Grand Jury Indicts Hotel Owner for Illegal Discharge

New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram announced that the Division of Criminal Justice on Sept. 2 obtained an indictment charging the owner of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Secaucus with unlawfully pumping wastewater contaminated with sewage into the Hackensack River.

According to Criminal Justice Director Deborah L. Gramiccioni, the corporate owner of the hotel, RD Secaucus LLC, which does business as Crowne Plaza Hotel Secaucus and Rosdev Hospitality Secaucus LP, is charged in a state grand jury indictment with third-degree unlawful discharge of a pollutant in violation of the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act.

The indictment alleges that between Jan. 1, 2008 and June 8, 2009, the hotel unlawfully discharged polluted wastewater into the Hackensack River without a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

An investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Environmental Crimes Section and the DEP revealed that putrid wastewater from an underground tunnel collects in a grate-covered pit beside the hotel, located at 2 Harmon Plaza. Hotel staff allegedly rigged a pump in the pit and a hose, through which the foul-smelling wastewater was pumped across a grassy area to the riverbank.

The hotel, on a weekly basis, allegedly pumped hundreds of gallons of water polluted with sewage, chlorine and other chemicals into the river. Laboratory tests of water samples taken from the pit confirmed that the wastewater contains sewage and other pollutants.

The investigation began in late May, when Captain Bill Sheehan of Hackensack Riverkeeper, an environmental organization dedicated to protecting the river, alerted the Division of Criminal Justice that he received an anonymous tip that the hotel was discharging pollutants into the river.

“We commend Hackensack Riverkeeper for bringing this violation to our attention, as well as the concerned citizen who alerted their organization,” said Gramiccioni. “For our environmental enforcement efforts to succeed, they must include the eyes, ears and noses of New Jersey residents who report the suspicious activities of illegal polluters and dumpers.”

On June 8, detectives from the Division of Criminal Justice executed a search warrant at the hotel, along with a DEP water inspector, in order to, among other things, make physical examinations related to the pit and the sources of the wastewater, conduct tests, take samples, and seize related records. A team from the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) assisted on site by deploying a robot equipped with a video camera into the underground tunnel connected to the pit. PVSC also assisted in analysis of water samples.

That same day, DEP issued a Notice of Violation to the hotel, ordering it to cease any activity that would cause wastewater from the pit to flow into the river.

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