Former Chemical Plant to Become Park in Toms River
New Jersey Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette today announced a proposal to restore natural resources damaged by decades of industrial pollution and illegal dumping at the Ciba-Geigy Superfund Site in Toms River through a negotiated settlement with BASF Corporation, which inherited responsibility for the site through corporate acquisition.
The proposed settlement is the largest single-site preservation agreement achieved through the Department of Environmental Protection’s Natural Resource Damages program. Under the proposal, approximately 1,000 acres would be permanently preserved for the benefit of the public, with hundreds of acres to be restored through a variety of environmental improvement projects.
When complete, the site will feature public access, passive recreation, and natural resource interpretative and educational opportunities.
Ecological restoration includes the creation of a freshwater wetlands complex, restoration of riparian areas, floodplain and wetland enhancements, creation of upland grasslands and pollinator habitat, public access trails, and boardwalks for wildlife viewing and passive recreation.
In addition to walking, running, hiking, and opportunities for the public, an environmental education center will be constructed to provide natural resource interpretation programs for the public.
The project could break ground in the spring of 2023, become open to the public in phases, and be complete within the next five years.
Over the next 30 days, the DEP will accept public comment on the proposal published today in the New Jersey Register.
“Every natural resource of our state belongs directly to the people of New Jersey, and as the trustee of their natural resources, it is our job to make sure that when pollution damages our environment, the people are paid back for the harm to their natural resources,” said Commissioner LaTourette. “A true turnaround story, this settlement would transform one of New Jersey’s most notorious polluted sites into one of our biggest environmental success stories—one that delivers the natural resource quality that every community deserves, shoulder-to-shoulder with a good corporate citizen determined to repair the environmental damage of our shared industrial past. My sincere thanks to BASF and every partner that contributed to this success for the people of New Jersey.”
The former Ciba-Geigy chemical plant began manufacturing industrial dyes, pigments, resins, and plastics in 1952. In 1983, the site was listed on the National Priorities List as an EPA-lead Superfund Site due to significant contamination of soil and groundwater resulting from improper chemical waste disposal. Plant operations ceased in 1990.
BASF Corporation assumed responsibility for the site in 2010 and has been working closely with the DEP’s Office of Natural Resource Restoration for several years to voluntarily resolve its liability for natural resource injuries through land preservation and the future construction of nine natural resource restoration projects that will include enhancements to wetlands, pollinator grasslands, threatened and endangered species habitats, and a connector to Winding River Park.
BASF Corporation acquired the Ciba-Geigy site while remedial activities were ongoing and they continue these remediation efforts today. These efforts include excavation and capping of contaminated source areas and the pumping and treatment of contaminated groundwater.
The proposed settlement will not have an impact on any of BASF’s remaining obligations under EPA’s lead oversight under Superfund.
“Having spent my childhood on the other side of the fence from this polluted site, I know what this settlement will mean to the families and children of those neighborhoods,” said Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Protection Sean D. Moriarty, who oversees the DEP team that developed this settlement. “I am proud to have played a small part in transforming a previously forbidden place into somewhere the community can truly connect with nature and appreciate its immense value to health and wellbeing.”
The proposed settlement agreement would permanently preserve and protect approximately 1,000 acres of the site in Toms River from future development to offset the groundwater injury through groundwater aquifer recharge.
Of the 1,000 acres to be preserved, approximately 790 acres will be maintained as open space and will include restoration projects for ecological uplift, habitat enhancement, and public access.
Restoration projects within this space will incorporate hiking trails, birdwatching platforms and blinds, and an educational center among others for public enjoyment.
The remaining 210 acres will be set aside for pollinator habitat and solar energy production.
“The Ciba Geigy historic settlement is great news for open space and preservation in Toms River,” said Taylor McFarland, Conservation Manager for the Sierra Club, New Jersey Chapter. “More importantly, it is a step in the right direction for the people who have been suffering from the contamination of The Ciba-Geigy Superfund Site for decades. This site has been on the Superfund List since the 1980s and it is still one of the most contaminated sites in the state if not the country.”
Natural resource damages are defined as damages for the lost value of, injury to, or destruction of natural resources. DEP attempts to restore damaged natural resources through environmental improvement projects as close as possible to the site of the original damage.
In the case of the Ciba-Geigy Superfund Site, natural resources will be restored and preserved on site and will ideally benefit the residents of communities affected by the polluted site, as well as all who visit the area.
In addition to the robust Natural Resource Damages recovery litigation efforts, the State also seeks and encourages parties that may have responsibility for Natural Resource Damages to proactively resolve such matters and avoid litigation. Such voluntary agreements have included land preservation, dam removals and other ecological restoration projects, and monetary settlements.
All necessary measures have been and continue to be taken under an EPA-led remediation process to ensure the site is protective of human health and the environment.
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