Our Kids are So Bright They Glow in the Dark! (Or how to build a high school on a Superfund Site)

Here’s a thought. Let’s spend billions of state dollars to build schools in the poorest neighborhoods, to correct the unequal educational opportunities between rich and poor. Let’s give a new state agency virtual carte blanche to buy property, work with local governments to identify sites, and build schools.

To make the money stretch as far as it can and sweeten deals for politically well connected individuals, let’s build the new schools for poor kids on toxic waste sites. Sshh! No one will notice. No one will ever be the wiser. And then we can save the prime land for commercial and luxury development!

That was the attitude of the now disbanding School Construction Corp in New Jersey, a state agency created by former Governor McGreevey . The agency was disbanded not because of their plans to relieve local officials of undesirable polluted sites by building schools on them, but because 8 BILLION dollars later, (that’s right, BILLION, not a misprint) they ran out of money. In a secret 2003 agreement between the SCC and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, regulatory review of environmental issues was shortened to 30 days so that the schools could be hastily constructed.

One of the sites once held a contaminated Union City mill that had once produced uranium for the Manhattan Project. SCC planned to spend millions building a high school for 1700 students there. In Gloucester City, a school was planned to be built on a federal Superfund site.

It is estimated by state Inspector General Mary Jane Cooper that SCC had acquired more than 60 pieces of tainted land. Lawmakers from both parties are calling for a complete halt to construction on tainted sites. In addition to freezing construction at tainted sites, environmentalists are calling for better soil and water testing and monitoring, and new standards for land acquisition. Politicians from both parties are now paying attention.

The cost to stop building a middle school on contaminated soil in Trenton and tear it down? A mere 20 million.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. As a New Jersey resident, I believe Tony Soprano is in the wrong business. Waste management indeed. There are much bigger dollars to be made in New Jersey with just plain old waste.

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