An expert testifying on behalf of Bernards Township said publicly that a plan for bringing soil into the Millington Quarry transform the quarry site into usable land someday will make sure that soil is uncontaminated and safe for the public — as long as the plan is followed.
The testimony came from Jennifer Wollenberg, a professional environmental consultant specializing in risk assessment, at Tuesday's meeting — and her comments were followed by those from a citizens' version of an expert, who disagreed with at least some of her conclusions.
Jeffrey Cappola, who also is a resident, said that in his years of working closely with redevelopment projects in New Jersey, soil importation plans are unlikely to be followed without mistakes — deliberate or otherwise — which he said could allow more contaminated soil to be brought into the quarry property on Stone House Road. How to isolate soil containing contaminants, brought in as quarry fill around 2007-08, has been a key issue during the hearings that began last November.
Cappola said it is a "regular occurrence" on the job sites where he has worked, mostly industrial redevelopment projects in eastern New Jersey, for contaminated soil to slip by inspectors, despite ever stricter "protocols" to try to govern the quality and source of construction fill.
He advised the board to require the quarry owners to pay for any fill brought to the quarry to try to avoid receiving "dirty dirt" that other sites are trying to get rid of quickly. Another alternative might be to accept fill from other quarries, which Cappola said might be considered "virgin" material from the earth.
During the three hours before Cappola approached the board, Wollenberg had testified before the board and public, "I think we have a good plan in place — as long as the plan is followed." The plan calls for soil to be certified at the source as to its origin and whether it meets state guidelines for being considered safe. An inspector to be hired by the quarry would then give a visual inspection before the soil can be delivered to a section of the 190-acre property that may someday support homes.
Wollenberg said the "testing protocol" drawn up in conjuction with a consultant for the quarry calls for certification of soil quality at the source, and a visual inspection of fill delivered to the quarry site.
She said that testing requirements would be stricter at sites that may be suspected or shown to have had contamination in soil on part of that location. But she suggested that just because one small portion of a property may be classified as contaminated, other sections of such sites may be clean.
And Wollenberg said that during her years of serving as a expert, the kind of properties that are classified as having less potential for contamination, including residential and agricultural tracts, may be sullied with heating oil or other contaminants. She estimated that 75 percent of agricultural tracts contain soils with pestides or other chemicals.
An attorney for Millington Quarry, Michael Lavigne, said that during the many months of hearings, the township planners had held to a high standard of professionalism for those presented as experts, who had examined reports from the quarry's own professionals.
But Lavigne hotly contested Cappola's qualifications of Cappola to give testimony before the board in the capacity of a "soils importation" expert. To begin with, Lavigne insisted that Cappola fails the legal requirement that he be a "neutral" expert, and noted that as a resident, Cappola had earlier that night questioned Wollenberg's testimony.
Cappola said he has been trained as attorney, but has many years of experience working with the redevelopment of properties that has required that fill be brought in to prepare those tracts for further development.
Cappola acknowledged that most — but not all of the sites were "brownfields" development, meaning that standards were more lax for soil quality because the properties accepting soil already had contamination left over from previous industrial or similar use.
But Cappola said that even sites seeking clean fill, with stricter standards, could be subject to having contaminated come in, one way or the other. In one instance, at a smaller site, "We didn't realize it [fill] was contaminated until there were green puddles on the site after it rained," he said.
Lavigne insisted that the quarry does not want to receive any more contaminated soil, since soil which arrived in previous years with arsenic, some pesticides and standard asphalt materials has led to a lawsuit from the town, issues with the state and other costs.
Cappola countered that for some companies, accepting contaminated or potentially contaminated soil — for a fee — can be a source of revenue.
Cappola was introduced to the board at the start of a public comment section on the proposed quarry rehabilitation plan, which has followed a course of testimony from many witnesses for both sides since
He was presented by a quarry neighbor, Carol Bianchi, who said that state law allows residents to present experts with qualifications on a multiple basis, that includes extensive, real-world experience in a field.
"He's certainly not neutral," noted Attorney Stuart Koenig, who represents the planning board.
The board voted 5-2 to accept Cappola's qualifications as a witness, although leaving open the question of how much his testimony would be given weight.
Following the meeting, Cappola noted that his input also can be considered as public comment from a resident, even aside from whether he might be ruled as an expert witness. During the hearing, he said he is not being paid as an expert.
Hearing scheduled to continue on Aug. 21
Lavigne, the quarry's attorney, reserves the right to question Cappola, and potentially to challenge his status before the board as an expert witness, at the next board meeting when the quarry hearing is set to continue. The continuation of the public hearing on the application was set for 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 31 in the main court and meeting room at the township municipal building at 1 Collyer Lane.
The quarry by ordinance is required to submit a rehabilitation plan, which would require specific plans for how quarried areas would be filled in with soil or other materials.
The need to bring in soil to begin filling in quarried areas opened the door for soil and fill to be brought into the quarry around 2007-08 that later was tested as contaminated, following inspections by the township.
Wollenberg said on Tuesday that the plan as proposed would not prevent the township from conducting testing or inspections in addition to the quarry's oversight.
The procedure proposed also would allow the township to object to soils from sources, although it was unclear how — and how long — municipal officials would be able to hold up a delivery of fill deemed to be unsatisfactory.
However, some township officials, and Lavigne himself, said the onus and expense of testing should be the quarry's responsibility.
On some issues, Wollenberg declined to offer her endorsement for suggestions from the board or public.
For example, Bianchi, in questioning Wollenberg, asked whether soil and fill sources could be limited to New Jersey, especially since the plan for soil certification is based on New Jersey guidelines for soil quality.
Wollenberg said there would be no legal or professional justification for setting that limitation.
Bianchi the noted the soil could come from places such as Staten Island and the Bronx in New York.
She maintained that corruption remains an issue in the reliability of whether the protections outlined in the proposed soil importation plan are actually followed. Bianchi also suggested Cappola could offer expert testimony on that subject from his years on the job.
That prompted an objection from Lavigne, and Cappola said he considered himself to be finished with his testimony, subject to further questioning from the board and quarry representatives.