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New Jersey Comptroller Philip Degnan. (Photo by Nikita Biryukov)

Comptroller says Wrightstown mayor okay’d under-the-table dumping deal

Thomas Harper allowed firms owned by Utilities Authority’s operations manager to dump waste without paying

By Nikita Biryukov, September 19 2019 2:45 pm

An investigation by the Office of the State Comptroller found Wrightstown Mayor Thomas Harper and Rodman Lucas, operations manager of the Wrightstown Municipal Utilities Authority, entered into an improper waste disposal arrangement that benefited Lucas’s private waste disposal company.

The OSC found Aqua Clean Toilet Systems, Lucas’s firm, dumped more than 565,000 gallons of sewage at the WMUA for free over a period in excess of three years.

Harper, who is chairman of the WMUA, approved the dumping without the consent or knowledge of the WMUA board.

No other firms were given the opportunity to do so, and the OSC estimates Aqua Clean would otherwise have had to pay $21,000 in disposal fees.

The OSC has referred its findings to State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s office, the Division of Local Government Services and the Department of Environmental Protection.

Those bodies will determine whether Harper has committed criminal, ethical or environmental violations as part of the undisclosed deal.

“The actions by the WMUA Operations Manager and Board Chairman uncovered by OSC investigators are alarming,” Comptroller Philip James Degnan said. “The residents of Wrightstown deserve to know that the WMUA is properly equipped to treat everything in its system, and is being fairly paid for what it receives. This arrangement between Rodman Lucas and Thomas Harper undermines public confidence in local government and is worthy of further investigation by the Attorney General as well as state ethics and environmental investigators.”

The comptroller’s investigation found that no effort was lent to determining the environmental impact of the dumping, and none of those involved attempted to notify the DEP about the dumping or attempt to determine whether the sewage dumped as part of the undisclosed deal was contaminated.

Earlier this year, Harper faced an ethics complaint over his appointment of David Frank to be the borough’s Joint Land Use Board soliciter.

According to the Burlington County Times, a complaint filed by open government advocate John Paff claimed Harper committed an ethical breech by not recusing himself from the vote on Frank’s appointment because Frank was employed by two firms owned by Harper.

A previous complaint against Harper claimed he acted improperly during an April 2009 Join Land Use Board meeting during which a construction company sought a land use variance near Harper’s home.

Both of those complaints were dismissed.

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