Whose dirt is it anyway? Freeholders perplexed by piles of construction rubble from 2001
by Al Sullivan Reporter senior staff writer
Feb 02, 2006 | 518 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A resolution was tabled during the Jan. 12 meeting of the Hudson County Board of Freeholders after members questioned why the county was paying for the removal of piles of dirt from the side of road in West New York. Apparently, the dirt - near where Guttenberg, North Bergen and West New York meet - is part of a complicated story with muddy details.

The piles had been originally left there by a former contractor in 2001 who was hired for the reconstruction of River Road. Then the piles became the subject of a debate and sat on the property while the county figured out where to put it.

More recently, a developer told the county he didn't even believe the dirt was on the county's land, and he wanted it removed.

The story of dirt

County Engineer Bob Jasek said that the tale began in 2001 when a contractor for the county had piled the dirt on the roadside during the reconstruction of River Road and other avenues in the area. The contractor tried to charge the county more for the soil's removal by claiming it was contaminated. The county took legal action against the contractor, claiming the dirt removal was part of the original contract.

Eventually the contractor went out of business, and the county was stuck with the cleanup, hoping to recover the cost from the bond posted by the original contractor.

Jasek said the county managed to get an agreement to dump the soil in property controlled by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) - provided the piles contained no pieces of debris larger than 3 inches in diameter. This meant the county - who hoped to have the piles moved by using county employees - had to filter the piles before delivering them.

But years passed, and the piles remained along the sides of the road.

The county was not concerned because officials believed the soil sat on county-owned land. This changed late last year, when a developer challenged the property ownership and discovered the county did not own the property upon which the piles were stored.

The developer, who was anxious to start building, has demanded the county remove the dirt. To complicate matters, the developer began to clear portions of land, creating piles of its own dirt, raising questions by Freeholder Bill O'Dea and others as to whether or not the county knew whose dirt was whose. "We don't want to be moving someone else's dirt," O'Dea said, asking for the resolution to be diverted to the public resources committee for review.

I know our dirt from theirs

While Jasek assured O'Dea that the county could distinguish its dirt from the dirt the developer had added, he said the agreement with the NJMC had expired and the county could no longer deliver the dirt there, thus requiring the county to seek bids for a contractor to take the dirt to another location.

Jasek said while the county originally had intended to do the cleanup using its own employees, the staff soon realized the project was too large for employees to handle - although O'Dea believed the county could save as much as $70,000 from the lowest of the bidders. The lowest bid came in at $134,700 for the dirt's removal. But O'Dea also questioned how Hill Environmental Group Inc., based in Southern New Jersey, could provide the cleanup at $80,000 cheaper than the next lowest bidder, a Bayonne-based company.

"If they have to bring all their employees all the way up from South Jersey to do this, I don't understand how they can be so much cheaper than a company based in Bayonne," O'Dea said.

Jasek and other county officials, however, said they were not privy to the thinking of the company and wished to award the contract based on the bidding process.

O'Dea asked for a delay for the Freeholders' Public Resource Committee to look over the matter more closely, with a possible vote at the Jan. 26 freeholder meeting.

Freeholders get additional voice on boards

In honoring a freeholder request for more participation in several bodies, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise has agreed to allow the freeholders to have voting members on county boards overseeing Welfare-to-work activities and the operations at the county psychiatric hospital in Secaucus.

The freeholders voted to approve the appointment of four other members to the Hudson County Workforce Investment Board, which oversees Welfare-to-work programs including the county's One Stop Centers, provides skill and education programs and vocational rehabilitation services. Freeholder Tilo Rivas of Union City will serve as the freeholder representative to the board. Approved as business members were Vincent Virga, of Bayonne, Patricia Bacons, of Jersey City, and Kevin O'Connor, of Edgewater. Freeholder Maurice Fitzgibbons said that while O'Connor lived outside of Hudson County, he was deeply involved with community activities. Freeholder Sal Vega will serve as the freeholder representative to the county's Insurance Commission. Freeholder Doreen M. DiDomenico will serve as the freeholder representative to the Meadowlands Psychiatric Hospital Board of Managers.

Fitzgibbons will serve as the representative to the New Jersey Association of Counties. Freeholder Jeff Dublin will serve as his alternative.

Vega and Fitzgibbons will serve as freeholder representatives to the Board of School Estimate for Hudson County Schools of Technology, and Vega and O'Dea for Hudson County Community College. O'Dea will serve as the freeholder representative on the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Board.

Committee assignments

As part of the annual reorganization of the freeholders and the shift in membership since last year, Chairman Sal Vega named members to each of the freeholder committees.

Under Vega's chairmanship, the committee system has been strengthened to help review many of the details behind issues and to make recommendations to the board. The committees meet before the regular meeting in order to look over and hash out possible problems before the matter comes to the whole board for a vote. This year's committees, Vega said, takes into account new members of the freeholder board and also makes use of members' personal expertise.

The committee assignments are as follows:

* Newly elected Bayonne Freeholder Doreen M. DiDomenico will chair the Environment, Health and Human Services Committee along with Freeholders Bill O'Dea and Maurice Fitzgibbons as members.
* Freeholder Al Cifelli will chair the powerful Contract Review Committee with Freeholders Thomas Liggio and O'Dea as members.
* Freeholder Jeff Dublin will chair the county Government, Oversight and Policy Review Committee with Cifelli and Freeholder Tilo Rivas as members.
* Freeholder Eliu Rivera will chair the Economic Development & Housing Committee with Liggio and Rivas as members.
* Rivas with chair the Education Committee with O'Dea and Freeholder Eliu Rivera as members.
* Cifelli will chair the Ethics Committee with DiDomenico and Rivas as members.
* Dublin will chair the Family Services and Welfare-to-work Committee with DiDomenico and Fitzgibbons as members.
* Vega will chair the Finance, Budget and Administration Committee with DiDomenico and Fitzgibbons as members.
* Rivera will chair the Personnel Committee with Cifelli and Liggio as members.
* O'Dea will chair the Public Resources Committee with DiDomenico and Liggio as members.
* Vega will chair the Public Safety, Department of Corrections and Emergency Management Committee with Dublin and Rivera as members.
* Liggio will chair the Purchasing Committee with Dublin and Rivas as members.
* Liggio will chair the Senior Citizens and Veterans Affairs Committee with Cifelli and Rivas as members.
* O'Dea will chair the Task Force on Homeless with Dublin, Fitzgibbons, Rivas and Rivera as members.
* Fitzgibbons will chair the Tourism and Cultural Affairs Committee with Rivas and Rivera as members.
* Dublin will chair the Transportation Committee, with Cifelli and Liggio as members.
* DiDomenico will chair the Women and Minority Affairs Committee with Dublin and O'Dea as members.
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