Assembly Dems, Sierra Club want better Sandy debris removal oversight

TRENTON – Environmentalists and lawmakers want increased oversight of debris removal in the wake of Superstorm Sandy as well as answers regarding the hiring of the company that will perform the work.

The Sierra Club, along with Assembly members Peter Barnes III, Ruben Ramos and Reed Gusciora, called Thursday for a series of measures that will include Friday’s joint legislative oversight hearing into Sandy clean-up.

AshBritt, hired by New Jersey for debris removal, also was hired for Hurricane Katrina clean-up, and according to the Sierra Club, did not do a good job.

A General Accountability Office report found that disposal of Katrina waste by the states led to the creation of two new Superfund sites in New Orleans, the Sierra Club stated.

“Those governments hired AshBritt in no bid contracts and were criticized in the GAO report for their failure to oversee the company’s activities.  The same techniques and procedures used for waste disposal in the Gulf Coast are happening here in New Jersey,” the Sierra Club said in a release.

Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club said that in Louisiana there was no bidding, no due diligence, environmental rules were waived due to the emergency, the company moved piles around, and the government oversight was missing, conditions he said are being repeated here.

“We shouldn’t make disasters worse,’’ he said.

Ramos, the Assembly chair of Friday’s hearing, said that everyone understands the nature of emergencies, but questions need to be answered regarding AshBritt.

New Jersey “piggybacked’’ on a Connecticut pact with AshBritt, and the administration consistently disputes critics’ contention that it was a no-bid contract.

Barnes said he is introducing today a bill to create a New Jersey Coastal Commission composed of 19 experts and four advisory panels that will have some oversight control regarding zoning and planning, and having uniform codes for towns to adhere to.

Home rule has to give way to a regional solution in the case of Sandy, according to Barnes, who said that this Coastal Commission proposal originated years ago with former Gov. Thomas Kean.

“Unless you have a real solid clean-up nothing else really matters,’’ Barnes said.

Tittel pointed out that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will not reimburse states if proper debris removal practices were not followed.

He said that so far about 6.5 million tons of debris have been collected, but there are legitimate concerns regarding whether liners were used, whether tests were done, and why the process in New Jersey is not as transparent as in New York.

It could not be determined immediately who is expected to testify at Friday’s hearing. 

Assembly Dems, Sierra Club want better Sandy debris removal oversight