February 24, 2004
Golf developer faces a May deadline
By Shannon D. Harrington, Staff Writer
The company that wants to build a golf resort on six Meadowlands garbage dumps has until May 12 to take ownership of four of those dumps and to begin entombing the trash.
But the company, EnCap Golf Holdings LLC of Raleigh, N.C., has yet to complete a deal with a potential partner that would build nearly 2,000 housing units on the site.
One unresolved issue appears to be the health and environmental risks of building homes atop garbage.
A spokesman for EnCap said Monday that the company was on pace to reach a deal with Michigan-based Pulte Homes Inc. and to break ground on the $1 billion project by the May 12 deadline.
Even if a housing deal is not reached by May 12, EnCap is in a financial position to start capping the landfills, spokesman Richard Ochab said.
"All material business terms have been agreed to [with Pulte]," Ochab said, adding: "We expect to have it before groundbreaking."
Ochab said the parties were "working out technical issues of development."
A source close to the negotiations between Pulte and EnCap said one of the unresolved issues is whether EnCap should clean up the land where houses will be built, or entomb the garbage.
A spokesman for Pulte declined to comment.
While the state Department of Environmental Protection already has signed off on EnCap's plan to cap the landfills with a dense layer of dredged harbor spoils and other material, a memo obtained by The Record indicates that some in the agency have raised concerns about whether those measures would fully protect those who would live in the planned housing.
According to the internal memo - written late last year to DEP officials by a member of the DEP's Bureau of Landfill and Recycling Management - Pulte has proposed more than 1,980 residential units in the form of town houses and high-rises as tall as 15 stories.
"While the bureau was aware of the development envisioned for this site, residential units of this magnitude were not expected," the bureau official wrote in the memo. Approving the housing units under the current plans, the official wrote, "poses a higher degree of health-related concerns to the residents ... "
DEP chief Bradley Campbell said the memo was merely part of the "give-and-take" between his department and developers that want to build on contaminated land.
"It goes without saying that there are going to be challenges in this type of redevelopment," Campbell said. "But we're confident that redevelopment can occur.
"We think it's a great example of smart growth to be redeveloping a landfill site like this, and we want to make absolutely sure that it's done correctly."
State Community Affairs Commissioner Susan Bass Levin, who also is chairwoman of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, the agency that brokered the deal with EnCap, said she remains optimistic that the project will start in May.
And she said she trusted the DEP to make sure it's done right.
"We are confident that the DEP requirements will ensure that the property is safe and is safe for housing," Bass Levin said.
State and Meadowlands-area officials have touted the EnCap project as the potential savior of an area ruined by decades of dumping. EnCap would build four golf courses on six former landfills, anchored by a mini-village of restaurants and shops and - if they are all approved - as many as 3,500 units of housing in Lyndhurst, North Arlington, and Rutherford. A hotel and office buildings also are part of the proposal.
EnCap is required by May 12 to take control of four of those landfills and surrounding properties that would become home to two golf courses, the mini-village, hotel and office buildings, and about 2,000 housing units.
But before the first brick is set in place, EnCap must satisfy DEP landfill closure requirements. Layers of recycled fill material and a dense mix of concrete, fly ash, and dredged harbor spoils would create a barrier layer between new grass and the garbage. That, and a steel wall at the foot of the landfills, would be designed to keep rainwater from seeping through the garbage, collecting toxic pollutants, and leaching into waterways.
Methane gas, the flammable byproduct of decomposing garbage, would be vented away from the site, and a system would be built to collect polluted rainwater that seeps through the garbage.
On the land where houses would be built, EnCap has proposed importing soil to cover the garbage and compacting it, Ochab said.
Environmentalists generally have embraced the remediation proposals.
"If the DEP site-remediation people are willing to say that capping [the garbage] in place will not present an imminent endangerment to the public health, there comes a time where we have to start trusting these people that are doing the jobs that we pay them to do," said Bill Sheehan of Hackensack Riverkeeper, one of the biggest proponents of the project.
But Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter, said EnCap should be removing garbage from the land where housing units would be built.
"It's just not safe in the long term," Tittel said. "We should build on brownfields, but we should do it right."