USR Officials: Stop-Work Order Report Is Wrong, Muddy Water Isn't Tainted

UPPER SADDLE RIVER, N.J. -- Upper Saddle River Mayor Joanne Minichetti said Wednesday that a report of a stop-work order being issued by a county or state agency against pumping muddy water into a nearby stream from a site slated for dozens of luxury homes in Upper Saddle River and Mahwah was incorrect.

The pumping of muddy water into Pleasant Brook was legitimate, Upper Saddle River officials said Wednesday.
The pumping of muddy water into Pleasant Brook was legitimate, Upper Saddle River officials said Wednesday. Photo Credit: Derek Michalski

She also provided documentation from the borough director of code enforcement and the engineer for the project that the pumping was done properly and that all necessary measures were being taken to protect the environment.

Daily Voice on Tuesday night reported a text sent by a state official to resident Derek Michalski, who posted videos last week of the pumping operation at the former Apple Ridge Country Club site, where dozens of luxury homes are being built in Upper Saddle River and Mahwah.

In the text, Kerry Pflugh, director of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Local Government Assistance, says that a stop-work order had been issued in response to residents' concerns about possible contamination in the runoff.

"The only work they are allowed to conduct is securing the site so further run off would be prevented," Pflugh wrote.

Minichetti responded Wednesday morning with an email to Daily Voice that read: 


The mayor attached several correspondences as proof (links to all are below).

Kevin Boswell, the project engineer, wrote that "the pumping operations ceased at 9:30 a.m. on the morning of April 20 [last Friday]" so that he "could further review [them] with the appropriate county and state officials." 

"Our office consulted both the Bergen County Soil Conservation District as well as the NJ State Soil Conservation Engineer [on Monday]," Boswell noted. "We reviewed all of the recent events in detail with these officials. They noted there were no breaches of protocols or violations of any regulations relating to the means and methods discussed.

"At 2:30 p.m. [Monday] afternoon there was an onsite meeting with the developer, borough administrator, Bergen County Soil Conservation District and our office," he added. 

Environmental authorities said the pumping "was a permitted activity so long as water filter controls were utilized prior to discharge to the Pleasant Brook," Boswell emphasized. "The discharge of the pumped water went through a combination of gravel, hay bales and sediment filter bags to improve sediment removal prior to discharge to the Pleasant Brook."

"The measures have been in place during all pumping operations. Filtering is required to significantly reduce the amount of sediment entering the waterways.

"We were contacted by NJDEP enforcement earlier [Tuesday] and reviewed the status of this project in detail with that individual," Bowell continued. "We are scheduling an onsite meeting to review all of their concerns.

“The current concern is for the site to be stabilized and for the permanent storm water detention and water quality systems to be operational," he wrote. "The developer remains subject to the limitation that all work be focused on accomplishing these objectives.

"We established a deadline to complete the permanent detention/water quality pond by May 7, 2018, weather permitting. We also scheduled another site meeting on that date to review the work performed at that time.'

Residents have been concerned about contamination ever since high levels of arsenic and lead were found on the more than 100-acre property straddling both towns, on which Toll Brothers plans to build 78 luxury Colonials – 44 in Upper Saddle River and 34 in Mahwah.

The chemicals came from pesticides sprayed on the former apple orchard, as well as treatments to the golf course that succeeded it more than 50 years ago, state authorities said. The contamination runs as deep as two feet.

They were concerned that runoff would contain toxins.

There’s been plenty of runoff following a series of storms the past few months, mainly because 1,000 or so trees were cleared to make way for the development.

Bowell responded that his company’s responsibilities include “protecting the health, safety and welfare of the general public,” which, he said, “we take very seriously.”

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi told Daily Voice late Tuesday that authorities assured her that the public needn't be concerned.

"Based upon all of the information I have received, there does not appear to be an environmental hazard that residents need to be worried about at this time," Schepisi told Daily Voice. "The state, the county and the borough are and have been closely monitoring the work being performed on this site. 

"I have been assured by several separate agencies that there currently is no environmental risk to the residents of Upper Saddle River," Schepisi said. "If any of the information provided to me changes, I will be out in front demanding immediate action from the state."

James J. Dougherty, the borough director of code enforcement, told the Mayor and Council that he is satisfied there is no contamination under New Jersey state environmental guidelines.

Earlier this year, Dougherty wrote to Toll Brothers that a provisional stop work order issued by the borough in January allows the developer only to address “stabilizing the site and constructing the storm water detention and water quality basins.”

The letter says the order would remain in place until certain criteria were met.

These include providing a series of “layout action plans” for:

  • how soil will be kept from blowing around;
  • how runoff will be handled permanently, especially given that “this is a unique site and requires unique items; silt fences don't work to hold back this much water;
  • how “concerns in the neighborhood affected by these issues will be addressed and made whole again”;
  • how the contractors intend to “address, clean the streets, storm drains, ponds and brooks affected by these issues.”

“When all of the items listed above are addressed we will consider reinstatement of the soil moving permit,” Dougherty's letter to Toll Brothers says.

“You are responsible for the site and anything affected by the site and will be held accountable, violations and summonses pending,” he added.



ALSO SEE: Upper Saddle River Mayor Joanne Minichetti responded Monday to a Daily Voice story about an investigation into the pumping of muddy water into a stream from a luxury-housing construction site at the former Apple Ridge Country Club by accusing a state assemblywoman of a conflict of interest.

to follow Daily Voice Northern Highlands and receive free news updates.