Officials Seek Answers to Contamination Concerns at Former Hospital Site

Princeton Citizens Group for Sustainable Neighborhoods has expressed concern over conflicting environmental reports. AvalonBay must now submit further documentation to the PEC, Planning Board and the Health Commission.


Are there potential environmental issues at the former University Medical Center of Princeton?

That’s what the Princeton Environmental Commission wants to know. It has requested that AvalonBay, the developer under contract to buy the Witherspoon Street property, reveal if it commissioned soil and groundwater testing, geophysical surveys and site inspections recommended by its consultant.

AvalonBay plans to build 280 apartments at the site of the former hospital, which moved to Plainsboro in the spring. 

The issue of potential contamination comes as the grassroots organization Princeton Citizens Group for Sustainable Neighborhoods began to raise questions about conflicting reports. The group hired Aaron Kleinbaum, an attorney with the Eastern Environmental Law Center in Newark.

On Monday, Kleinbaum appeared before the Princeton Environmental Commission, citing that a Sept. 15, 2011 Ecosciences Phase 1 environmental report commissioned by AvalonBay for its due diligence of the property.

“(The report) identifies current and former underground storage tanks and raises serious concerns about potential releases of solvents and other chemicals into soil and groundwater at the site,” Kleinbaum said. “However, AvalonBay’s application and its environmental impact statement…. misrepresented the Ecosciences report when it said that no underground storage tanks or contamination were found at the property.”

The discrepancies and what he called a “lack of transparency by the Medical Center, AvalonBay and their agents,” prompted his request for an updated and independent soil and groundwater investigation.

The PEC has requested that AvalonBay clarify the conflicting reports, including whether or not it followed up on the consultant’s recommendations, by Oct. 15. The information should be directed to the PEC, Planning Board and the Princeton Regional Health Commission, PEC Chairman Matthew Wasserman said.

Hospital attorney Mark Solomon said there were occasional leaks or spills at the former hospital, but each was reported to the state, cleaned up in accordance with regulations and no further action was recommended. He said a letter from the hospital’s environmental consultant concludes, “that there are not any known environmental conditions on the property.” Reports of all incidents are publicly available on the DEP website, he said.

“What we object to and find highly irresponsible is suggestion that the hospital has been breaking the law, that the hospital has not followed the law, that it has been discharging into the soil in violation of the law, with absolutely no substantiation,” Solomon said. “It’s not fair, it’s not right.”

Ann Studholme, the land use attorney for AvalonBay, told the PEC she did not know if the company had followed up on its consultant’s recommendations for further testing.

 “There is a high probability that you followed up on this, it would be weird if you didn’t,” saidVictoria Hamilton, a mergers and acquisitions attorney who sits on the PEC. “If you didn’t do any of this, then this is obviously something the Planning Board needs to follow up on because it could cause problems.”

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Dr. Daniel A. Harris October 02, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Contrary to views expressed by Mark Solomon, attorney for UMCP, no one (and certainly not members of Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods) has alleged illegal activity on the part of the hospital. Mr. Solomon's charge is without merit, nor can itbe verified. ---Daniel A. Harris, for PCSN, dah43@comcast.net
Dave October 03, 2012 at 12:30 PM
I'm curious how this all ends...and if those who are trying to delay the development believe that a bankrupt Princeton Hospital and a crumbling eye sore in the middle of our town is the best outcome. Or maybe a 10-story Princeton dormitory with drunk college kids throwing up in the streets is the best plan? Be careful what you wish for.
Alexi Assmus October 03, 2012 at 08:02 PM
I've the Ecolsciences report (Phase I investigation) that the PCSN lawyer managed to obtain (it was not part of Avalon's initial Planning Board submission). Avalon completely misrepresents that report in what they did submit to the Planning Board. Serious "recognized environmental conditions" were found at the hospital site by Avalon's consultant EcolSciences. And there may be more --- the hospital itself failed to provide important documents to EcolSciences regarding environmental hazards at the old hospital site. Avalon's Environmental Impact Statement summarizes the Ecolsciences report in one sentence and states Ecolsciences found no underground tanks or contamination: (Avalon EIS, p. 10). Indeed this is not so. The Ecolsciences report has pages on the active underground tank systems at the old hospital and a series of photos. The report also calls for further subsurface investigations of the sewer/septic systems, the transferring offsite of hazardous materials, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission documentation of proper removal of x-ray and linear radiation equipment, and a geophysical study to locate unknown buried tanks.
Alexi Assmus October 03, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Here is a comparison of the Environmental Impact Statement and the Ecolsciences report. Only the EIS was part of initial site submission. Avalon EIS: "Site specific investigations performed for the property by EcolSciences regarding the presence of underground tanks and possible contamination revealed that no underground tanks or contamination were found on the property" (EIS, p. 10). VERSUS: Ecolsciences: "Review of the New Jersey List indicates that four underground storage tanks are currently registered with the NJDEP under Medical Center at Princeton." (Ecolsciences, p. 13), “a soil boring investigation should be performed to assess the integrity of the four active underground tank systems” , and recommends " subsurface investigations … to determine if the underlying soils and ground water have been impacted by the sewer lines and/or historic septic system discharges. In addition, “Residual maintenance feed stocks, hazardous waste streams, and other hazardous constituents and chemicals should be transferred offsite to another medical facility or be disposed of prior to manifest. All lead-lined doors … should be appropriately disposed as part of future demolition activities. Documentation verifying proper clearance from the NRC [National Regulatory Commission] should be provided relative to decommissioning of X-ray equipment and the linear radiation therapy unit with the cancer treatment ward.” (p. 27).
Retired and loving it. October 10, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Compelling posts.I will have to look into this further
PrincetonIQ October 16, 2012 at 11:45 AM
So an attorney hired by people who oppose development, and who offer none of their own money to buy and develop the property, raises concerns on environmental issues. Sounds surprising, don't we all think? This is a completely transparent attempt to slow the project, hold the developer hostage and line the pockets of the attorney at the expense of Princeton having more affordable housing and an eyesore of an abandoned hospital removed and replaced. The people involved in this should be ashamed of themselves. It should be noted that substantially the same group opposed a church, which is now under construction, and were found to be completely wrong in all of their environmental and zoning concerns on that project - although the delay and the legal expenses were significant and of course they never apologized or felt the least bit embarrasssed that all of their complaining cost their neighbors dearly in time, energy and money that could've gone to worthwhile local causes instead of unfounded legal challenges.
Alexi Assmus October 18, 2012 at 06:34 PM
The Princeton Environment Commission and the Health Commission are concerned about inconsistencies in environmental reports submitted by Avalon and have had AvalonBay and contamination issues on their agendas at recent meetings. How can one not be concerned when the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) submitted by Avalon asserts there are no underground storage tanks at the hospital site and another report by an Avalon consultant show photos of them. Go look at the EIS and Ecolsciences Phase I at the Planning Board. You can walk by today and see three huge underground storage tanks. Many, many people oppose this development. PCSN has gotten donations from over 50 people to support legal/expert respresentation of residents at the Planning Board Hearings. Over 500 people have signed petitions -- -and PCSN was not involved with any of these petitions. For those who want to donate: please checks to PCSN, C/O Kate Warren, 17 Jefferson Rd, Princeton, NJ 08542. Also check out the active Facebook site: http://www.facebook.com/PrincetonCitizensFor
PrincetonIQ October 18, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Many, many people are also in favor of this development. And finding 50 people in Princeton who are opposed to anything that improves the town and wasn't their idea is like saying sprinkles were discovered in an ice cream shop. What are the constructive thoughts about getting an alternative to this development, if that's what is desired? Sitting on the side and poking at this effort, the Arts Council building a few years ago, the Palmer Sq. residences, the PU arts and transit renovation...where does it end? And with no alternatives, just complaining.
Alexi Assmus October 19, 2012 at 02:01 PM
There are developers in town who would like to develop the property in keeping with Princeton's Master Plan and Borough Code. There were other bids on the property for these better alternatives. What is built will be there for a very long time ... if it's great it will add tremendous value to our community. It saddens me every time I pass by the Palmer Sq Residences --- let's not repeat that mistake.
PrincetonIQ October 19, 2012 at 06:20 PM
There were no other bids. I love Palmer Sq residences and don't consider that development a mistake at all. I have no relationship to that builder or that project, but personal taste shouldn't judge what is appropriate -- and people willing to buy and invest should be embraced for their commitment, not made to feel like they're doing something wrong.
Dr. Daniel A. Harris October 24, 2012 at 07:08 PM
All legal costs have been paid out of pocket by those working on this project, as well as the one concerning Westerly Road Church and what became the Princeton Ridge Preserve, to everyone's benefit. Cost to municipalities on the AvalonBay issue: zero. The reference to "substantially the same group" is radically incorrect. The writer of "PrincetonIQ" is uninformed. Daniel A. Harris / dah43@comcast.net
Dr. Daniel A. Harris October 24, 2012 at 08:08 PM
PrincetonIQ is wrong.
PrincetonIQ October 24, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Tasha, I didn't indicate that legal costs were being paid otherwise - except, of course, costs borne by taxpayers by a few people who don't like the fact that we (a) might see an ugly abandoned hospital turned into a residential complex with hundreds of people being able to walk into Princeton, (b) have affordable housing added to the city in a percentage higher than some might offer, (c) have building starting to populate that area of town that are attractive, well-kept and modern. Especially appalling is the neighborhood complaints that the complex be open and porous for the non-residents to be able to walk through whenever they want (how would people like having strangers walk through their front and back yards) and complaints that the investors want to add a pool. Last time I checked, people could put pools in as long as they followed the rules and why should some homeowner blocks away have an opinion worthy of a second of consideration regarding the need for a pool, or not, in a complex they aren't investing in and don't plan to live in. I think an active debate is healthy, and part of what makes a Democracy vital and responsive, but we have many petitioners in Princeton who have opinions about things they don't understand and things that, if the shoe were on the other foot, they'd reject out of hand.
PrincetonIQ October 25, 2012 at 02:12 AM
No I'm not. Please name the other bidders you indicate made offers on the property with better alternatives. Name them. I dare you.
princetonborn October 27, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Do you live in town PrincetonIQ? Do you live near this site and will what is built there have ANY affect on YOUR home? When it does you will have a voice. I am grateful for the people of Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods who will stand up and bring to light this gated community was not in the original plan. As with any plan if done right at first will last a lifetime as the same I would like to stay in my home not having to deal with constant noise from 280 apartments, cars and a swimming pool with fire pits as well as a possibility of smelling all of their trash on a hot day.
PrincetonIQ October 27, 2012 at 06:12 PM
I do live in town and I do live near this site. Your post and comments point out much of what's wrong with people who are opposing this development. For instance, you think an apartment complex will be less attractive that an 80-year-old decaying hospital that is perhaps one of the ugliest structures in New Jersey? You think 280 apartments will bring significantly more traffic than a 200+ bed hospital, plus outpatient activity plus emergency room visits? You think the "constant noise" from the apartments will be more than the multitude of sirens and emergency vehicles speeding down Witherspoon all night? You think the trash on a hot day will not be dealt with professionally? When will the self-righteous Princeton residents realize the world doesn't revolve around them, but around all of us?
Alexi Assmus October 28, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Sometimes people's names cannot be made public. Why do you choose not to make your name public PrincetonIQ?


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