Toms River Township and local environmental advocacy group Save Barnegat Bay announced Tuesday they had filed a formal appeal of the state’s decision to permanently settle environmental litigation against BASF, the German corporation that inherited the assets of the former Ciba-Geigy chemical plant in Toms River.
The administration of Gov. Phil Murphy, through the Department of Environmental Protection, announced just a day prior to an information session held by Save Barnegat Bay that it would make a token change to the value of damages assessed by the agency at the Superfund site off Oak Ridge Parkway in Toms River. But local leaders and environmentalists disputed the deal to drop litigation in favor of turning 1,000 acres of the site into a public park and increasing the fine of $100,000 to $500,000. Attorneys and experts hired as consultants to work on the appeal have said the true value of damages is worth in the “millions, if not billions” of dollars.
“SBB’s legal and environmental expert team, have determined the NJDEP failed to accurately quantify the damages done to the offsite environment of Ocean County in their settlement, including the damages done to the Toms River, Barnegat Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Kirkwood Cohansey Aquifer,” a statement issued by the township and SBB said.
Additionally, they argue the DEP “failed to provide any off-site restoration plans, choosing instead to only provide projects on the superfund site itself including a conservation easement, which is a violation of Toms River’s zoning law.”
A primary issue for local leaders is a lack of a victims’ compensation fund for victims directly affected by the environmental disaster, and repayments to the local municipalities affected by the environmental disaster to compensate for a loss of habitat, recreational opportunities, permanently-contaminated land and a deadly “cancer cluster” that plagued the community and its reputation for years – arguably to the present time.
BASF approached the state with settlement talks last year and regulators within the DEP ultimately approved of a plan to close out the decades-old case without ever contacting a local official, announcing the proposal shortly before Christmas and planning no public hearings on the matter. BASF, which had previously claimed the last on which the former chemical dye plant was worthless and collected $17.3 million from Toms River taxpayers in a tax appeal, would keep a profitable solar farm on the site, 250 acres that can be redeveloped for profit, and would turn over 1,000 contaminated acres to the state which would build a park with a boardwalk, trails and an educational center on top of the land.
At the SBB meeting the day after the final settlement agreement was announced by the state, Britta Forsberg, SBB’s director, said it was likely the matter would be litigated.
“I said that we would see you in court, and here we go,” she said Tuesday. “The DEPs decision to deny the towns of Ocean County stakeholder engagement in the selection of restoration projects, is a direct violation of what their department stands for.”
“The sweetheart deal that NJDEP made with BASF is woefully inadequate and does not compensate the people of Toms River and Ocean County for the damage that has been done to our environment by the corporate polluters,” said Toms River Mayor Maurice B. Hill, in the announcement. “We are fortunate that Save Barnegat Bay has stepped up to assemble a top notch team of legal and environmental experts to lead this fight and to finally get justice for the environmental destruction our community has endured for decades.”
Forsberg predicted a lengthy battle.
“This is just the beginning of what will be a long battle for justice for Toms River and the surrounding Ocean County towns and we are ready to go the distance and stand together with Toms River and Ocean County,” she said.
Shorebeat has requested a copy of the appeal and will follow up with a future story focusing on the complaint itself.