Essay by Former Ringwood Mayor Wenke Taule


Wenke Taule 

Wenke Taule was Mayor of Ringwood from 2004-2005, and a Council Member from 2002-2008. As mayor, she organized the first meeting between the Ramapough, Ford, EPA, NJDEP, and the Ringwood Boro.

In 2005, I became the first woman mayor of Ringwood. I led a winning slate of Democrats; where we became, after 30 years, the majority on the Ringwood Council. The Ramapough Community was instrumental in our election. Ford Motor Company, after purchasing the historic Ringwood Iron Mines in 1964, began dumping millions of gallons of toxic sludge in the mines and throughout Upper Ringwood, where the Ramapough live. The Ringwood Mines/Landfill Site was listed on the National Priorities List in 1984 and de-listed in 1994, although visible sludge remained. In 2005, the issue of relisting the Ringwood Mines Superfund Site was heating up.

Ramapough activists had been working for years to have the Site placed back on the National Priorities List. Historically the EPA, NJDEP and the Ringwood Council had locked the Ramapough out of all processes regarding the Superfund Site. As mayor, I organized the first meeting ever, between the Ramapough, their attorneys, Ford, the EPA, NJDEP and Ringwood Borough. The Site was re-listed in 2006 - becoming the only Site, in the history of the Superfund Program, to be re-listed because of a failed clean up.

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Aerial photograph of Peters Mine. Photograph by Edwin Gano

The Community Advisory Group (CAG) was formed, under the auspices of the EPA, to open communications between the Ramapough and the EPA, which had been non-existent. I became a member of the CAG and have been a member for over 12 years. The CAG supported a full cleanup of the Site. The Democratic Council supported justice for the Ramapough and a full cleanup of the Site. Our Boro Attorney was working to hold Ford responsible for their toxic dumping. For the first time, the Ramapough could trust their local government.

Sadly, the Ringwood Council Majority changed hands in 2008 and a different path was taken. This Council did not support a full cleanup of the Site and began working with Ford. In 2014, the EPA issued its Record of Decision (ROD), which mandated capping Peters and Cannon Mines, but excavating and replanting the O’Connor Landfill, which would become Open Space for the Community. The CAG and the Ramapough approved of this decision. Excavating the mines would be too dangerous for the community, where sinkholes are an ever-present danger. The highly contaminated water in the mines will be addressed in the Groundwater ROD, to be issued this year. 

The Ringwood Council stopped the excavation of the O’Connor Landfill, saving Ford $32M, and instead agreed to cap over 100,000 tons of toxic soil in the community. The EPA refused to override this decision. After years of fighting for justice for their community, their local, state and federal government have betrayed the Ramapough once again.

Essay by Former Ringwood Mayor Wenke Taule