CARTERET – The borough is the home base of a specialized oil spill removal organization and training facility with a team whose roots include experience with the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska as well as port security work following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Clean Harbors Cooperative (Clean Harbors Co-Op) is dedicated to keeping the waters in the ports of New York and New Jersey safe and clean, from the Long Island Sound to the Raritan Bay, supported by the regional oil and power generation industry.
It's a team the borough relies on, according to Fire Chief Mark Hruska.
Mayor Daniel J. Reiman calls the cooperative "an invaluable asset to the community of Carteret."
The cooperative helps local emergency responders contain oil from sinking boats and trains them in hazmat response, along with units of the Coast Guard, representatives of the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Middlesex County Hazmat Materials Unit, and hazmat teams of Cooperative members, Reiman said.
“Carteret is proud to be the home of Clean Harbors Co-Op and applaud them in the important and dangerous work they do in our waters, as well as surrounding waters,” the mayor said.
Clean Harbors Co-Op’s team of eight experienced fulltime employees is what makes the oil spill response organization effective, according to CEO Ben Salerno, who is a retired Perth Amboy police sergeant. Salerno, who began working part-time for the cooperative in 2012 became a full-time employee in 2017 and has been CEO since April 2021.
While working in law enforcement Salerno participated in a post-9/11 port security initiative, Securing the Cities (STC), a tristate endeavor administered by the federal Department of Homeland Security, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) utilizing state-of-the-art radiological detection equipment in a maritime environment seeking any illicit radiological material and preventing it from reaching the shorelines.
“While conducting radiological maneuvers and working with our partners in the Port of New York and New Jersey, we knew there’s multiple ways into the New York/New Jersey region," said Salerno, a former Perth Amboy Deputy Office of Emergency Management coordinator. "We worked jointly with New York City and our federal, state and local partners as well as the United States Coast Guard on a regular basis. It’s about working together collaboratively and cohesively. At the end of the day, the mission is the same: working together, being prepared and hopefully preventing an incident from occurring.'
And if something does happen, prior preparation and diligence is paramount, he said.
Most team members have worked for Clean Harbors Co-Op as certified hazmat responders, credentialed Coast Guard-licensed boat captains, and commercially licensed truck drivers possessing various endorsements for more than 20 years each.
"Clean Harbors Co-Op was created in 1977 by the regional oil and power generation industry as a means to deal with spills and other emergencies” Salerno said. “Considering the multi-layer impact a spill of great magnitude could have on the waterways in the port of NY/NJ, from environmental to financial, the member companies decided to combine resources and hence the formation of Clean Harbors Cooperative.”
The cooperatives board of directors includes senior leadership representatives from the member organizations.
Jameel Pleasant, one of the team's two mechanics who has been with the cooperative since 2002, said it's a family atmosphere, while Erin McCarthy, office manager, said Clean Harbors Co-Op literally is family because her father, Dennis J. McCarthy, is the cooperative’s former CEO and a 20-year Coast Guard veteran who supervised the lightering operation of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in the Gulf of Alaska.
“She was raised in it, so her institutional memory is amazing,” Salerno said.
Clean Harbors Co-Op’s mechanical data, machinery documentation and engineering information is stored in the new technical library, which was dedicated to former McCarthy, the former CEO, upon his 2021 retirement.
The library which houses all the technical data and reference material in one location, allows for streamlined access when working cases, providing training, or conducting maintenance/repairs on equipment, Salerno said.
While each member of the Clean Harbors Co-Op team has hazmat and emergency response training with an emphasis on maritime hazmat, they also have specialties.
Pleasant and Steve DiSandro, another co-op 20-year veteran, are both mechanics and repairmen. Kelvin Jones has the longest tenure with 26 years. Jason Pevonis is the Cooperative’s graphic design specialist. Jason LaBracio, a 20-year veteran, is the Co-Op’s supervisor. Chris Bodi, a four-year member, is the technology director, and Dave Nelson is a training and special projects consultant.
Clean Harbors’ fleet includes 23 boats of various sizes and uses, several trailers, a tractor, and two utility task vehicles as well as 100,000 feet of boom to contain oil or hazardous material from a spill.
The Co-Op trailers also are stocked with pumps, skimmers, generators, and hoses, while a garage and warehouse is stocked with backup equipment.
“If one of our member companies has a spill, we will respond to them with our equipment, and, for them, that’s where the cost savings is paramount, when using the equipment because they have a percentage ownership in it,” Salerno said. “There may be additional costs for consumable/disposable items, and those are generally at or near cost as a result of the volume we do and the fact of being a member of the cooperative."
He added some spills last for days and involve the deployment of several thousand feet of boom.
With the savings, the Cooperative continually reinvests, upgrading equipment and purchasing new technology, such as two drones that can help with remote imaging, emergency messages, and search and rescue efforts.
Clean Harbors Co-Op also hosts training sessions conducted by federal agencies and have boats that can go into community lakes and streams with pumps that can help with flooding, fires and sinking boats.
Clean Harbors also has worked with Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, based in Delaware, when birds in the Port of New York and New Jersey are impacted by oil spills and required capture, decontamination, rehabilitation and release back into their native habitat.
Suzanne Russell is a breaking news reporter for MyCentralJersey.com covering crime, courts and other mayhem. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: Clean Harbors Cooperative NJ oil spill response 'an invaluable asset'