July 24, 2008

Ringwood Seeks Trenton’s Help to Fix Sinkholes

By Jodi Weinberger, The Record, Hackensack, N.J.

Jul. 24--RINGWOOD -- The borough's message to Governor Corzine was clear: Fix our sinkholes.

In particular, Ringwood wants the state's aid in applying for a new grant that will fix the SUV-sized sinkhole in Roger DeGroat's back yard at 9 Sheehan Drive.

Carrying that message back to Trenton will be Jong Nee, ombudsman for the state's Smart Growth program. She crowded into Tuesday's monthly meeting of the Community Advisory Group (CAG) at the municipal building with about 50 others.

The sinkholes in the Upper Ringwood neighborhood, which is atop mine shafts dating from the Revolutionary War, first appeared three years ago. On Van Dunk Lane, two houses sit empty, their occupants evacuated because of the danger of sinkholes. Part of one street, Sheehan Drive, was all but devoured by a sinkhole.

Some residents believe these life-threatening voids were triggered by Ford Motor Co. contractors using large excavating equipment nearby to clean out toxic waste dumped decades ago. Ford says the cause is Upper Ringwood's history as a mining area, and it takes no responsibility for the sinkholes.

The plea to the state came after residents learned that $238,000 of a grant from the state Department of Community Affairs to deal with the sinkholes could not be used on the DeGroat property because it is privately owned. That news came from DCA Director Richard Osworth.

Speaking of the grant, Osworth said: "It included studies and emergency situations; it was never to fill sinkholes."

With that, the CAG turned to Nee to get its message to Corzine.

"Mr. Governor, please be good for your word," said the advisory group's facilitator, Michael Lythcott. "Repair the sinkhole in Mr. DeGroat's yard and come to Ringwood and speak to the people."

Nee responded: "The state government takes this very seriously. We will work with the borough on this grant."

DeGroat and other residents stressed that it's not about the money or where it comes from, but about an unsafe situation.

"The governor of the state has to fulfill his promise. He has to figure it out, and he has to do it," DeGroat said. "We just want to be safe."


With state and municipal costs approaching $1 million to remediate Ringwood's sinkhole dilemma, where has the money gone?

-- $475,000 from the Department of Community Affairs, in two chunks, went for studies and emergencies. The borough claims it got $70,000 less. The dispute is ongoing.

-- $345,000 went for seismic testing, to repair Sheehan Drive, which collapsed during testing; engineering costs, fencing and housing displaced families. The bulk of the money, $210,000, was spent on Sheehan Drive. (Of the total, $180,000 came from the state Department of Transportation and $165,000 from the DCA.)

-- $153,000 from the borough went toward additional housing costs.

What bills are outstanding?

-- $200,000 from a grant usually used for loans to local businesses and to create jobs will be used to fund housing further.

-- An estimated $470,000 to fix the SUV-sized hole in Roger DeGroat's back yard at 9 Sheehan Drive.

What is the Community Advisory Group?

-- The advisory group was created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to promote communication between Superfund professionals and residents.


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