By Ron Leir
As the town’s newest section of waterfront parkland nears completion, momentum is building for that recreational space to honor the local Portuguese community, but not just in name only.
The 1.5-acre park being developed on the site of the old Magullian Fuel Oil Co., opposite the Redemptoris Mater Seminary, will be dedicated in the memory of the town’s former Deputy Mayor Frank Cardoza.
Beyond that, however, the Portuguese Cultural Association of Kearny is looking to raise money for a monument on the grounds “to dignify the contributions made by the Portuguese American community,” according to First Ward Councilman Albino Cardoso, a member of the association and president of the Portuguese Holy Family Association.
Cardoza, a native of Massachusetts who died in January 2012 at the age of 93, was a World War II Navy veteran who had played professional soccer in Europe. In Kearny, where he spent most of his life, Cardoza was politically active in his adopted community and a co-founder of the Portuguese Cultural Association here.
Given the Portuguese connection, Cardoso said the association felt it would be appropriate to have an honorific structure of some kind at the park.
Mayor Alberto Santos, whose family’s roots are in Portugal, noted that other town parks along the banks of the Passaic River are dedicated to the accomplishments of various ethnic groups marked by monuments in those parks “and the association has inquired about a monument honoring the contributions of Portuguese Americans and we suggested this [Cardoza Park] location.”
Santos said that the Portuguese Cultural Association would bear the cost of such an undertaking.
As of now, Cardoso said, the association is reviewing “a few ideas” for a theme and design for the proposed monument but is “still in the initial phases” of the project, including plans for fundraising.
“Our hope is to have it ready to unveil for the first Sunday of June 2014 to coincide with the celebration of Portugal Day,” Cardoso said.
If that scenario holds, the unveiling would come well after the planned dedication of the park which will probably happen sometime this September, according to Santos.
Meanwhile, Santos said, the town is awaiting the delivery and installation of “four benches, one or two light fixtures near the [Passaic Ave.] curb,” and additional landscaping.
And, the mayor added, “There is still some work not included in the bid specifications to be done. Some overgrowth, including weeds, brush and small trees, has to be cleared away on the south side of the park so the public will have a clear connection to the next section of parkland where the Columbus monument is located.”
The town will try to preserve any “full-growth trees” that may be part of the mix, he said.
Another “extra,” according to Santos, will be the installation of protective fencing along the park’s riverbank.
It has taken about 11 years for the town to get to this point in seeing the park actually take shape, Santos said.
After the longstanding fuel company went out of business, the town contracted to buy the property in 2000 for $761,500, but didn’t close on the deal until October 2010, after the town completed groundwater remediation at the site, at which point the town was able to secure a combination state Green Acres grant and loan package to acquire the land.
The town hired Reivax Contracting of Harrison to build the park at a cost of $311,884, part of which is being financed through a $300,000 grant from the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund. The town incurred additional costs of $19,500 for construction management and $20,485 for design and bid work.
Meanwhile, in another riverfront park development, Santos said the town recently got approval for the use of nearly $2 million in federal funding – “one of the last of the so-called ‘earmark’ grants” – for the design and construction of a waterfront walkway.
Asked if the town had plans to extend its ownership of contiguous riverbank property, Santos said that Kearny was exploring the possibility with the Baykeeper of using federal money appropriated for the acquisition of properties flooded by Superstorm Sandy to purchase Rapp’s Boat Yard, which has been put up for sale by the owner.
“We believe there are no below-ground oil tanks on the property,” Santos said, so that should eliminate potentially costly remediation. But he added that the town would only consider going forward with negotiating a purchase price “if we can identify [an outside] funding source.”