Clark Council passed a resolution on Tuesday night authorizing a letter to State Senators and Assemblymembers asking for their assistance in a massive lawsuit that Clark, Garwood and more than 80 other towns in New Jersey are facing.
Township Attorney Joseph Triarsi explained the suit to those in attendance on Tuesday. According to Triarsi, in 2005 the NJ Department of Environmental Protection filed a suit alleging that three companies involved in Newark’s Diamond Shamrock plant were responsible for polluting Newark Bay with cancer-causing dioxins and other chemicals.
The plant manufactured the defoliant Agent Orange from 1951 to 1969 during the Vietnam War. According to an NJDEP release, for more than two decades Occidental Chemical Corporation, its predecessors and others intentionally discharged dioxins and various other pesticides and chemicals into the Passaic River.
Dioxin concentrations in Passaic River fish and crabs are among the highest reported in the world and consumption of dioxin-contaminated crabs and fish greatly increases cancer risks, according to an NJDEP release. As a result, the state has been forced to impose fishing and crabbing bans in the river or Newark Bay for more than 25 years.
In 2005, the state directed three companies (Occidental Chemical Corporation, Maxus Energy Corporation and Tierra Solutions, Inc.) to pay $2.3 million to develop a plan to dredge contaminated sediments in a six-mile stretch of the Lower Passaic River, the first step in reducing dioxin contamination levels.
Triarsi says three years ago the defendants decided to broaden the scope of the litigation and claim that all the agencies, communities, corporations and businesses that discharge their sewerage into the Passaic River Basin are also responsible for cleanup. The countersuit also names the Passaic Valley Sewerage Authority and the Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority. Because Clark, Garwood and other Union County towns are part of the RVSA, those towns are doubly involved in the suit.
Affected municipalities in Union County formed a mutual defense fund to monitor the case and have asked that the judge processing the case reconsider the allocation of costs in continuing it. Presently, all defendants – regardless of whether they are individual municipalities or giant corporations – pay equally to fund the case. The judge, standing master Marina Corodemus, has a bill that costs $50K to $100K per month, according to Triarsi.
“We haven’t been very well received,” said Triarsi, “The standing master’s bill of $50 to $100K a month gets divided by all of the parties without regard to who she worked for or whose business she attended to. We have been in court three times to get a more fair allocation of these costs. Why should we, small municipalities, have to share an equal responsibility to the state than entity that is larger and better financed than we are?”
Additionally, Triarsi estimates that the case will go on for another five to 10 years and says municipalities have to anticipate the cost of the case and raise the funds to cover it. Triarsi says more than five million documents have been filed in the case and uncovering more is likely to cost Clark upwards of $100,000.
“Multiply that by every municipal entity and the question comes up, ‘Where is the money going to come from to do this?'” said Triarsi. “We are under a two percent cap. We’re struggling to get our employees paid, make our budget, without having this sort of Damocles hanging over our head….It’s something that’s going to cripple all of us unless someone steps in at some point in time and takes a hand at federal or state level, because municipalities cannot swing this. Even collectively we can’t do it.”
Mayor Bonaccorso asked Triarsi to reach out to the Governor, his aide Richard Bagger, Senator Tom Kean and others, but so far no one has responded to the plight, according to Triarsi. The council decided to take more formal action by having Triarsi draft a letter that will be sent to Senators Nicholas Scutari and Tom Kean and Assemblymembers Nancy Munoz, Jon Bramnick, Jerry Green and Linda Stender.
“What it seeks to do is enlist their aid and their support in some legislative solution or encourage the Governor or an executive to step in and do something to assist us,” said Triarsi.
The mayor is also reaching out to citizens in Clark to e-mail the Governor about this matter. He will be post a form letter and the Governor’s email address on OurClark.com next week.
“Everything rains down on the local government,” said Mayor Sal Bonaccorso. “We have to deal with this kind of nonsense and try to figure a way to get our community out of this as cheap as possible. We have to have higher intervention come in and help. We caretakers of your dollar are trying to take care of you and we’re spending money on frivolous, ridiculous litigation to this community....Newark Bay? Pull the plug, drain it and make it a parking lot as far as I’m concerned. Who cares?”
“We’re one of the fishes in the school that’s being driven along by the shark. In this case the shark is the state,” said Triarsi. “It’s a real boondoggle.”