October 10, 2012

Concerns About Site Contamination Prompt Reports Request of AvalonBay

The Princeton Environmental Commission has recommended to the Regional Planning Board and the Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB) that AvalonBay Communities, the company contracted to develop a rental apartment complex at the former site of University Medical Center at Princeton, submit information that provides details about how they plan to clean up the site.

“Recent concerns have arisen in the community regarding the potential presence and removal of hazardous waste at the hospital site,” reads a memo dated October 4 from the PEC to the planners and SPRAB. “A grassroots group С The Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods С has requested that AvalonBay’s project not proceed and be declared incomplete until an independent environmental investigation is done to evaluate the presence of harmful substances on the site and, if contamination exists, to address risks to the health and public welfare of the surrounding community and of the project’s prospective tenants. The investigation would include soil and/or groundwater sampling and analysis.”

The memo goes on to say that the PEC recommends that AvalonBay, which is scheduled to come before SPRAB tonight, October 10, provide a reconciliation report as it relates to the two Phase I Environmental Site Assessments, prior to any consideration of the application.

It was at a meeting of the PEC October 1 that the issue of conflicting reports about potential contamination was raised by the Princeton Citizens group, represented by environmental lawyer Aaron Kleinbaum. Mr. Kleinbaum told the PEC that a September 2011 report commissioned by AvalonBay from the company EcolSciences “identifies current and former underground storage tanks and raises serious concerns about potential releases or solvents and other chemicals into soil and groundwater at the site.”

But AvalonBay’s application and its environmental impact statement “misrepresented the EcolSciences report when it said that no underground storage tanks or contamination were found at the property,” Mr. Kleinbaum continued.

The University Medical Center was also mentioned by Mr. Kleinbaum as responsible for “a lack of transparency” regarding the report. At the meeting, the PEC asked AvalonBay, which was represented by attorney Ann Studholme, to clarify whether the developer had followed up on the EcolSciences report’s recommendations. Ms. Studholme said she did not know if they had.

Mark Solomon, the hospital’s attorney, said that any leaks or spills at the former hospital site were reported and remediated in accordance with the proper regulations. “There are not any known environmental conditions on the property,” he said. “What we object to and find highly irregular is [the inference] that the hospital is breaking the law, with absolutely no substantiation. If there’s something real, we’d like to see it.”

Both attorneys said that reports of any incidents were available on the Department of Environmental Protection’s website.

The PEC memo recommends that AvalonBay provide the requested information, which also addresses issues of adequate space for trash management and food waste collection, management of peak sewage flows, and reduction of storm water flows, by October 15.