TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced today that the State has taken action to force the closure of an unauthorized solid waste dumping operation in Ocean County.
In a lawsuit filed today in New Jersey Superior Court, the DEP alleges that Sam S. Russo and two companies under his control are operating an illegal solid waste disposal facility on a 94-acre property Russo owns in Plumsted Township. The complaint alleges that in one year alone – from April 2018 through April 2019 – Russo illegally accepted thousands of tons of woodchips, asphalt millings, crushed concrete and other materials onto his property in exchange for more than $300,000 in disposal fees. But Russo and his companies did so without the legally required solid waste and water pollution discharge permits, and in violation of a prior DEP order.
The complaint alleges that the unpermitted solid waste facility threatens the local environment. Among other things, contaminated runoff from the dump site poses a risk to nearby ground and surface waters. The complaint details the basis for DEP’s suspicion that pollutants from Russo’s illegal operation were discharged into a stream on the property and killed hundreds of local fish and aquatic plants in a downstream pond on two separate occasions in 2018.
“In running this unpermitted dumping operation, the defendants put profits over the rule of law,” said Attorney General Grewal. “And in the process, they put the state’s precious natural resources at risk, which is why we’re taking action today to shut down this operation. We’re dropping the hammer on this site and others just like it – not only requiring the operators to fully clean up their mess, but also seeking all available penalties in court. We have zero tolerance for such lawbreaking."
“Mr. Russo has been willfully profiting at the expense of his neighbors and New Jersey’s environment. I am pleased to join with the Attorney General in taking action to stop his illegal activity,” said New Jersey DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe. “Preventing unpermitted dumping of waste is an important part of cleaner, safer environments and requires a team effort between communities and local and state agencies. I am glad that, together, we can bring this harmful profiteering to a halt.
The complaint alleges that in May 2017, DEP entered a final order directing Russo to obtain pollution discharge permits for his disposal activities. Later that year, Russo also signed a settlement agreement with DEP in which he agreed to apply for a pollution discharge permit.
Despite Russo’s prior promises, the complaint goes on, he never obtained the proper permits. Yet he continued with his disposal operation anyway: In the one-year period spanning April 2018 through April 2019, at least 1,719 dump truck loads of dirt totaling between 34,000 and 42,000 tons; 234 loads of food waste totaling between 1,100 and 1,600 tons; 300 dump truck loads of asphalt millings; 444 loads of grass clippings; 302 loads of leaves; 229 loads of woodchips and 25 loads of concrete were all dumped at his property.
Based on this alleged conduct, the lawsuit filed today alleges violations of New Jersey’s Water Pollution Control and Solid Waste Management Acts, as well as violations of the 2017 DEP Final Order directing Russo to obtain required pollution discharge permits and the settlement Russo entered into with the State agreeing to apply for such discharge permits.
The State’s complaint seeks injunctions blocking further dumping of dirt and soil, asphalt millings, grass clippings, leaves, woodchips, food waste, and crushed concrete on the Russo property. The State is also seeking preliminary relief to immediately prevent further dumping while the case remains ongoing. In addition, the State seeks a court order requiring that Russo and his companies remove all the buried and stockpiled solid waste and recyclable materials from where they are improperly kept on the property to an approved solid waste facility.
At the same time, the complaint seeks an order requiring Russo to pay statutory and stipulated penalties, disgorgement of any economic benefits he has accrued through his illegal activities, and reimbursement of the State’s investigative costs. The complaint also seeks authority for DEP to enter the property to conduct further site inspections, and to require that Russo produce all relevant records regarding his operation.