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.”