Federal environmental officials reached a $21 million settlement late Monday with Ford Motor Co. and Ringwood on a controversial cleanup of the borough's sprawling Superfund site that will leave tons of polluted soil in place under a barrier.
The agreement filed in U.S. District Court is another step toward affirming a plan that would keep 166,000 tons of contaminated soil at the O'Connor Disposal Area despite the objections of residents who live nearby, including many members of the Ramapough Lenape tribe.
"The fight is not over," Vincent Mann, chief of the Ramapough's Turtle Clan, said of the settlement. "We are going to try everything we can to stop this, because that pollution is going to sit there forever and affect our people, the land, the plants and the animals."
The pollution dates back a half-century to when contractors for Ford Motor Co. began taking toxic paint sludge from its Mahwah factory and dumping it in the forests and old iron mines of Upper Ringwood next to a low-income neighborhood. At the time, Ringwood officials gave permission to Ford, which is why the borough is also on the hook for the cleanup.
The site has been mismanaged in the past. The EPA declared it clean and removed it from the Superfund list only to reinstate it after a series last decade by The Record showed paint sludge was still strewn across the forested mountains of Ringwood.
Tons of contaminated material has since been excavated from the site.
But the EPA had originally planned to have Ford and the borough pay $32.6 million to remove the contamination at O'Connor, off Peters Mine Road. But at the last minute, Ringwood officials introduced plans to build a new recycling center — paid for by Ford — on an asphalt barrier atop O'Connor.
The move lowered the cleanup's cost by $27.2 million to $5.4 million, drawing both outrage from many who want the pollution removed and support from some residents who fear that a costly cleanup would significantly raise their property taxes.