July 23, 2008
Waiting for Solid Answers on Land
By BARBARA WILLIAMS, STAFF WRITER
RINGWOOD Sinkholes above ancient mines continue to threaten Upper Ringwood's residential neighborhood.
And with related state and municipal costs approaching $1 million, there's still no clear solution to the dilemma.
Resident Roger DeGroat still has a SUV-sized hole in his back yard, three years after the ground suddenly gave way just as he finished mowing his grass. Across the neighborhood, two houses sit empty, already evacuated after potentially life-threatening voids were found around the buildings.
As officials try to find a permanent solution and costs mount, former residents of those houses are living in publicly subsidized rental units, and DeGroat worries his yard "will open up and swallow my grandchildren as they play."
The community was once an active mining area, and officials have been sizing up the extent and locations of the digging and fill materials used when the mines were abandoned.
"I know everyone is trying to get something done, but I want to know when it will actually happen," DeGroat said. "I'm trying to be patient, but I keep having flashbacks of when that ground just dropped out."
The cost to fix DeGroat's property is estimated at $475,000, and his homeowner's insurance denied the claim. Borough officials said they don't have the money to fix it but they are trying to land a grant that will cover the cost.
No one is talking about buying out the property owners.
Meanwhile, a representative from Governor Corzine's office is expected to attend today's 6:30 p.m. meeting of the Community Action Group, a gatherings of residents, representatives of Ford's local toxic-waste cleanup, and federal, state and local officials.
Residents have asked for a state official to help coordinate efforts to apply for the money needed to fix DeGroat's yard and find permanent living arrangements for the displaced families.
They believe the sinkholes were triggered from changes in underground water conditions as Ford Motor Co. contractors used large excavating equipment nearby to clean out toxic waste dumped there decades ago.
Since 2004, Ford has removed 35,000 tons of lead-based paint sludge, a portion of the contamination it dumped. The area remains a federally supervised Superfund cleanup site.
Geological experts can't say whether the heavy equipment caused the shifting earth, and Ford has denied all responsibility for the sinkholes.
The neighborhood has a patchwork of mine shafts hundreds of feet underground. Seismic testing has not yet determined whether the two Van Dunk Lane houses are stable enough to be inhabited.
"Just like the residents, we're hoping for a permanent solution," said Borough Clerk Kelly Rohde. "We're trying everything we can to get this resolved."
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