Friday, July 27, 2012

DEP, rabbi at odds over Lakewood dump site 

A sandy clearing amid tall scrubby pines covers thousands of illegally dumped trash bags filled with religious articles. The fact that the bags — part of the shaimos Orthodox Jewish religious tradition — remain there is part of a legal battle in which state officials are taking to task the rabbi responsible.

The clearing is part of a dump site near an active water well off Vermont Avenue that was first discovered in 2010 by residents who reported suspicious activity in the woods. The landfill was created by members of the Orthodox Jewish community to dispose of discarded religious items, known as shaimos, such as sacred scrolls and religious clothing. The Orthodox tradition forbids burning of certain items or throwing them in the trash.

The land now belongs to Congregation Minyan Shelanu Inc., which is owned by Rabbi Chaim Abadi of Miller Road in Lakewood. For two years, Abadi and the state Department of Environmental Protection have been battling over the dump site. The DEP has ordered him to remove the items because the agency contends it could contaminate a township drinking well.

In April, Ocean County Judge Craig L. Wellerson issued Abadi a 60-day notice, which expired June 18, to remove and relocate the bags to an appropriately prepared dump site that meets DEP standards. However, the religious items have not been moved, officials said.

Now, Abadi is due in court this morning in Toms River before Wellerson.

DEP officials contend Abadi is in "blatant defiance" of the court order to remove and relocate the materials, according to the lawsuit filed in Ocean County Superior Court in Toms River. Named in the DEP's complaint are defendants Abadi and Hard Maple Realty LLC, Vincezo Metee, Champion Subcontracting, and Congregation Minyan Shelanu Inc.

The DEP is asking the judge to impose a fine of $1,000 for every day that the illegal dump site remains.

In 2010, Abadi hired a contractor to dig a hole in a clearing and dump the bags filled with religious texts and clothing, then cover them with dirt, on land he did not own.

The property was owned by Grace Fitzgerald, 84, of Long Island. She inherited the land in 1985. On July 2, Fitzgerald deeded the property to Abadi's Congregation Minyan Shenalu Inc., according to the records at the Ocean County Clerk.

Fitzgerald and Abadi could not be reached for comment Thursday. A call to Abadi's attorney, Steven Secare, was not returned.

More so, Abadi has applied to Lakewood's Zoning Board of Adjustment to allow him to use the land as a cemetery, said Daniel A. Greenhouse, deputy attorney general in a July 11 letter to Wellerson. The June 4 zoning board application hearing was rescheduled for Aug. 27.

In Jackson, Abadi also "unlawfully buried truckloads of unwanted materials in 2009," Greenhouse said in his letter. However, at a prior hearing with Wellerson, Greenhouse said the Jackson site was dug with the DEP's knowledge.

Larry Simons, a resident who keeps a close eye on government activities, was one of the people who originally reported the illegal dumping in 2010, he said. On Thursday, Simons walked along the cleared trail leading to the site and talked about the day when he and some friends took photographs of the bags and heavy equipment, he said.

"This was virgin forest," Simons pointed out. "You can see where the trees were removed and the road was cleared to accommodate the trucks coming in. I don't care if (Abadi) puts it in his backyard but I want it removed from Vermont Avenue."


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