Three Jefferson Street residents who incurred damage to their homes from a Hurricane Sandy-related oil spill have filed a negligence lawsuit against the city of Hoboken for refusing to clean up the oil, which they allege came from an unused tank on city property across the street.
Ivy and Ronald Baron, as well as their neighbor Judith Smith, filed the suit on Oct. 23, alleging that the city is delaying any efforts to clean up the spill, which they said an environmental cleanup expert estimated would cost around $800,000 to complete.
The Barons said this week they vividly remember looking out their window the morning after the storm and noticing a stream of oil heading toward their home from across the street – where they believe the city has situated several underground storage tanks. The property at 123 Jefferson St. currently holds the Boys and Girls Club.
Now, a year later, the couple says that they have run out of options for communicating with city officials – who they have accused of dragging their feet on the cleanup process. They say they cannot move forward with structural repairs to other Sandy-related damage until the oil is remediated from beneath their house.
“If this oil was spilled from our property, we would be taking responsibility.” – Ronald Baron
City spokesman Juan Melli said neither he nor Mayor Dawn Zimmer could comment on the suit because it is in litigation. In a story published in an area newspaper prior to the lawsuit’s filing date, Zimmer said, “We take any allegations seriously and will review this matter and try to resolve it amicably.”
The Barons say they have seen Hazmat vehicles across from their home and believe the city has removed the tanks and remediated the publicly-owned property even though they refuse to comment on the homeowner’s suit.
The Barons have seen one of the tanks above the property, and say it is now gone.
The Barons, who have two small children, were initially unable to leave their homes following the storm due to immense flooding in the area. But they evacuated the premises as soon as the flooding subsided, mainly due the smell of oil throughout the building.
“The smell was too much to bear, and we could not have stayed there with our children any longer,” said Ivy.
Despite the odor, the Barons moved back into their house shortly after the storm and Ms. Smith is still living in her residence.
By that time, Ronald said, they had a pretty good idea of where the oil was coming from.
“I remember thinking, where on earth could this oil be coming from?” he said. “It’s our opinion that it came from the tanks at the Boys and Girls Club, which is city property.”
The Boys and Girls Club, officially known as the Jerry Malloy Youth Center, holds several afterschool and recreational programs for Hoboken Youth, and serves as the home of the HoLa Dual-Language Charter School.
The oil began slicking toward the Barons’ building and has since settled beneath their property, according to experts that they’ve consulted. Ronald said that he was originally unsure of where the oil came from, but insisted that it is due to damage to the city’s tanks.
“It’s hard to come to any other conclusion now,” he said.
Like many Hoboken residents who suffered property damage as a result of Sandy, the Barons filed claims with the city and the National Flood Insurance Program, but have yet to hear back from either.
Furthermore, the Barons have attempted to secure information regarding the underground tanks across from their property via requests under the Open Public Records Act, but the requests have been rejected for being too broad, said Ivy.
The Barons have applied to other external bodies for assistance as well, including New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Fund, but have been denied because, according to their lawsuit, the city is the known owner of the oil and thus it is responsible for the cleanup.
“We need help; we need someone to hear us,” said Robert. “Right now I feel as if the city has deep pockets and can afford to drag us along because we’re in a much different financial situation.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org