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Hackensack Riverkeeper and New City Neighborhood Association Take Aim At Local Polluters

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Suit Alleges Seneca Meadows, Waste Connections and West Nyack Transfer Station Violating Clean Water Act

By Tina Traster

For the second time within a month, Rockland County’s New City Neighborhood Association and the New Jersey-based Hackensack Riverkeeper Inc. have filed complaints against county-based companies and entities for violating the federal Clean Water Act.

The suit, filed against Seneca Meadows Inc, Waste Connections US. Inc., Waste Connections of New York Inc, and the West Nyack Transfer Station, were filed Sept. 14 in U.S. District Court in White Plains. The suit says the defendants are discharging polluted stormwater runoff from a scrap metal processing plant and a recycling facility.

All three entities are located at 183 Western Highway at the West Nyack Transfer Station. Waste Connections is a national service for solid waste collection, transfer, recycling, and disposal services. Seneca is a waste management and recycling facility.

The defendants are primarily engaged in the assembling, breaking up, sorting, and wholesale distribution of scrap and waste materials, the suit says. Metal recycling facilities, especially those with outdoor stockpiling, processing, and segregation of materials, are a major source of stormwater contamination. Scrap metal in different stages of corrosion and decay may release a variety of harmful substances, including heavy metals, fuel, oil, lubricants, polychlorinated biphenyls, grease, lead acid, lead oxides, chlorinated solvents, asbestos, ethylene.

The suit also takes aim at the vehicle operation and maintenance and equipment operation and storage which includes forklifts, trucks, and other vehicles that “track debris, particulate matter, and other contaminants.” Vehicles are a source of pollution to the waterways, including gasoline, diesel fuel, anti-freeze, battery fluids, and hydraulic fluids, the suit says.

On Aug. 17th, Rockland County’s New City Neighborhood Association and the New Jersey-based Hackensack Riverkeeper Inc. filed suit against Rockland Transit Mix Inc. for violating the federal Clean Water Act in a complaint filed Aug. 17 in U.S. District Court, White Plains.

Rockland County’s New City Neighborhood Association and the New Jersey-based Hackensack Riverkeeper Inc. allege the defendants in both suits are polluting the 45-mile Hackensack River which originates at Lake Lucille in New City and empties into Newark Bay. From its headwaters, the Upper Hackensack River flows into several man-made reservoirs including Lake DeForest in Clarkstown, Lake Tappan on the New York/New Jersey border and then into the Oradell Reservoir.

Stormwater flowing over areas of the facilities are potentially releasing a variety of pollutants into the Hackensack River including sediment, oil and grease, metals, organic substances and chemicals that create chemical oxygen demand or alter the pH of receiving waters, and other pollutants.

Both suits allege inadequate pollution control measures, stormwater prevention plan and the release of pollutants that cause or contribute to violations of water quality standards. The plaintiffs allege in the earlier suit that whenever it rains or snows, contaminants from the concrete business drain into a tributary of the Hackensack River, and ultimately flow into Newark Bay, New York Harbor, and the Atlantic Ocean. All of the industrial operations store and process scrap metal, and have traffic and vehicle maintenance, which contributes to stormwater runoff.

The plaintiffs say they are frustrated by the lack of action from the federal government or New York State. Neither the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nor the State of New York “has commenced a civil or criminal action to redress the violations,” the organizations say.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has designated the Hackensack River as “impaired” to meet minimum water quality standards for biological impacts. The DEC has classified the portion of the Hackensack River where the Facility discharges as a Class A water. A waterbody that is designated Class A is a source of water supply for drinking, culinary or food processing purposes, primary and secondary contact recreation, and fishing. Such waters are also meant to be suitable for fish, shellfish, and wildlife propagation and survival.

One of the most significant sources of water pollution, the complaint says, is stormwater runoff from industrial sites. The Clean Water Act requires industrial sites to get a stormwater permit, limit discharges of pollutants, and monitor the stormwater.

In 1987, to better regulate pollution conveyed by stormwater runoff, Congress enacted Clean Water Act Section 402(p), 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p), entitled “Municipal and Industrial Stormwater Discharges.”

Stormwater runoff is one of the most significant sources of water pollution in the nation — comparable to, if not greater than, contamination from industrial and sewage sources, according to the suit.

Both complaints say the State of New York has designated as “impaired” more than 7,000 river miles; 319,000 acres of larger waterbodies; 940 square miles of harbors, bays, and estuaries; 10 miles of coastal shoreline; and 592 miles of Great Lakes shoreline. Under the Clean Water Act, “impaired” means not meeting water quality standards and/or unable to support beneficial uses, such as fish habitat and water contact recreation. For the overwhelming majority of water bodies listed as impaired, stormwater runoff is cited as a primary source of the pollutants causing the impairment.

New City Neighborhood Association is an educational nonprofit that focuses on important issues and preserving quality of life  and was founded in 2017 by New City resident Timothy Halo.

Hackensack Riverkeeper, based in Hackensack, New Jersey, spends about $700,000 a year on restoring and preserving the Hackensack River watershed according to its 2019 federal nonprofit tax return. Founded in 1997, Hackensack Riverkeeper has been credited with helping revive the ecology of the Meadowlands, bringing recreation like kayaking and eco-tours to the lower portions of the river and fighting to keep land preserved at its headwaters.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the company in violation of the Clean Water Act, stop it from discharging pollutants, and require it to apply for a stormwater permit. They are asking for unspecified civil penalties and note in the complaint that violators can be assessed up to $56,460 a day per violation.

Waste Connections did not return calls seeking comment.

The nonprofit groups are represented by Manhattan attorneys Edan Rotenberg.