WANTAGE — With spring approaching along with a deadline for unlicensed dirt brokers to register their activities with the state, township officials have a stern message for anyone intent on skirting local and state anti-dumping laws enacted over the past year.


"Wantage Township and this committee (the Township Committee) have put a great amount of effort, an enormous amount of effort, in dealing with dirty dirt — and I want everybody to hear loud and clear that Wantage Township will not tolerate even a truckload of dirt that comes in here that doesn't go through a process that we have put on the books that I think is about as aggressive as any municipality in this state," said Township Attorney Glenn Kienz.


His comments, coming at a Township Committee meeting held last Thursday, are the clearest signal yet that as the weather turns, the township will be on the alert for potential violations of a May 2019 township ordinance subjecting all soil brought into the township to municipal regulation and approval.


The warning to would-be violators also comes on the cusp of an April 20 deadline requiring those engaged in soil movement or soil fill recycling services to register with the state Department of Environmental Protection as a first step toward completing the process for obtaining a solid waste license.


The deadline, part of a new state law passed unanimously by both houses of the state Legislature in December and signed into law by Gov. Murphy in January, follows last year's closure of a dump site in Vernon that was found to be harboring dangerous pollutants. The legislation is intended to crack down on the illegal dumping of tainted and contaminated soil there and in other parts of the state under the guise of recycling.


Those who register with the state, meanwhile, will also be subject to further requirements under the township's municipal ordinance, which is intended to put additional teeth in the rules coming out of Trenton.


Under the municipal ordinance, landscapers or others receiving less than 25 cubic yards of soil — about 1.5 to two truckloads — in a calendar year are exempt from having to obtain permits but must still fill out and submit a soil importation form in person or on the township's website.


Those receiving more than this amount of dirt in a calendar year will be required to obtain a soil importing permit from the township stating exactly where the dirt is coming from, right down to the block and lot number, municipality and name of the owner from which it originated, as well as document that it has been tested and certified as being free of contaminants.


Those receiving up to 300 cubic yards of dirt in a calendar year — roughly 18 to 24 truckloads — will be required to obtain a permit from the township zoning office. Those looking to go over that amount will be required to go before the township Land Use Board.


Failure to comply with the township ordinance is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 per day or up to 90 days imprisonment or both, with each truckload of dirt received and each day of non-compliance counting as a separate violation.


The enforcement of these new regulations is taking on greater urgency as signs offering "free fill dirt" are once again beginning to appear on telephone poles and other locations with the approach of spring.


Public health officials continue to caution the public against accepting this dirt, noting that it's impossible to tell if it's contaminated or not merely by looking at it and that quality topsoil is not something normally given for free. Additionally, those who accept this material could be liable to sanctions under municipal and state regulations as well as for the cost of remediation and cleanup.


Kienz, the township attorney, said without being more specific that township officials recently became aware of "some things that have gone on in the past several weeks" regarding potential violations.


"If anyone has any thought of doing anything in Wantage without going through the process, God will have to have mercy on your soul," he said. "We are gearing up, we are watching, we have a very aggressive prosecutor, and we have many, many people in many, many places (who will be doing enforcement)."


Township Committeeman Ron Bassani has previously urged residents to be on the alert for any potentially illegal dumping activities and to report anything suspicious, especially since rogue operators often try to camouflage their activities by conducting them in the late evening or early morning hours or at other times when they think no one is watching.


The passage of the municipal and state regulations over the past year followed a 2016 report by the State Commission of Investigation, titled "Dirty Dirt," that chronicled the infiltration into New Jersey's recycling industry of self-styled "dirt brokers," including some who had been banned from the state's garbage industry because of reputed mob ties.


A second investigative report last June, titled "Dirty Dirt II," documented the continuation of illegal dumping at a site in Marlboro and recommended that those claiming to work in "recycling" be subject to the same standards and background checks as are applied to those working in solid waste.


The three state legislators representing the 24th District — Republicans state Sen. Steve Oroho and Assembly members Parker Space and Hal Wirths — were all sponsors of the state legislation, which incorporated the commission's recommendations.


Eric Obernauer can also be contacted on Twitter: @EricObernNJH or by phone at 973-383-1213.