Gloucester Twp. officials must act quickly on GEMS May 4, 2008

Gloucester Township has an opportunity to turn the tainted GEMS landfill into a money-making venture. Township officials ought not to let the opportunity slip away by getting locked into old political stances.

The township has at least three firms seeking to install solar-power panels on the landfill. Yet, because critical state tax credits will expire by year's end, it is important for township officials to work closely and cooperatively on developing criteria for such a project and for picking a developer.

There isn't time for the usual divisive politics. Mayor Cindy Rau-Hatton and Council President Glen Bianchini, who often approach township business from different points of view, must come together -- along with the other council members -- over how to get the best deal for their constituents.

A solar-powered field could turn a wasteland into a productive ratable and provide low-cost energy to township properties. It would help cut township costs and offset future property-tax increases.

There is much to be done. In addition to giving a potential developer time to apply for state solar credits, the township also must get approval from trustees who oversee the landfill's maintenance, including a fund to repair the cap. A federal Environmental Protection Agency representative agreed in concept with installing solar panels on the landfill, but cautioned township officials about problems that could arise if the cap is breached and the highly toxic chemicals spill out.

Clearly, it is imperative for township officials to choose the most qualified developer, one who has a good track record on similar projects. The township also should consult with the state Department of Environmental Protection for help in developing guidelines for a solar project.

The potential is great to reclaim the tainted GEMS land for commercial use. Township officials should work together to make it happen.