TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) of West Deptford, requiring companies to clean up contaminated sites by setting aside a portion of their property tax refunds toward remediation.
Sweeney sponsored bill S1460, which would direct property tax refunds awarded to industrial plants to go directly to the Department of Environmental Protection if it has been ordered by state or federal governments to remediate the site. The bill states that any money left over after the cleanup is complete will be returned to the owner of the property. The law also authorizes a municipality to assess an annual charge on the owner of the contaminated property to cover remediation costs.
The bill was inspired by the now-shuttered Sunoco Coastal Eagle Point Refinery in West Deptford, which Sweeney said had not been moving quickly enough in its cleanup efforts.
“For too long, New Jersey was seen as a toxic dumping ground by corporations who ceased operations, went bankrupt or otherwise abandoned New Jersey,” Sweeney said in a statement Tuesday. “We have tried with some success to force these companies to clean up the mess they left, but it is nowhere near enough. This law holds such corporations, like Sunoco, accountable for their environmental responsibilities.”
In West Deptford, Sunoco ran a refinery until it shut down in 2009, laying off some 500 workers. After a recent settlement of Sunoco’s tax appeals, West Deptford could owe more than $30 million in overpaid taxes on the property. West Deptford has already sought approval to bond to be able to make the payment, according to Sweeney.
Remediation work at the Sunoco refinery has been ongoing. There are more than 350 monitoring wells for groundwater contamination and other wells to prevent off-site migration of the contamination. The company is also operating 18 remediation wells at the site.
Officials from Sunoco were not immediately available for comment.