Toms River invites residents to speak about controversial Ciba Geigy development plan

TOMS RIVER, NJ – Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill is inviting residents to put their opinions on the public record as the state of New Jersey announced a plan that would allow 250 acres of the Ciba-Geigy superfund site, now owned by BASF to be developed.

In past years, Mayor Hill has vehemently denied any plans to develop the superfund site responsible for the Toms River water cancer cluster. Now, after calling reports of the plan fake news for nearly four years, Hill acknowledged the existence of the plan last Tuesday at the township council meeting.

The town meeting which was to be held at the same time as a “community speak out” meeting being hosted by Save Barnegat Bay.

That meeting will be held at Toms River North’s Auditorium on Wednesday, January 25 from 6 PM till 9 PM.

“The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) announced a Natural Resource Damages (NRD) settlement  with BASF, the current owner of the Ciba-Geigy Superfund site, last month which would preserve 1000 acres of the approximately 1250 acre site for open space and leave the remaining 250 acres available for development,” said Art Ghallager, public relations secretary for Mo Hill. “NJDEP has scheduled no public hearings on the settlement.  Toms River elected officials and civic leaders were excluded from the negotiations.”

Hill, after being part of the initial Ciba Geigy redevelopment plan when he was a councilman under former Mayor Thomas Kelaher, now says the state settlement falls short.

“The proposed settlement fails to compensate the victims of the cancer cluster caused by the pollution generated at the site. Nor does it adequately compensate the community for the environmental and economic damage caused over many decades,” Hill said.

Hill’s probable opponent for Mayor in the Republican primary election this June, Dan Rodrick thinks Hill’s reaction to the settlement falls short.

Rodrick called for seizing the 250 acre of land through eminent domain. Ciba-Giegy fought Toms River Township to devalue their land as being “worthless” in order to get a $20 million property tax refund from the township.

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Rodrick wants to see the entire 1,250 acre plot turned into a state Wildlife Management Area and to let the tainted and still contaminated superfund toxic waste site to be reclaimed by nature as BASF continues to remedy the site.

In recent years, the development firm Jack Morris had expressed interest in developing the site. Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore served as a consultant for Jack Morris on several projects.

Since July, it has been reported that Gilmore met with Phil Murphy on two possible occasions along with Monmouth County Democrat Senator Vin Gopal in Toms River prior to Murphy’s announcement of the deal that would have the state take over 1,000 acres of the project. That settlement would allow Jack Morris to develop the remaining 250 acres.

Gilmore on Tuesday denied his meeting with Gopal and Murphy, ahead of the settlement had anything to do with “Ciba-Geigy”.

On Tuesday, Governor Phil Murphy told Shore News Network he would have a member of his staff go on record about the settlement, but so far, nobody from the administration has returned messages.

Gopal would not deny or confirm he met with Gilmore regarding Ciba-Geigy, saying only he has a good relationship with the Ocean County GOP Chairman.

Insider sources reported Gilmore, Murphy and Gopal may have also discussed Gopal’s bid for re-election where Gilmore is feuding with Monmouth County GOP Chairman and Sheriff Shaun Golden.

Golden did not respond to a request for comment on the matter, but it is expected that political allies Gopal and Gilmore could be working to undermine the Monmouth County Sheriff in next year’s District 11 senate and assembly race.