Ringwood residents submit petition to force full cleanup of Superfund site

RINGWOOD — A group of residents submitted a petition to borough officials Friday that they hope will lead to the excavation of tons of toxic material from a portion of the Ford Superfund site.

The petition is the first step towards a likely borough-wide vote this November on whether the town should be barred from building a controversial recycling center on a mountain of pollution at the O’Connor Disposal Area off Peters Mine Road in Upper Ringwood.

Although the recycling center plan is almost three years old, the disclosure in February by The Record that a new harmful chemical – 1,4-dioxane — had been found in groundwater at the site spurred a group of residents into calling for 166,000 tons of polluted material at O’Connor to be hauled out of their town.

Related: Ringwood residents trying to finish petition on Ford Superfund site

The pollution dates back to the 1960s and 70s when Ford contractors dumped an ocean of toxic paint sludge in and around two long-abandoned mines and at O’Connor. Nearby residents, including many members of the Ramapough tribe, have said the pollution has led to illness and premature death.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s original cleanup plan called for O’Connor to be excavated, but the agency reversed course last year and approved a 2013 plan by the Borough Council to build a recycling center on top of a barrier covering mounds of pollution. Critics say the council and Ford came up with the recycling plan in 2013 to significantly reduce their cleanup costs, which dropped from $32.6 million for excavation to $5.4 million for capping. Ford has agreed to pay for the $1.2 million recycling center.

Although it is rarely used, Ringwood’s form of government allows residents to introduce ordinances without any action by the council.

On Friday, Borough Clerk Kelley Halewicz confirmed she had received the petition.

Organizers said 330 borough residents signed the petition. They said they needed at least 210 signatures based on voter turnout at the last Assembly election. They also submitted their own ordinance, which bars the borough from building the recycling center and seeks to have Ford assume all of the liability at O’Connor.
The borough clerk has 20 days to review the petition for significant flaws, said Lisa Chiang, a resident who has spearheaded the effort. It would likely then be up for a council vote at its Aug. 16 meeting.

Mayor John Speer, who has defended the recycling plan, declined to comment Friday because he had yet to read the petition.

Chiang expects the council to vote it down. The ordinance would then go on the November ballot for voter approval.

Along with the EPA and state Department of Environmental Protection, Speer has said he believes capping would protect residents from exposure to soil polluted with arsenic, lead, benzene and other harmful substances. He has also acknowledged that the borough’s liability drove the decision for a cheaper cleanup. Ringwood is responsible for a portion of the cleanup because officials almost a half century ago allowed Ford to dump in town.

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