Bamboozled: After a big dig, a mighty wait

Ivar and Rosemary Nelson found buyers for their Verona home – a certain challenge in today’s market.

They’re scheduled to close on Aug. 15.

But without one important piece of paper, that wasn’t going to happen.

The Nelsons always knew they had an oil tank on their property. When they first purchased the home in 1978, it was equipped with oil heat. A year later, the couple converted the home to gas, and they didn’t think much of the oil tank that was buried in their front yard.

“Back in the 70s, you just left the tank in the ground,” Rosemary Nelson said.

Over the years, the couple heard news stories about homeowners who had troubles with leaky tanks. Removing the tank would be a costly and messy endeavor, so the Nelsons didn’t take action right away.

Fast forward three decades later, and the couple heard about New Jersey’s program to help homeowners pay part of the cost of clean-up and removal — the UST Fund, short for the Petroleum Underground Storage Tank Remediation, Upgrade and Closure Fund.

They decided it was time.

In the fall of 2010, the couple hired Moriarty Environmental Solutions of Colmar, Pa., to oversee the job, which would include tank removal, environmental testing and remediation of the area.

The work, which would cost about $109,000 from start to finish, started that November.

The initial tank removal was quick, Rosemary Nelson said, but then it took a full year to complete the job because there was leakage.

“In that one year time we had Halloween with a large crater filled with rocks and water, surrounded with yellow caution tape on our lawn,” Rosemary Nelson said. “We were afraid for the trick-or-treaters’ safety. I actually stood outside to make sure that no one got hurt.”

Because some of the contaminated soil ran under their neighbor’s garage, there were additional costs, and there was additional work to do.

“[The workers] had to shore up the house next door to hold it up to get to where they needed to get for the spillage,” she said.

When the work was completed, all the Nelsons needed was a “no further action” (NFA) letter from the state, which would essentially confirm that the state had reviewed the contractor reports and agreed the area was environmentally sound.

But it’s not that easy.

Unexplained Paperwork Delays

In the spring of 2012, after the Nelsons reseeded grass and replanted shrubs, they put their home on the market.

Within a month, by Memorial Day weekend, they had a signed contract for the sale.

“We explained to the buyers that the certificate was supposed to be on the way,” Rosemary Nelson said of the “no further action” letter. “I’d come home from work every day and check my mailbox, thinking it would be there.”

But it wasn’t.

The Nelsons said they must have called Moriarty 50 times to ask what was taking so long. They said they were told many things, including that Moriarty was waiting for subcontractor reports, so nothing had been filed with the state.

The Nelsons said they were trying to be patient, but they now had a deadline for their home sale. That didn’t seem to get anyone to move faster on the paperwork, they said.

Things were not looking good for the Nelson’s Aug. 15 closing date. The buyer’s mortgage company won’t sign off on a home loan without the “no further action” letter.

“The people who bought my house have already sold their house so they have no place to go,” said Ivar Nelson. “And we’re having a house built. It’s nearing completion. I may have to get a mortgage to pay for that house and then wait for that letter to come through so I can sell my house. It’s terrible.”

On July 31, just as Bamboozled got involved and before we contacted the company, the report finally arrived. The Nelsons were hoping the state also received a copy.

Rosemary Nelson said they called the state for a status update.

“I called Trenton and a man called Ralph said he really could not say [how long],” she said. “He said it will go on a pile with the rest. I pressed him again about time and he said, `Maybe 30 days. I have to be here 8 hours anyway.’ What a delight.”

We called the state to see if there was anything to move this along for the Nelsons.

The state located the paperwork on Aug. 8, and overnight, it called with phenomenal news.

“Marty Goodwin went way above and beyond the norm,” said Lawrence Ragonese, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection. “I told her the folks involved were in a bind. She dropped what she was doing and made this a priority. The NFA letter has been signed this afternoon and is on its way out the door.”

Most awesome. The couple should receive it well before their closing.

“Months upon months going through this – it wears you down,” Rosemary Nelson said when she heard the good news. “It’s it’s like winning the lottery.”

With all we hear about the inefficiencies of state government, the DEP sure got this one right.

Status of the UST Fund

The cost to remove the tank and make sure the area was environmentally sound cost about $109,000. The Nelson’s insurance company paid $81,000, and the rest was paid by the couple.

Much of that cost should be covered by the UST Fund, but the Nelsons – and hundreds of other families who have removed their tanks – could be waiting for a very long time.

The UST Fund is essentially out of cash.

“The program was a victim of its own success,” said the DEP’s Ragonese. “The legislature saw fit to greatly expand the pool of eligibility – but without adding funding. DEP took a lot of criticism for the backlog but we did not cause the problem.”

He said the DEP processed all applications until funding ran out, and it continues to do so as it receives annual infusions of new dollars from the Corporate Business Tax Fund.

How many homeowners are on hold?

Ragonese said DEP has 260 homeowner UST Fund applications that have been reviewed and are ready for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to review for financial eligibility once fiscal year 2013 funding becomes available. The EDA has another 60 or so applications that have been reviewed by DEP and have undergone the financial eligibility review. They, too, are awaiting fiscal year 2013 funding.

Altogether, there are 1,768 UST Fund applications pending within the DEP’s backlog that have yet to be reviewed. They date back to 2010 and will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis, Ragonese said.

Since the start of the program, he said, a total of 4,566 applications totaling approximately $94 million have been funded from the leaking underground storage tank program. A total of 9,455 applications amounting to approximately $25 million have been funded to date from the non-leaking tank program.

Going forward, funding from the corporate business tax is expected to be between $12 and $16 million year, he said.

DEP is not accepting any new applications for non-leaking tanks, but it is for leaking ones.

“An application submitted today, based upon our current backlog and anticipated annual funding, would not be reviewed and funded until sometime in fiscal year 2016 — after July 1, 2015,” Ragonese said.

To learn more about the program, visit

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