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N.J. will appeal Kiddie Kollege ruling

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection announced yesterday that it would appeal a court ruling that the owner of the Kiddie Kollege building in Franklin Township, Gloucester County, is not responsible for its $1 million cleanup.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection announced yesterday that it would appeal a court ruling that the owner of the Kiddie Kollege building in Franklin Township, Gloucester County, is not responsible for its $1 million cleanup.

"We disagree with the judge's decision," said Leland Moore, spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, which represented the DEP in court. He declined further comment.

The DEP had planned to demolish the building and bill the owner.

Last week, Superior Court Judge James E. Rafferty voided the deed to the building, saying the real estate broker who acquired it in a tax-lien sale and foreclosure had not been adequately warned it was contaminated.

The building, a defunct thermometer factory with a history of spills, contained hazardous mercury vapors 27 times the acceptable level, according to DEP tests. Philip Giuliano, owner of the Accutherm plant, abandoned it after the vapors sickened workers.

Years later, a DEP inspector discovered that a daycare facility had opened in the building, although it was never properly cleaned up. About 100 children were exposed to the vapors before it was closed in July 2006.

Real estate broker Jim Sullivan III, who acquired it for $36,000 under the auspices of family businesses, has said he misinterpreted an environmental report that said the building was polluted.

The judge reverted the deed back to Giuliano and said the township tax collector should have informed Sullivan of the pollution, in writing, before the foreclosure.

Franklin Mayor Joseph Petsch said he hoped the township also would appeal the ruling. He said state guidelines require tax collectors only to publish notices in local newspapers warning potential tax-lien purchasers that some properties may be contaminated. He said the tax collector had followed that rule.

"This ruling affects every community," he said. Townships are now liable because the courts say the publication of a notice "is not enough," he said.

M. James Maley Jr., who represented the town, could not be reached for comment. But after the ruling was issued, he said written warnings were beyond the scope of tax collectors' responsibilities and knowledge about the properties in a township.