The Hillsdale Borough Council meeting held recently witnessed intense discussions and heated debates, particularly around the environmental remediation of the Alexander cleaner site and a proposed pay increase for council members.
The Alexander cleaner site, a former dry cleaning operation active from the late 1960s until 1996, was found to have high concentrations of tetrachloroethene (PCE) in soil and groundwater, exceeding current remediation standards. Remediation efforts have been ongoing since the initial investigation in 1994. A recent investigation found PCE concentrations ranging from 1.1 to 510,000 parts per million, surpassing the New Jersey standard of 47 ppm.
Representatives from the Bureau of Estate Management and H2M, a firm contracted by the DEP, shared their remediation plans. The proposal includes the hotspot removal of the contaminated soil and groundwater using large diameter excavation methods, specifically designed for the site’s size constraints. Current plans also account for potential groundwater encounters and dewatering. Contaminated soil will be stockpiled and transported off-site for disposal.
As part of the remediation process, a community air monitoring plan will be put into action, protecting residents from potential exposure to organic compounds, particulate matter, noise, and odors generated during the cleanup process. The site will be restored to its original grade with clean material after remediation, and the groundwater plume will be monitored for at least a year to assess the effect of the removal.
Concerns were raised regarding the impact of the excavation on the local community and nearby areas, including Veterans Memorial Park and residential properties to the north of the site. Planning Board Member Mr. Raymond questioned the potential risks, inquiring, “What is the impact with these kids playing and town residents visiting this park on a daily basis?” Officials assured him that the groundwater contamination issue would not pose an exposure risk to surface dwellers as the contaminants are significantly below grade. They aim to complete the remediation by the end of 2024, with mediation expected to begin in January 2025.
Another pivotal issue during the meeting was the proposed 40%+ increase in council members’ salaries. Mayor Doug Frank vehemently objected, stating, “The new ceiling would now increase that … with no discussion having taken place here or data advanced by anyone to support it.” The proposal sparked heated debates on the council floor, with some members arguing the issue should be decided by a public referendum.
A member of the audience, John Klein, also strongly disagreed with the proposed pay hikes, stating, “You want to vote yourself a raise; that’s not a good look.” Klein also questioned the changes in bylaws excluding the mayor from attending committee meetings, raising concerns about the transparency of the council’s operations.
Despite the mayor’s objections, the council overrode his veto on the resolution, with Councilwoman Escobar countering criticisms by suggesting that objecting members could simply refuse the pay increase. Mayor Frank expressed disappointment at this override, describing it as “excessive” and “politically insensitive.” He proposed that future pay raises should be tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).