The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is investigating the dumping of construction waste into local sewers by the chief contractor on the trouble-plagued rehabilitation of the Pulaski Skyway connecting Newark to Jersey City. The state agency, however, is not ready to release the findings of its probe.
Meanwhile, municipal officials in Newark and in Kearny, where the affected sewers are located, are asking for assurances that the state Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the long-delayed, $1 billion construction project, is taking steps to ensure against damage to the environment and threats to health.
“The town and the KMUA”–Kearny Municipal Utilities Authority–“are always concerned with illicit connections and illegal dumping into sanitary and storm sewers,” said Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos.
In Newark, City Hall spokesman Frank Baraff said: “We regard any pollution of the Passaic River as a serious health and environmental problem.”
Baraff said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was not informed of the dumping of construction waste into sewers draining into the Passaic until this site notified municipal officials.
The “improper dumping” of construction waste was first reported here May 20 with the publication of a letter from the state Department of Transportation accusing China Construction America of pumping concrete waste in a storm sewer underneath the skyway, just outside the contractor’s local headquarters.
“The improper dumping of cementious materials is a violation of State and federal laws pertaining to the disposal of concrete waste and will not be tolerated on this project,” wrote David Hawes, a resident engineer on the project, in a letter to a representative of the contractor, China Construction America-Civil (CCA).
The company has not yet responded to inquiries about Hawes letter.
Hawes told the company–a subsidiary of a larger company that is majority owned by the Chinese government–that it must stop work at the site. He also said the company would not be paid until it completed remediation of all problems caused by the dumping. Hawes ordered the company to notify, and work with, municipalities and other government agencies in correcting problems caused by the dumping.
State agencies have been reluctant to discuss what happened earlier in May at the site. Lawrence Hajna, a press officer for the state DEP, reported: “Yes, we are aware of this and are looking into it. Nothing else to release yet until our inspectors are done.”
Stephen Schapiro, a spokesman for the state DOT, repeated much of what was in Dawes letter but would not provide any information on whether CCA complied with all the demands in the Hawes letter.
Santos said he expects the state will “fully inspect the storm system from the catch basis where the material entered to the point of discharge.”
The KMUA, he said, will have supervisory powers over the efforts by the contractor, the China Construction America, to remediate the problem. Santos also said he expects the state to “have the entire storm sewer televised” to ensure that “the entire sewer line and the discharge point have not been compromised or blocked.”
The discharge point is the Passaic River.
Santos also said the KMUA wants assurances that the concrete waste “is the only material washed into the storm sewer and see if there is any indication of buildup within the swere or at the point of discharge.”
In Newark, Baraff said the city would contact the federal Environmental Protection Agency about the problem.
“We anxiously await the results of the state DEP investigation,” said Baraff. “The health and safety of people is our primary concern. It is better to have a delay in reconstruction of the skyway then to damage the health and safety of people.”
A spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is paying for the construction, referred all questions to the state Department of Transportation.
The dumping occurred in a much larger context of political controversies swirling around New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s use of his power over the port authority. While most of the attention has been paid to the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal–in which state and port authority officials allegedly arranged for massive traffic delays on approaches or the George Washington Bridge for political reasons–the Pulaski Skyway rehabilitation project also has raised questions.
Instead of using state highway funds to rebuilding the 3.5 mile bridge, Christie persuaded the port authority board to fund the reconstruction on the pretense that it was an access road to the Lincoln Tunnel, a port authority crossing. The money came from $3 billion the port authority had amassed to build a trans-Hudson rail tunnel, a project Christie subsequently vetoed.