commissioner Catherine McCabe – were consistent in only their inconsistencies and assumptions about the “benign” nature of the problem.  On DEP official (Mr. Hastry) used the phrase “to tell you the truth” no less than four times.  

Commissioner McCabe, an appointee of Governor Phil Murphy, stood by as her underling (Hastry) tried to convince the residents that “all is well.”  Sussex County Freeholder Dawn Fantasia was having none of it.  In addition to the exchange reported by Eric Obernauer in the New Jersey Herald (Mr. Obernauer has been doing an excellent job covering the Wallace dump), Freeholder Fantasia laid down a verbal beating to the DEP bureaucrats.  Some of the points made by Freeholder Fantasia appear below: 

“You first stated that eight samples were taken from the perimeter of the pile, about 3ft deep in; four samples tested clean, and four tested positive for contaminants.  Then, you referenced five samples you took, not eight as discussed in the premeeting for elected officials?  You then made the assumption that if you were to test a hundred samples, your best guess is that 50 would come out clean and 50 would come out contaminant-free based upon that one sampling...”

“The Commissioner stated that the first time the DEP was notified of this problem was 2014, but we heard Peg DeStasi confirm that she has been reaching out to the DEP for 11 years.”

“You mentioned that the vehicles your (DEP) staff drive are not fast enough to follow a truck to determine its point of origin. Well, your staff must be still driving around in Yugos from 1986, right about when the DEP had the stellar idea to transport radon-contaminated dirt up to Sussex County.”

“You stated that most of the dirt in this pile came from residential properties, and does not contain hazardous industrial waste, but allow me to remind you that that's a cold comfort to the people in this room, because that radon dirt in 1986 was coming from underneath residential homes in Essex County.  You are making assumptions, but you have no idea what type of chemicals are in that pile. You are downplaying the danger. The debris has lead, painted brick and cinderblock, and that all leaches into the water.”  

“The time for platitudes and pretty words is over. The time for crisis communication is over. I understand you have to dot your ‘I’s and cross your ‘T’s from a legal standpoint with the courts, but the people in this room need to hear about a concrete plan. What is your plan to remediate this?” 

Unfortunately, the DEP bureaucrats had little to say. They really didn’t respond in any substantial way, just head nodding, plastic smiles, deer-in-headlights looks.   Freeholder Fantasia added:  “This was a slap in the face to the entire community. I am thoroughly disgusted by the way the DEP downplayed and minimized the risks to the people of Vernon.”

To read Eric Obernauer’s coverage of the meeting, visit the link below:

https://www.njherald.com/20190522/dep-chiefs-visit-to-vernon-fails-to-quell-anger