TRENTON – State officials are taking legal action to force the closure of an unauthorized solid waste dumping operation in Ocean County.
On August 5, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced that the state has filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court against the facility located in Plumsted Township.
In the lawsuit, the DEP alleges that Sam S. Russo and two companies under his control are operating an illegal solid waste disposal facility on a 94-acre property Russo owns in Plumsted Township.
According to the lawsuit, from April 2018 through April 2019, Russo illegally accepted thousands of tons of woodchips, asphalt millings, crushed concrete and other materials onto his property in exchange for more than $300,000 in disposal fees. But Russo and his companies did so without the legally required solid waste and water pollution discharge permits, and in violation of a prior DEP order.
According to the DEP, the unpermitted solid waste facility threatens the local environment and the contaminated runoff from the dump site poses a risk to nearby ground and surface waters. According to the complaint, the DEP suspects that pollutants from Russo’s illegal operation were discharged into a stream on the property and killed hundreds of local fish and aquatic plants in a downstream pond on two separate occasions in 2018.
“In running this unpermitted dumping operation, the defendants put profits over the rule of law,” said Attorney General Grewal. “And in the process, they put the state’s precious natural resources at risk, which is why we’re taking action today to shut down this operation. We’re dropping the hammer on this site and others just like it – not only requiring the operators to fully clean up their mess, but also seeking all available penalties in court. We have zero tolerance for such lawbreaking.”
“Mr. Russo has been willfully profiting at the expense of his neighbors and New Jersey’s environment. I am pleased to join with the Attorney General in taking action to stop his illegal activity,” said New Jersey DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe. “Preventing unpermitted dumping of waste is an important part of cleaner, safer environments and requires a team effort between communities and local and state agencies. I am glad that, together, we can bring this harmful profiteering to a halt.”
According to the complaint, the DEP entered a final order directing Russo to obtain pollution discharge permits for his disposal activities in May of 2017. Later that year, Russo also signed a settlement agreement with DEP in which he agreed to apply for a pollution discharge permit. Despite this, Russo failed to ever obtain these permits and continued with the illegal disposal.
The Attorney General’s office noted that, in the one-year period spanning April 2018 through April 2019, at least 1,719 dump truck loads of dirt totaling between 34,000 and 42,000 tons; 234 loads of food waste totaling between 1,100 and 1,600 tons; 300 dump truck loads of asphalt millings; 444 loads of grass clippings; 302 loads of leaves; 229 loads of woodchips and 25 loads of concrete were all dumped at his property.
The lawsuit alleges violations of New Jersey’s Water Pollution Control and Solid Waste Management Acts and the 2017 DEP Final Order directing Russo to obtain required pollution discharge permits and the settlement Russo entered into with the State agreeing to apply for such discharge permits.
The state seeks to block further dumping on Russo’s property; preliminary relief to immediately prevent further dumping while the case remains ongoing; a court order requiring that Russo and his companies remove all the buried and stockpiled solid waste and recyclable materials from where they are improperly kept on the property to an approved solid waste facility; as well as an order requiring Russo to pay statutory and stipulated penalties, disgorgement of any economic benefits he has accrued through his illegal activities, and reimbursement of the State’s investigative costs.
The complaint also seeks authority for DEP to enter the property to conduct further site inspections, and to require that Russo produce all relevant records regarding his operation.