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RINGWOOD HIRES PR FIRM FOR THE FORD TOXIC SITE

Record - 8/21/2017

RINGWOOD - The borough has contracted a public relations firm to handle communications involving the Ford Superfund site amid growing fears about the site's potential impact on the Wanaque Reservoir and progressing plans to cap rather than clean most of its industrial contamination.

Marketing and public relations firm MWWPR of East Rutherford was hired with the idea of establishing a fact-based, plain-language online resource to explain the condition and impact of the former Ford Motor Company dump, said Borough Manager Scott Heck.

"The borough has a responsibility to its residents to provide accurate and factual information about issues that impact their community," he said. "The factual information needs to be presented regardless of what the outcome is, whether it's for full excavation or (not)."

MWW will be paid a $25,000 retainer, according to an invoice obtained by the non-profit group Ramapough Conservancy.

A recent social media survey released by the site's community advisory group found that nearly 43 percent of 477 people first found out about the Ringwood Mines Superfund site by word of mouth.

The 500-acre site contains surface landfills and mine pits used by Ford to dump paint sludge and other industrial waste in the 1960s and '70s.

Much of the contaminated soil speckled with benzene, arsenic and lead on the Superfund site is set to be consolidated in three main zones and capped with a permeable layer designed to prevent human contact, according to plans approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The hiring of MWW comes as many residents have been fighting to stop plans by the borough and Ford to build a recycling center on a portion of the Superfund site off Peters Mine Road called the O'Connor Disposal Area.

The recycling center plans forced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to change its plan to force the borough and Ford to remove 166,000 tons of contaminated soil from O'Connor and instead put a barrier over the polluted area.

The move drastically dropped the cleanup cost for the borough and Ford from $32.6 million for excavation to $5.4 million for capping.

Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said he believes the borough hired the firm to help convince people the plan to leave most of the contamination in the hills above the Wanaque Reservoir is acceptable.

"This is all about them trying to get the public to accept this recycling center and not having a real cleanup of that site," said Tittel, who used to live in the borough and sits on a community advisory group for the Superfund site. "Instead of working with the people of Upper Ringwood, they are bringing in a PR firm."

William Murray, executive vice president for MWWPR, said the goal is not to promote already approved plans to the site but combat a "high level of confusion in the community."

"We've seen at least four different social media sites and several local groups regularly issuing their own information on this topic," he said. "The most responsible step that the Borough could take now is to engage more proactively in communicating with the citizens of Ringwood."

Murray said Tuesday that an agreement could be finalized by the borough as soon as this week. Initial plans are to create some new or improved communications platforms, he said.

"In addition to ongoing counsel and support, that likely will start with web-based programs," Murray said.

Funds to pay for MWWPR will come from Ford but will go through the office of the borough's environmental attorney, officials said. The Borough Council approved a $25,000 increase in the attorney's contract last month after announcing the tentative work agreement.

 
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