Camden City Celebrates Milestone in Bergen Square ‘Yaffa Soil Pile’ Neighborhood Cleanup


The 1.4-acre S. Yaffa & Sons site is known as one of the worst cases of illegal dumping in the city. Thanks to state and federal environmental remediation funds, it’s on its way to productive reuse.

By Matt Skoufalos | June 18, 2024

Camden City Mayor Vic Carstarphen at the Yaffa soil pile site in Bergen Square. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

For the first time in about three years, Camden City Mayor Victor Carstarphen stood in the gravel at 7th and Chestnut Streets and could see clearly in any direction.

Gone were 60,000 tons of soil, 10,000 tons of construction debris, 4,500 tons of solid waste, and 105 tons of tires that had once risen about two stories across the 1.4-acre site formerly owned by S. Yaffa & Sons.

City officials were gathered to celebrate “the end of a terrible burden placed on the community,” the mayor said; to mark how the blight of Bergen Square had been turned into “an incredible brightness for the community.”

The removal of some 70,000 tons of nonhazardous, contaminated materials illegally dumped here has been a project that required the intercession and coordination of multiple governmental agencies and about $6 million in federal funding to resolve to this point.

And, as Carstarphen said Tuesday, the work isn’t yet complete.

“The residents didn’t deserve it; we as a community said, ‘We’re going to clean this,’” he said.

“This area is going to be game-changing for families here,” Carstarphen continued. “We’ll always remember how this got started.”



“It’s always been a junkyard,” said Assemblyman Bill Spearman (D, NJ-05), who grew up two blocks from the site. “It’s always been a disgrace.”

Olivia Glenn U.S. EPA Region 2. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Camden City First Ward Councilman Arthur Barclay, who grew up in the 600 block of Mount Vernon Street, said he “just thought it was normal for a kid to see the dirt and piles and junkyards” in the neighborhood.

In a show of flourish, Camden City Council President Angel Fuentes knelt down and kissed the gravel, saying, “It’s good!”

The work isn’t yet complete on the site, however.

“It looks clean, but we’ve far more work to go,” said Chris Valligny, senior scientist at Montrose Environmental Group of West Chester, Pennsylvania.

“We’ve removed the surface material; now we’ve got to remove the sub-surface,” Valligny said.
“We’re looking at the history of the property to identify areas of concern.”

The “Yaffa Soil Pile,” as it’s colloquially known in the city, initially comprised a junkyard that slowly expanded to cover the entire site, which once also housed greenhouses and an auto repair shop.

Valligny said that Montrose will next begin a background sampling plan, including sub-surface imaging and an in-depth review of the history of the property to determine the depth of contamination, and therefore remediation, that will be necessary to fully convert the site into something livable.

Chris Valligny, LSRP, Montrose Environmental Group. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Whatever the site becomes next, however, will be done in conversation with Bergen Square residents, officials said.

“The work of environmental justice has always begun with communities speaking for themselves,” said Olivia Glenn, Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor for Equity at Region 2 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“We all have dignity; the right to live in a community without a site that has illegal dumping,” Glenn said, describing the site as “a cleanup that should never have been necessary.”

“We have to continue to build relationships with residents,” said Kandyce Perry, Director of the Office of Environmental Justice at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), which provided $55,000 in hazardous discharge site remediation funds to aid the cleanup.

“What happened here in Camden cannot happen again here in Camden, nor should it anywhere else,” Perry said. “We need to see that soil and groundwater are remediated.

“Today we celebrate this accomplishment,” she concluded; “tomorrow we get back to work.”

What might yet become of the site won’t be known until the conclusion of the next phase of the work. Carstarphen said that work will be undertaken with the involvement of the neighborhood.

“Housing? A park? We’ll talk with the community,” the mayor said. “They will be at the table.”

Yaffa soil pile site in Bergen Square, Camden City. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Bergen Square resident Tony Simmons, 67, said that he’d like to see the site grow into something usable by the neighborhood.

“You’ve got to put something there for the community,” Simmons said. “Lots of people need housing. It’s got to be a benefit for the community.”

Tuesday’s press conference was also the first public-facing meeting since yesterday’s unsealing of a 13-count, 111-page indictment against several prominent Camden City political figures, including former mayor Dana Redd.

Carstarphen was asked to account for public confidence in future cleanup efforts in light of the questions surrounding some $224 million in redevelopment tax credits that have been the center of that controversy.

His response: “By no means does that resemble the realities of the good things we’re seeing on the ground every day.

“The magic is in the work,” the mayor said. “We put forth the effort every day; 100 percent of the effort is there. I won’t allow anything else.

“At the end of the day, the core is community,” Carstarphen said. “Community is about seeing things that’s right there. I know the people I work with. We’ve got to keep grinding for the community.”

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