By Ron Leir
Those piles of trash being dumped in the Keegan landfill in Kearny keep growing and the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission just approved a proposal to allow those mounds to ascend even more.
On July 23, the NJMC agreed to amend its solid waste management plan “to increase the final elevation of the site from 60 feet to 100 feet, providing additional capacity from an original projected closure of June 2016 to a projected capacity date of December 2019.”
A public hearing the NJMC held on the proposal July 10 drew no opposition so the commission anticipates moving ahead with its plan.
Not so fast, says Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos, who points out that the town – as the landfill’s “landlord” – is involved in “ongoing negotiations” with the NJMC on renewing its lease for the 100- acre landfill site which runs through Dec. 31, 2015, with an option for a six-month extension beyond that date.
“Unless there’s an agreement in place, they can’t extend the elevation without the landlord’s approval,” Santos said.
While the mayor didn’t say the town was against the proposition, he did say that Kearny has raised concerns about such issues as “ingress and egress” to and from the site, “wear and tear” on Bergen Ave. and “dirt getting tracked out” from heavy-duty trucks going in and out.
“The long-term use for that site that Kearny has projected is for open space and parkland,” Santos said. “The meadowlands commission has asked us to consider an extension of the lease and to allow the cap to go to 100 feet. We feel it’s not necessary to go to that height to achieve our objective for the future re-use of that site.
“However, if [the new lease agreement] provides the town of Kearny with additional revenue which could be used to offset higher municipal taxes and if the terms are fair and in the best interests of the NJMC and Kearny taxpayers, we would likely grant an extension,” the mayor added.
Santos said he hoped to resolve the issue this year so that if the lease were canceled, the town could begin planning how to make up the lost income.
Under the current lease, Santos said the town receives “between $1 million and $1.5 million a year” in rent from the NJMC. The annual rental varies depending on the tonnage collected at the site, he said.
When the landfill began operating in 2009, it contracted with Hudson, Essex and Union counties to accept mostly construction and demolition debris and accept similar wastes from northern New Jersey meadows communities on a non-contractual basis.
Financial records obtained from the NJMC show that while annual revenues from the landfill have climbed, from $12.2 million in 2009 to $24.9 million in 2013, so, too, have expenses, from $16.2 million in 2009 to $25 million in 2013.
According to NJMC records, the current elevation at Keegan ranges from 20 to 50 feet across the 100-acre site.
Santos surmised that because of the national recession’s crushing impact on development activities, the NJMC “didn’t get the amount of construction debris they expected and that’s probably why they haven’t yet reached the 60-foot capacity.”
While extending the lease would further delay the phasing out of the landfill and its re-use as passive recreation, Santos said that so long as the town could derive income to help offset the costs of municipal services without raising taxes, Kearny would owe it to its taxpayers