U.S. Metals settles with Carteret residents for $42M in class-action contamination lawsuit

U.S. Metals settles with Carteret residents for $42M
in class-action contamination lawsuit

More than 1,000 property owners impacted are eligible to receive
up to $17,500 from abandoned smelting site

CARTERET, NJ – Mayor Daniel J. Reiman has announced his support of the proposed U.S. Metals Refining Co. settlement reached with Borough residents and businesses whose properties may have been impacted by the longtime waterfront smelter that operated from 1903 through the mid-1980s.

The Final Approval Hearing for the $42 million settlement will take place at 2 p.m. on July 26 via Zoom. More than 1,000 property owners are eligible to receive up to $17,500, according to the award of the settlement.

“I am pleased that USMR has reached a significant settlement with Carteret residential property owners whose property may have been impacted by the historic operations of U.S. Metals, which ceased operations in 1986,” Mayor Reiman said.

The class-action lawsuit, Juan Duarte et. al. vs. U.S. Metals, arises out of the historic operations of the former USMR Smelter Site on the Borough’s waterfront in the Port District, now the site of millions of square feet of logistical space. The lawsuit claims that properties in the Class Area have been damaged by the releases of lead, arsenic, and other contaminants from the historic operation of the smelter site into the air and soils during its historic operations, which ceased in 1986. The lawsuit also claims that the manner in which defendants tested and remediated contaminants from the smelter site was inadequate and has caused and continues to cause damage to properties in the Class Area. The defendants deny that they have done anything wrong, according to the suit, but cooperated with the Borough and its residents in regard to cleaning up the site and the impacted properties.

The Class Area is Peter J. Sica Industrial Highway to the East, Romanowski Street to the Northeast, Cypress Street to the North, Arthur and East Grant streets to the West, and Middlesex Avenue to the South. The Class Period for eligibility is for property owners of record from Jan. 30, 2017 to March 27, 2023.

To see if an address qualifies for a portion of the settlement, visit carteretsmeltersettlement.com/ or carteret.net/.

Access to the July 26 Zoom hearing will be at zoomgov.com/postattendee?id=
with the meeting ID of 1612878055 and passcode of 0139635.

USMR, a subsidiary of Freeport McMoRan since 2007, entered a consent order with the state Department of Environmental Protection to clean up the site in 1988. Yet, no comprehensive plan was in put in place to address contamination that may have migrated off-site prior to a 2012 agreement between the Borough and U.S. Metals. That agreement guided USMR’s investigation of hundreds of public and private properties that may have been exposed to contaminants.

In early 2017, Borough residents received letters from USMR informing them that their properties contained contaminants above state safety levels of 400 parts per million. Some of the properties were as high as 1,500 parts per million, according to the USMR letters.

Residents then entered into the class-action lawsuit to address health concerns and loss of property value.

USMR replaced yards with clean soil and restored affected landscaping. The company also paid for the Borough’s environmental professionals to monitor the cleanup.

In November 2017, Mayor Reiman announced a $7.4 settlement between the Borough and U.S. Metals. The smelter made an immediate payment of $4.25 million to the Borough and is in the process of paying a portion of $3.15 million annually through 2027.

Those funds were invested by the Borough in environmental, public health and waterfront recreation initiatives, Mayor Reiman said. Recreational initiatives have included Carteret Waterfront Park, Veteran’s Pier, Carteret Marina, and a Riverwalk, the Southern portion of which will open soon along the former U.S. Metals site and the Northern portion of which is under construction on the nearby former DuPont property.

The Borough’s 2011 U.S. Metals lawsuit was one of many spearheaded by the Reiman administration to reclaim the waterfront from corporate polluters and provide public access to the Arthur Kill for the first time in 100 years.

More than a century ago, Carteret’s waterfront was residential and public, but in the 1890s, chemical companies acquired the properties, took down the colonial mansions along the waterfront and created a “chemical coastline,” Mayor Reiman said.

“We’ve sued and won natural resource damages cases against all of these polluters requiring that they provide public space, open space, access to the waterfront,” the Mayor said. “Taking back these properties, requiring them to clean up the properties, to pay civil penalties to the Borough that we’re using to provide these public amenities.

“We sued DuPont 12 years ago, and the settlement was that they had to remediate and cap the site,” he continued. “They had to donate seven acres to the Borough for the purpose of the ferry terminal, and then we would acquire the balance of the property.

“DuPont was the first one we went after under Natural Resource Damages. Then we went after U.S. Metals, Ichabod T. Williams & Sons Sawmill & Veneer Plant, NY/NJ Port Authority, Basin Holdings. These older companies had moth-balled properties in town that had done nothing with them. They were vacant.”

In addition to the forthcoming Carteret Intermodal Transportation Building, the 40,000-square foot hub of a future ferry service, complete with restaurants, retail, a banquet center, a bed & breakfast, office space, and rooftop amenities, the former DuPont site soon will be home to Carteret Stages. Under development with J. Bezzone, Carteret Stages will feature movie and television sound stages, a hotel, restaurants, retail, a parking garage, and rooftop amenities, including a swimming pool.

Plans are to develop portions of the U.S. Metals site in a similar way, Mayor Reiman said.

Updates about the U.S. Metals settlement will be available at Carteret.net and carteretsmeltersettlement.com/ or by following @MyCarteret on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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