“Convenience Dumping” – Not So Convenient After All

September 29, 2014 | No Comments
Posted by Steven M. Dalton

NJDEP’s launched its “Don’t Waste Our Space” initiative in March 2014 to crack down on illegal waste disposal practices, focusing particularly on protection of State owned lands.  The problem of illegal dumping of construction-related and household waste and debris is apparently real as over first six months the vigorous enforcement initiative has resulted in 20 arrests, $30,000.00 in court ordered fines and $450,000.00 in pending fines.

The problem is not only limited to public lands.  When landowners (or their contractors) use their own property for disposal “convenience”, costly private-party disputes may arise.  An example of such a dispute is highlighted in a recent decision entitled Annarella v. Pugliese, et al.  Annarella purchased land from Pugliese, who had constructed a single-family home and related infrastructure on the property prior to the sale.  Annarella later discovered fill material buried at the property consisting of concrete, asphalt debris, stone and other material.  Some of the fill took place in a freshwater wetland buffer area, which resulted in an enforcement action by NDEP against Pugliese and a post-closing filing of a deed restriction by Pugliese in the chain of title for the property.

Annarella’s discovery of the buried trash and debris and deed restriction filing led to litigation spanning several years. Litigation will continue following the Appellate Division’s remand of the case for further determination of disputed facts as to whether Pugliese deliberately and knowingly concealed the use of contaminated fill on the property, and whether Annarella knew or should have known about the apparent fill.

The record needs to be further developed to determine whether some wrongdoing occurred.  Assuming that improper disposal activity did occur, the old adage of “penny wise, pound foolish” comes to mind.  Certainly there is a heightened cost to properly dispose of construction debris and waste material.  However, I would venture to guess that those costs today would compare favorably to the costs associated with five years and counting of litigation, monetary penalties imposed by NJDEP, and potential civil liability exposure.

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