By Michael Hill
High school teacher Lisa Chiang hopes to give her Ringwood Borough Council a lesson in civic activism.
“I have seen people mobilized on this so much more quickly than in any other way,” she said.
Chiang is spearheading a petition drive to collect about 210 signatures to stop the borough’s plan to build a recycling center on top of the O’Connor Disposal Area. For years, the Ford Motor Company had dumped tons of paint sludge here from its former Mahwah plant.
“The toxic waste was never adequately dealt with in the first place and we believe that capping it is only going to exacerbate that problem it’s a short-term solution for what is really a long-term problem,” Chiang said.
This week, the borough council tried to assure residents that the more than 200 tons of paint sludge had been excavated and the danger is gone.
“There’s been more than 15 rounds of sample conducted and in all that sampling nothing related to the materials we see in the fill have ever shown up in ground water,” said Lawra Dodge of Excel Environmental.
“We’ll come up with a remedy that works for all the residents. As new information and evidence becomes available to us we’ll continue to look at the information with an open mind and always have the best interests for the residents,” said Ringwood Borough Manager Scott Heck.
“We need to be fighting harder to make sure that these are appropriately taken care of ,” Chiang said.
Ringwood’s O’Connor and two mines are the only Superfund sites in America listed, de-listed and relisted in because assurances of a cleanup proved dead wrong.
For O’Connor, the EPA recommended Ford excavate some 166,000 tons of soil and re-forest the area which the town said would create months and months of turmoil and truck traffic. The council’s proposal: put a permeable cap on O’Connor and build a recycling center. Ford would pay millions for both, but at a fraction of digging it up the dirt and disposing of it.
Congressman Scott Garrett has urged the EPA to re-evaluate.
“My position on this is to say we just want to make sure that everyone has all the information necessary,” he said.
The EPA responded: “… (the) remedy for cleanup of the OCDA (O’Connor Disposal Area) will not only be protective of human health and the environment, but is also consistent with the EPA’s policy of implementing cleanup actions which do not create barriers for viable reuse….”
Chiang says her fight is with the borough council. This summer, she’ll take written petition signatures to the same members who voted to cap O’Connor and try to get them to reverse their decision.
“But really I think if the council doesn’t reverse its own decision and this is going to the ballot in November, it may be our only chance to really put up our fight,” she said.
And what a fight it is. Chiang’s petition drive already has nearly three times the signatures it needs to challenge city hall.