The township has dubbed the 182-acre plot of land next to Palmyra’s Cove Nature Park “a ticking time bomb.”
The site – which has frontage on Route 73 – had at one time more than 300 unexploded military weapons known as ordnances. During World War II, the U.S. Army operated a testing range for anti-tank artillery on the property and associated operations extended onto surrounding properties.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) took notice, designating it a Brownfield Development Area, which the department defines as “a property whose expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”
- About 104 acres of the plot was owned by Fillit Corporation, which was operating an organic composting facility. The property had previously been vacant for decades and was subject to illegal dumping.
- Some 65 acres were owned by National Amusements Inc., operator of the longtime outdoor flea market there.
- The remaining 13 acres – primarily frontage properties along Route 73 – were either vacant or owned by 15 different parties and used as gasoline stations, automotive repair facilities and commercial businesses.
The area had been subject to illegal dumping of various contaminated and flammable substances from imported contaminated soils, medical waste and compost piles due to multiple fires from improper and excessive storage, according to NJDEP’s brownfield investigation.
Between approximately the 1950s through ’70s, municipal solid waste that primarily originated from Philadelphia was dumped and/or landfilled on most of the organic composting facility property and part of the flea market property
Historical uses of the Route 73 frontage were similar to current ones, and environmental concerns were generally limited to potential petroleum sources, for example, above-ground and underground storage tanks and septic systems.
Palmyra’s Brownfield Development Area was highlighted during a local brownfields workshop in July.
“(The NJDEP) was trying to show other towns different versions of brownfields,” Palmyra Mayor Gina Tait said of the session. “There was a panel from up north, a panel from Camden, and us, to tell them all of the trials of tribulations that 20 years have gotten us to this point.”
The workshop not only highlighted the negatives of the plot being next to Cove Nature Park, but also optimism generated in part by a new warehouse there. Borough officials hope the structure is a sign of what’s to come.
“The redevelopers cleaned the area and capped it to be able to put a warehouse on here,” Tait explained. “The first warehouse is completed. They have half of that warehouse leased out to a trucking company. The second warehouse, they are clearing the land now and they expect that by 2025, it should be done.”
Along with warehouses on the property, new affordable housing is expected.
“We were always looking for something to be done,” Tait noted of the site. “We’ve gone to a lot of redevelopment conferences to attract companies, redevelopers, etc. I have to say that it was the NJDEP that spearheaded the redeveloper that we have now.”