Chemical firms to help pay for NJ hazmat costs

By Brent Johnson
The Star-ledger

CARTERET, N.J. — For years, Carteret has employed extra firefighters and housed specialized emergency trucks that other towns its size don't need, all because chemical companies cover stretches of the borough, Mayor Daniel Reiman said yesterday.

But now, those companies will help pay for it.

Eleven of the companies have signed the HazMat Funding Agreement to help fund the borough's emergency services for hazardous materials. It's a move that will net the borough at least $3 million over a 10-year period — and one that officials are calling the first of its kind in the state.

Reiman said the agreement is crucial in Carteret, where industrial parks are in the northeastern strip of town, and the New Jersey Turnpike and the Conrail industrial railroad line slice through the western section.

The borough of 22,000 people and 4.5 square miles has spent millions to be prepared for chemical spills and fires, the mayor said. Officials have purchased ladder trucks and foam pumper trucks. They employ 21 firefighters — more than towns of similar size. And they pay to send firefighters to a special academy in Texas to learn to battle chemical incidents.

Having chemical companies foot part of the bill for it all is only fair, he said.

"If this was a more suburban type of town, we wouldn't have a need for the number of firemen and the amount of training we do," Reiman said. "We're asking (the companies) to pay for their fair share, so ma and pa and the residential taxpayer doesn't have to."

William Dressel, executive director of the state League of Municipalities, said he is not aware of any other town in New Jersey with such an agreement.

"I think this is a great idea," Dressel said. "The corporate community has a responsibility. They basically should be held accountable financially for these situations, if they really care about the community."

The money will be used to improve training, buy new emergency response equipment and help pay the cost to employ two firefighters.

The borough hasn't had many HazMat mishaps in recent years, Carteret Fire Chief Brian O'Connor said, but the agreement will help the town be better prepared.

The agreement stems from a 2005 ordinance the Carteret council adopted that mandated industrial companies help pay for additional training and equipment to respond to emergencies involving hazardous materials.

But Kinder Morgan and BP Amoco, two of the largest companies in town, filed a lawsuit against the borough to stop the ordinance. That led to four years of litigation in federal District Court in Newark.

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