2009-08-06 / Front Page

Cleanup of contaminated sites at fort raises concerns

Army defends plan, which locals say is 'backwards'
BY DANIEL HOWLEY Staff Writer

The remediation of contaminated sites at Fort Monmouth is under fire by local officials who fear they will be left to pick up the tab when the U.S. Army vacates the installation.

A map showing contaminated sites at Fort Monmouth prepared by EDAW, Inc. A map showing contaminated sites at Fort Monmouth prepared by EDAW, Inc. The Army has identified 43 Installation Restoration Program (IRP) sites, or sites that were or are in need of remediation due to contamination, at Fort Monmouth.

Of those 43 sites, 26 are now considered to require no further action; 17 of the sites are still active and require further remediation.

Contaminants at the sites vary by type of material and degree of contamination.

According to Edward Delugosz, chairman of the Eatontown Environmental Advisory Committee, the landfills contain a variety of building materials, including asbestos and other carcinogenic substances.

Delugosz and Borough Council President John Schiels are questioning the effectiveness of the Army's efforts to cap the fort's nine landfills and prevent them from leaching into the various waterways that flow through the property.

According to Delugosz, the Army's current plan will not fully cover the landfills and will allow them to leach into the waterways over time.

Currently the Army's plan involves stabilizing the banks of the waterways that run next to the landfills by installing what is commonly known as rip wrap, or porous textile sheet covered with large stones. With the rip wrap in place, the banks will be protected from water erosion.

After the rip wrap is installed, the Army is expected to place a cap over the landfills themselves.

According to Joseph Fallon, chief of the environmental division at Fort Monmouth, the Army's plan will work well.

"The purpose of the stabilization is to secure the banks so that the waste deposits within the landfill over time do not become exposed through the process of erosion," Fallon said, "that they remain in the banks, that the banks are stable and the municipal waste that's in them stays where it is, that it doesn't become exposed, and that it doesn't become a problem for the Army or future owners."

But according to Delugosz, the Army's approach is backwards and will do little to prevent any seepage of contaminants from the landfills into the waterways.

"The bottom line is what they are doing is putting in the rip wrap as stabilization and then they are going to cap," Delugosz said last week.

"It should have been done the other way around. It should have been done as a one-two punch, because once you cap it, then you put the rip wrap to make it stable.

"What they are doing is essentially going to stabilize the bank, and that's a good thing. But by capping it afterwards, they are not going to shield the side, because really they are not doing any lining of the contaminants at the stream banks. All they are putting is a textile base that is porous that will allow the contaminants to continue to leach out into the stream," Delugosz said.

"By doing it the wrong way, first they won't fully cap the landfill, and there will be this interface between the landfill and the stream with just rock, big rocks, with big gaps between, and it will continue to leach," he said.

According to Delugosz, the ideal way to protect the waterways would be to cap the landfill and then stabilize the stream bank.

An environmental activist, Delugosz has been seeking to have the streambeds stabilized for more than two years to prevent any material from seeping out of the landfills.

"They originally said they weren't going to cap it. They weren't going to stabilize the streams more than they already had," Delugosz said.

It wasn't until after Schiels joined the fight that Delugosz said the Army began to take action on the matter.

After discussions about the environmental situation at the fort with Delugosz and the borough's environmental committee, Schiels requested that the borough's engineering firm, Birdsall Engineering, look into the Army's proposed capping and stabilization plan.

Schiels said Birdsall, like Delugosz, has also called on the Army to first cap the landfill and then stabilize the stream banks.

"According to Birdsall, they would have preferred to see the cap put on and the stream bank stabilized so it's done in one section," Schiels said during a July 22 Borough Council meeting.

"As they're doing it now, they are stabilizing the landfill bank, then they are putting the cap, then they have to re-stabilize the bank."

During the meeting, Schiels also discussed the fact that the landfills have been designated as green space in the Fort Monmouth reuse plan, and according to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection DEP) guidelines, the sites do not need to be as heavily remediated as they would have to be if they were designated for residential use.

Schiels went on to question the future of the fort property and what entity would be responsible for environmental cleanup efforts when the Army leaves.

"It seems like the fort absolves themselves of some liabilities when they leave, and there is going to be, I believe, situations in the future [that are] going to lead to a lot of expense on the borough's side and the question of who is maintaining and who is monitoring the fort," Schiels said.

"Right now there [are] 22 people doing that. Some of them will be leaving in 2011, some won't be leaving until 2017, but after that, they don't know. So these are areas, I think, of concern in the future," Schiels said.

Despite Schiels' and Delugosz's concerns, Fallon maintains that contamination at the fort is not considered a risk to human health.

"I would categorize the contaminant levels as low at all of our landfills, and the DEP concurs with that," Fallon said.

Currently the fort is preparing a study for submission to the DEP that will look at the impact the fort has had on the local environment. According to Fallon, the study should show that the fort has not had an overall negative effect on the region's environment.

"Based on my experience and knowledge, we have not had a significant impact on the ecology of the area," Fallon said. "You have to keep in mind that this general area, not only Fort Monmouth, is very developed," Fallon said.

"Anything upgrade will come through our property. But we don't have any significant critical environmental habitat or threatened an endangered species at the federal level on the property," he added.

According to Fallon, there are currently no contaminants seeping out of the landfill, so the fear that the capping and stabilization plan will allow liquids to contaminate the local waterways is baseless.

"There are not liquids emanating from the sides of the banks. If you look at the banks at low tide, water is not emanating out of the banks," Fallon said.

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