State sues Morris County landfill, alleging fraud, misappropriation of millions

TRENTON – The controversial Morris County landfill that was the subject of committee hearings and a state takeover has been sued by the state.

The Attorney General filed suit Tuesday against Fenimore Landfill in Roxbury, alleging it defraud the Department of Environmental Protection, misappropriated millions of dollars in landfill tipping fees and created a public nuisance.

The AG’s office filed the suit in Superior Court in Morris County. Named as defendants are Strategic Environmental Partners, LLC, as well as husband-and-wife Richard and Marilyn Bernardi of Millstone, Monmouth County.

According to the suit, the Bernardis did not disclose $2.5 million in corporate and personal debt and gained approval for a solar development project.

The suit alleges they misappropriated from $1.26 million to $3.4 million in tipping fees that were supposed to be placed into escrow as a condition of obtaining DEP approval on the solar project.

This lawsuit follows on the heels of a suit brought in August by the landfill owners against DEP, Roxbury officials, and Sen. Anthony Bucco.

According to the state’s complaints, “pungent “rotten egg” odors emanating from the landfill around-the-clock spawned more than 2,500 complaints to the Roxbury Township Health Department during the six-month period between December 2012 and June of this year.”

“The irresponsible, unlawful actions of these defendants not only have cost the state a significant amount of money and fouled our environment in a general sense, they have exposed an entire community, including many school children, to noxious odors that are extremely unpleasant to live with and have the potential to make people feel ill,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman in a release announcing the suit.  

“The time for talk and excuses is past. The citizens of New Jersey, and especially the residents of Roxbury Township, deserve better, and that is why we’ve taken this aggressive legal action on behalf of the state today.”

The roughly 60-acre landfill operated from the 1950s to the late 1970s when its former owners abandoned it without proper closing, the AG’s office reported.

The Bernardis took over and planned for a solar array by raising the landfill’s elevation, the state said in the lawsuit.

They proposed to import 1.2 million cubic yards of fill, which would consist mostly of crushed construction and demolition debris regulated by DEP as recyclable material, the suit stated.

DEP approved the plan contingent on the Bernardis’ representation of their financial solvency and ability to pay for the closing and capping of the landfill, the suit claims. It was not until after DEP approved an Administrative Consent Order and Post-Closure Plan that the Bernardis disclosed their substantial debt, the state said in the suit.

The AG’s office said today that DEP has issued 12 Administrative Orders and Notices of Civil Penalty Assessment (totaling $898,000 in administrative penalties) to the Bernardis for violating the New Jersey Pollution Control Act between December of 2012 and June 2013. The company also has been found guilty in Roxbury Township Municipal Court of 26 separate violations of local ordinance for causing a public health nuisance.

The landfill was essentially targeted in legislation that became law this year mandating proper closure of so-called “legacy’’ landfills such as Fenimore.  As soon as the bill was signed into law this summer, DEP officials went to the landfill and took over there to ensure procedures were followed, DEP said at the time.

This complaint filed today seeks $4.41 million in civil penalties as well as injunctive relief.

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Landfill owners sue Roxbury, DEP, lawmaker

State sues Morris County landfill, alleging fraud, misappropriation of millions