As deadline looms, lawmakers weigh extra time for contaminated site investigations

TRENTON – A Senate committee took up the problem Thursday of whether to grant extensions of time to complete remedial investigations at contaminated sites.

The Senate panel discussed but did not vote on a bill, S3075, that would allow the Department of Environmental Protection to grant an extension for the completion of a remedial investigation. 

Under a law that took effect May 7, 2009, responsible parties had five years to wrap up a remedial investigation.

If they don’t, then DEP can take over direct oversight.

With the 2014 deadline of five years looming, this bill would give an additional two years for an investigation before DEP would take over. The applicant would have to show “good cause” why the extension is warranted.

Committee members Sens. Bob Smith, (D-17), Piscataway, and Christopher Bateman, (R-16), Somerville, sponsored the bill that has backing of the business community.

But some environmental groups raised caution flags.

Jeff Tittel of the N.J. Sierra Club said that they support aspects of this bill but he reminded legislators that many affected residents have nowhere to turn for help.

He cited a situation that has dragged on for 20 years in which DEP has been trying to get South Jersey Gas to clean up a coal tar site in Atlantic County on which private residences sit.

“The people who own those properties have nowhere to go,’’ Tittel told the lawmakers.

Supporters included the N.J. Builders Association, N.J. Apartment Association, N.J. Business and Industry Association, and the N.J. Chamber of Commerce.

Hal Bozarth of the N.J. Chemistry Council pointed out the problems involved with the complexity of some cleanups and the sometimes conflicting bureaucracies of some agencies.

“Somebody needs to be the gate keeper as to who the good actors are,’’ he said. “Give the Department some discretion.’’

In addition, have DEP report regularly on progress in cleanups, he suggested.

However, Bill Wolfe of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility opposed the bill.  Thirty-seven years into the Spill Act program, some remedial investigations still have not been done, he testified. Now with the five-year deadline of 2014 approaching under the 2009 law, some entities want even more time.

“Hold their feet to the fire,’’ he asked the committee.

A4543, the companion, has not been through committee yet.

As deadline looms, lawmakers weigh extra time for contaminated site investigations