Allegations by state Senate President Stephen Sweeney that West Deptford’s Sunoco settlement runs afoul of the law hold no water, township officials say.
Sweeney released a letter Thursday addressed to both the state attorney general’s office and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection calling for both departments to investigate whether West Deptford violated a state law when reimbursing $13.1 million in tax refunds to Sunoco.
Sweeney alleged that, according to the law, the township was obligated to escrow the money with the DEP to ensure environmental remediation. Giving the money directly to Sunoco violates the state law, he said.
But West Deptford Mayor Raymond Chintall called Sweeney’s move politically motivated.
“This is an action by the senator and Assemblyman (John) Burzichelli to discredit our Republican majority committee efforts to bring honest and fiscal responsible government to the residents of West Deptford, who we put first, far above politics,” Chintall wrote in an email to Patch.
Sweeney and Burzichelli are Democrats, while West Deptford’s township committee is majority Republican.
Chintall added that Sweeney and associates are more concerned about politics above serving the senator’s hometown.
“If he had put this amount of concern and energy into saving the Eagle Point refinery and 400 jobs over two years ago and pushed to reintroduce the S1006 (2006 bill) so as to save the town from a large tax refund, then maybe all of this would be mute,” Chintall wrote.
Township Solicitor Anthony Ogozalek explained that the state law, which Sweeney claims was violated, has two conditions in which the property must fall under. One, the property must be under a federal state remediation plan. Second, the property must be underutilized or vacant. However, there is no definition of underutilized.
Ogozalek said the tax appeal was based on the both the Cogen plant and the tank farm sections of Eagle Point. The Cogen plant is not under a federal remediation plan, so it does not fall under the statute, the attorney said. Ogozalek added that the other part of the refund, the tank farm, is neither vacant nor underutilized.
“It’s my position—or the township’s position that based on my opinion and research and the information submitted by various professionals, both technical or legal—that the Sunoco refund was not controlled by the conditions of the senate bill,” Ogozalek said.
Maury Stack of Stack, Coolhand, and Stack, LLC, a certified NJ appraiser with a specialization in refinery and oil tax appeals, found no evidence that the property was underutilized, Ogozalek said. In the property evaluation addressed to Ogozalek on Sept. 6, Stack said the Eagle Point Terminal/Cogen plant does not fall under the description of vacant or underutilized.
“Our Eagle Point facility is located in Westville, New Jersey, and consists of active storage for clean products and dark oils,” Stack wrote.
Sweeney’s letter also suggested that Sunoco’s donation of amounted to a bribe by Sunoco, something Ogozalek denied. He noted that the fire company is a nonprofit organization and not part of the township.
“Everything was above board and done properly within the confine of the law,” Ogozalek said.
Chintall said that the appraisal reports of Sunoco were even used in a May letter from Committeewoman Denice DiCarlo and Committeewoman Donna Symborski as a source for not supporting the tax settlement in May.
“If the Democrats found them credible then to use to attack the Republicans on the township committee, then why are they not credible now?” Chintall wrote. “Sen. Sweeney and his associates can’t just pick and choose when they use a professional’s advice just because it suits their political agenda of the time.”
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