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State sues former Mays Landing gas station over underground fuel tanks
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State sues former Mays Landing gas station over underground fuel tanks

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Atlantic County

State officials filed a lawsuit Friday against the owners of an abandoned Mays Landing gas station, where underground fuel storage tanks allegedly pose a risk of spillage and contamination.

Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shan M. LaTourette announced Friday the filing of seven environmental enforcement actions across the state, including six to hold polluters accountable for contamination in environmental justice communities.

The other lawsuit is against the owners of the former Baja Auto Services in downtown Mays Landing.

According to the complaint against Baja Auto Services and the estate of Jeff Altman, the owners of the abandoned gas station have not properly closed a 24,000-gallon underground storage tank system on the property.

“Despite the Department’s enforcement efforts at this site spanning over two decades, the UST system is entirely unmonitored and lacks basic spill prevention controls or the required leak detection,” the complaint states. “So long as the UST system remains in its current state, the environment and the surrounding community, including a nearby school, are at risk of harmful effects from the release of diesel fuel and gasoline.”

The complaint said the location is about 300 feet from a private school for children in preschool to eighth grade, St. Vincent de Paul Regional School on Main Street.

“The Department seeks to eliminate the risks to the community and the environment via an order requiring Defendants to immediately empty and properly close the UST system, investigate the surrounding area and, if necessary, conduct any required remediation,” the complaint states.

The complaint also alleges the defendants failed to fulfill their existing responsibilities arising out of a 1996 gasoline spill and 2012 discovery of contaminated soil on the property.

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On June 12, 1996, a product line leak led to the discharge of fuel into the soil at the site, according to the complaint. The previous owner, Mays Landing Citgo, conducted some remediation, but the site remained contaminated. Mays Landing Citgo no longer exists.

Altman purchased the property from Walter L. Hoagland on July 7, 2006. Inspections conducted in April 2008, June 2008, January 2011, June 2011 and July 2012 by the DEP determined the defendants violated the UST Act by operating underground storage tanks without proper registration, failing to maintain proper UST monitoring systems, failing to store substances in the tanks for which they were designed and failing to properly close out-of-service tanks.

On Oct. 24, 2012, a soil investigation discovered traces of diesel fuel and oil waste in the soil above the tank system.

On Jan. 7, 2013, the DEP issued an order to Altman, revoking his UST registration and requiring him to cease all UST operation at the site. The DEP issued a penalty of $100,000.

A Stipulation of Settlement was reached in May 2016, but Altman stopped paying the penalty of $47,518,16 on a quarterly basis in March 2018, the complaint states. Failure to reach Altman continued long after he died Jan. 13, 2020, and the DEP discovered Jan. 5, 2021, through an inspection that Baja Auto ceased operations.

Altman was responsible for ensuring Baja Auto complied with applicable laws, and his estate now is liable for Altman’s debts, contractual obligations and liabilities, the complaint states.

Five of the six environmental justice lawsuits filed Friday focus on harmful contamination posing a threat to residents and natural resources in Camden, Irvington, Jersey City, Newark and Somerville. Each community is considered “overburdened” under the state’s Environmental Justice Law, because it has a significant low-income, minority and/or limited English proficiency population, the news release states.

The sixth lawsuit centers on suspect underground fuel storage tanks located at three gas station properties owned by the same defendant. Two of those stations are in Runnemede and Voorhees, Camden County, both categorized as overburdened. The third is in Pitman, Gloucester County, which is not considered overburdened.

“Pollution affects all of us, but it doesn’t affect us equally,” Bruck said. “Lower-income neighborhoods have been disproportionately exposed to environmental harms. And far too often, the communities most affected by these harms have been communities of color. That legacy of environmental injustice is why, here in New Jersey, the Murphy administration is prioritizing environmental cleanups in these overburdened neighborhoods.”

Contact John Russo: 609-272-7184

jrusso@pressofac.com

Twitter: @ACPress_Russo

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I graduated from Rowan University in 2011 where I studied journalism. I covered local high school and college sports at the South Jersey Times and Vineland Daily Journal. I have been a sports reporter with The Press since July 2013

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