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2nd time around for council pick

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

It’s back to square one for members of the Kearny governing body in its efforts to fill a First Ward seat on the Town Council that was vacated when Alexa Arce resigned Jan. 5.

So now, according to Mayor Alberto Santos, the decision will fall, by default, to members of the local Democratic County Committee, who will choose one of the three candidates it offered to the council: Marytrine DeCastro, Sonia Hill and Jenny Mach.

Even after a public Q&A with the three nominees, followed by a nearly 90-minute-long private deliberation among themselves on Feb. 2, the seven Town Council members emerged and declared themselves deadlocked.

Santos said that although “there were three strong candidates,” none had a “strong majority” to put one of the three over the top.

“There were different views who could best serve the council and the town,” the mayor added, and what complicated the situation was that each nominee “had different skill sets” supporting their candidacy.

It’s the first time in at least the past 15 years that the council has failed to come up with a clear choice after a vacancy has occurred, according to Santos. Council President Carol Jean Doyle said she found each candidate “strong and opinionated. Personally, I could work with all three without blinking an eye.”

Each has been an advocate for the community, Doyle said. Hill, for example, was among the group pushing to keep the former West Hudson Hospital open, Mach has been a pioneer in helping launch the Butterfly and Community Gardens and DeCastro is on the Board of Health.

Doyle volunteered that, “the DeCastro family has supported me politically for the past 23 years,” but hastened to add that she remained open-minded about the virtues of all three nominees.

“Each one would bring something positive to the council and the town,” said Doyle, a Third Ward representative, “so how do you pick one?”

It was the council’s suggestion to have the Q&A, Doyle said, because “we thought it would be easier – especially for those of us who didn’t know a candidate particularly well – to make the choice but, ironically, it made it more difficult.”

In fact, Doyle recalled, during the closed session, “[Council] people were cheerleading for all. Everybody wanted the three of them. All three deserve to be there.”

And, she said, all three responded well to the questions posed, such as, “What is your vision for the town’s future?” and “How can you make Kearny better?” and “What would you like to see as your accomplishments during your term in office?”

“Not exactly softball questions,” Doyle said, although she acknowledged that the subject of local real estate “taxes did not come up.”

Fourth Ward Councilman Michael Landy readily agreed that, “We had three really good candidates. They all had positives and we just couldn’t come to a consensus of one over the others.”

All three candidates assured the council that if they were appointed, they had every intention of running in November for the balance of Arce’s unexpired term through 2017.

Meanwhile, the pressure is now on the Dems County Committee to solve the vacancy dilemma.

“By state statute, we must hold another meeting of the committee on or before Feb. 19 and vote by secret ballot for one of the three nominees,” Santos said. “The candidate with the highest number of votes will be the appointee.”

There are 60 members of the county committee – two from each district – but Santos, who is the committee chairman, said that its bylaws are silent on the issue of a quorum for such a vote.

As of press time, no date had been set for that crucial meeting but Doyle said that whenever it is scheduled, she would press for a Q&A session similar to the one arranged for the Town Council for the benefit of county committee members who may be unfamiliar with the nominees before the vote is taken.

Will town privatize water system?

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

On March 1, Kearny Water Superintendent and Licensed Water System Operator Richard R. Ferraioli will retire after having completed 25 years on the job and his departure will leave the town treading water, so to speak.

That’s because the town isn’t sure whether to simply replace him or to re-think how the water department should be run. At the same time, the Kearny Town Council voted last week to approve a one-year renewal of its water services agreement with United Water of Harrington Park for $344,132 to handle water meter readings, billings and collections.

But how the town will reconcile the management of its water system after the superintendent exits is another matter. Members of the Town Council and Mayor Alberto Santos were informed of Ferraioli’s imminent departure at last Monday’s council meeting and voted to accept his retirement and to pay him $72,932 in terminal leave pay and unused vacation time.

Records in the state Treasury Department listed Ferraioli’s annual salary at $121,060. Santos said that Ferraioli’s decision to file his pension application was “very unexpected. He’s been an extremely knowledgeable, hands-on superintendent in a job that’s very taxing and he has done it well. It’s the kind of job where you’re always on call.”

Indeed, at virtually every meeting of the town’s governing body, the Town Council is asked to approve expenditures involving repairs of water leaks and/or water main ruptures that have been occurring on a regular basis – a fact of life that town officials attribute to the water system’s aging pipes.

Because of Ferraioli’s extensive experience dealing with the town’s water system, “we do not think he is replaceable,” the mayor said.

That’s why one of the options likely to be explored, he said, is “privatization of the management of the water system.”

One option that will not be entertained, however, Santos said, is selling the water system outright, much like North Arlington did some years ago by contracting with a state authority, the Passaic Valley Water Commission, to take over the borough’s water system.

Whatever the outcome, “it has to be done in a cost effective way,” Santos said.

One downside in transferring the operation of a water system to a third party, Santos said, “is that you lose control over [setting] your water user rates.” In the cases of Harrison – which contracts with United Water to run its system – and North Arlington, Santos said that the rates are “substantially higher” than those charged in Kearny.

“In some instances, the third party doesn’t even have to call a public hearing before it imposes an increase in the rates,” he noted.

“At least, if we do decide to contract out the management of our system in a cost-effective manner, we can retain our water rate function,” he said.

In November 2014, the Town Council approved nominal rate increases of 18 cents for residential users (going to $2.43 per 100 cubic feet up to 18,000 cubic feet), 34 cents for commercial users (going to $3.14 per 100 cubic feet up to 75,000 cubic feet) and 39 cents for industrial users (going to $3.64 per 100 cubic feet in excess of 75,000 cubic feet). The utility ended 2013 with a deficit but finished last year in the black.

The Kearny Water Department’s budget for 2014 was about $6.3 million, of which about $3.7 million was paid to the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission for the town’s potable water, nearly $1.5 million went for salaries and benefits for seven employees, about $50,000 for employee Social Security contributions and $600,000 for debt payments. As of Dec. 31, 2014, the water utility showed a cumulative outstanding debt of about $15.1 million.

“We’re going to sit down with Rich and [his brother and assistant water superintendent] Ted, along with Town Administrator Michael Martello and CFO Shuaib Firozvi, our engineer Michael Neglia and United Water to discuss what direction we should be pursuing,” Santos said.

He said that Martello would “manage the transition” as the town prepares to phase into a new management system.

Ferriaoli, who replaced his father, Richard Sr., as the town’s water boss, declined to discuss his retirement or his legacy with The Observer, but Council President Carol Jean Doyle offered her take on why he’s leaving when – since he’s only in his 50s – he could still have many productive years ahead.

“Rich is a replica of his father,” said Doyle, “with a beautiful work ethic, climbing down in the hole with his men to fix a pipe. He takes the job home 24/7 and I think he’s reached the stage where he’s burned out.”

The town has repeatedly advertised for additional water department staff, Doyle said, but “we haven’t been able to get people with the expertise required for this type of job.” It’s also hard to find someone with the state-mandated certification to operate a municipal water system, she added.

Brand-new cars go up in flames

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By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

Last Thursday, for the second time in five days, township firefighters responded to the South Kearny industrial area to battle a spectacular blaze, this one involving car carriers loaded with brand-new vehicles that had been on their way to dealerships.

In all, six carriers and 23 vehicles — including sedans, SUVs and mini-vans — were destroyed in the fire, which was reported at 12:05 a.m., Feb. 5, Kearny Fire Chief Steve Dyl said. Four tractors for the trailers also went up in flames.

Because the vehicles were stacked close together, it was difficult to get water between them, Dyl said. Also feeding the flames were the burning tires and fibreglass.

The fire went to two alarms, but was declared under control at 1:06 a.m.

The site was an industrial park at 55 Jacobus Ave., where the tractors and carriers had been parked in a lot on the Alden Leeds chemical company property, Dyl said. The flames threatened a one-story office building belonging to Alden Leeds, but the firefighters kept them from spreading to that structure, the chief said. However, it did suffer some heat damage.

Along with the KFD, fire crews from Harrison and Jersey City were at the scene. The East Newark, North Arlington and North Hudson departments were on standby.

One Kearny firefighter suffered a minor injury and was treated at University Hospital in Newark.

Thursday’s frigid weather caused some problems with icing, “but conditions were not as bad as Saturday,” Dyl said. He was referring to the Jan. 31 four-alarm fire at Kephart Trucking on Second St. in South Kearny.

As reported in last week’s Observer, extensive icing and frozen hoses complicated the job for the 75-80 firefighters who responded to that inferno. In addition to Kearny, they came from Harrison, East Newark, North Arlington, Jersey City, Bayonne and Hoboken.

Smoke from that early morning fire forced the temporary closure of the Pulaski Skyway. The Kephart truck-repair building where the blaze is believed to have begun was so severely damaged that its demolition was ordered.

The cause of last Thursday’s fire is under investigation by the State Division of Fire Safety, Dyl said.

Bust alleged repeat drug offender

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By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY –

A Kearny man, arrested in January on drug charges, was busted again last week and has now been remanded to the Hudson County Jail on $50,000 bail, with no 10% option.

On Monday, Feb. 2, Kearny vice detectives were at Chestnut and Liberty Sts. at 10:30 p.m., when they spotted Jon Verastegui, 25, in a 1997 Toyota. Chief John Dowie said the officers believed he was in the area for a drug transaction and, when they approached the vehicle, saw him stuffing something down his pants.

They removed him from the car, but he reportedly refused to comply with their orders to keep his hands in full view and they had to forcibly extract same from his waistband. Also extracted, Dowie said, was a large plastic bag containing 11 grams of marijuana.

Verastegui was arrested and transported to KPD headquarters by Officer Dean Gasser. When the suspect was removed from the patrol car at HQ , police said, Gasser noticed “a substantial number” of blue pills on and about the back seat, where the prisoner had been sitting. More blue pills — in Dowie’s words, “a breadcrumb trail” — reportedly were falling out of Verastegui’s pants as he was escorted to booking.

Police said they recovered 26 tablets of the prescription drug clonazepam.

Also seized for evidence was $379 in currency.

Back on Jan. 8, following an investigation into cocaine distribution in Kearny, Verastegui had been arrested by Vice on Bergen Ave. on charges of possession and distribution of that drug.

The charges he now faces are: possession of clonazepam and marijuana, possession with intent to distribute both drugs, intent to distribute both in a school zone (Kearny High School) and near a park, resisting arrest and obstruction of the administration of law.

Fire fatality under review

BELLEVILLE – 

The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the death of a Belleville resident found dead in his home after a Saturday fire, it was announced by Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray.

A press release issued by Murray’s office said that firefighters responded to an alarm of fire at a Bremond St. residence at 4:45 p.m. and that the lifeless body of occupant Nicholas Quartuccio, 61, was discovered inside.

“It appears at this juncture of the investigation that there was a fire in his residence and he attempted to flee,” the release said. “He never made it out.”

Quartuccio was found in a rear bedroom, the release said.

Cause of the fire and death of the resident is being investigated by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Homicide Major Crimes Homicide and Arson Task Force with the assistance of the Belleville police and fire departments.

Results of an autopsy being conducted by the Regional Medical Examiner are awaited, the release said.

Thoughts & Views: Don’t gamble on park’s future

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Okay, Gov. Christie, Assemblyman Prieto and Sen. Sweeney, I call your collective bluffs. It’s time to put all your cards on the table.

Look, it’s practically a done deal … a casino in Liberty State Park in Jersey City.

And maybe another gaming hall in the Hackensack Meadowlands. After all, you guys emptied out the Izod, so it’s ready for a new customer, right?

You marked the deck by adding 11th hour amendments to the Sarlo bill that pitched the merger of the N.J. Meadowlands Commission with the N.J. Sports & Exposition Authority.

One of those last-minute changes inserted into the final version of the bill – recently signed by the governor – gives the new state creature (the Meadowlands Regional Commission) the potential to alter the fate of the 1,200 acre passive park, which lies just 2,000 feet from the Statue of Liberty.

As the bill states, that commission can “evaluate, approve and implement any plan or plans for the further preservation, development, enhancement or improvement of Liberty State Park.”

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop was quoted as insisting that allegedly, legislative protections will be put in place – at some unknown time – to secure the park in “its pristine condition.”

But civic activists like the Friends of Liberty State Park, led by Sam Pesin – whose father, the late Morris Pesin, is credited with spearheading the creation of the park in June 1976 – are skeptical of the state’s motives, suspecting that some form of privatization is contemplated to squeeze revenues from a protected natural site.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has reported losing money in its operation of the park, which has 300 acres accessible to the public but which derives revenue from leases to two upscale restaurants and a 500- slip marina and is home to the privately-run Liberty Science Center.

So, as The Record has reported, DEP is paying the nonprofit New Jersey Future planning group $120,000 to come up with options for development opportunities within the park and the company head was quoted as saying that the study is not targeting environmentally sensitive areas and is not recommending “50-story” high-rises or casinos.

But neither New Jersey Future nor DEP will release the report.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that the state has eyed private development for the waterfront park with its grand views of New York Harbor, the Manhattan skyline and other points of interest.

In fact, not long after the park was opened there were proposals for a theme/amusement park, golf course and residential condominiums.

Ultimately, a PGA-sanctioned course was developed outside the park’s boundaries, as was a stock car racing course. And, thus far, the park’s open space area which fronts on the Hudson River, has remained, as has the old historic Central Railroad Terminal at the park’s north end. Ferries depart from the park to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. There are also paths along the river for walking and biking. And there’s a picnic area for families.

On hot summer days, the ample parking lots at the park’s southern end are often filled with the cars of residents and tourists who choose not to fight the traffic headed down to the Jersey shore.

Still, who knows how long the preservationists can fight off potential plundering of one of the few remaining green riverfront treasures left to ordinary mortals like you and me.

Should we trust that there are enough tree huggers among those that control our natural resources who will take someone like Teddy Roosevelt as their guide? I’d like to think so.

Here’s a thought: The folks in charge now can’t even manage to maintain a small, simple privately-operated concession stand at the park. If they can’t even do that, how the heck are they going to successfully secure and take care of a major revenue producer?

– Ron Leir 

Death was ‘self-inflicted,’ police say

BELLEVILLE – 

The lifeless body of a Belleville man was found outside his house on Hill St. in the early morning last Monday, police said.

Police said they responded to the residence in the 50 block of Hill St. at 12:42 p.m. after a neighbor who’d been snowblowing the victim’s driveway came across the victim slumped over in a chair in his backyard.

Preliminary investigation has led police to the conclusion that death was due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound, said Belleville Police Capt. Dan Ward.

A rifle, from which one round had been fired, was recovered from the scene, Ward said.

The man’s body was removed to the county medical examiner’s office for an autopsy, Ward said. The official cause of death has not yet been disclosed, he added.

Police declined to release the man’s identity pending notification of next of kin, Ward said.

Ward said the man was 51 and lived alone. No note was found with the body, he said.

Ward said that the neighbor told officers that he’d heard no shot fired and that it was possible that the shooting may have occurred some time previously.

This incident was the latest in a string of tragic deaths in the region:

On Jan. 14, Nutley PD found the bodies of Christopher Minichini, 38, and his girlfriend Christina Prestianni, 37, in Minichini’s Hillside Ave. house in Nutley, both dead of gunshot wounds. Police labeled the incident as a murder-suicide, having determined that Minichini, a state corrections officer, killed Prestianni and then himself. No motive was given.

And on Oct. 17, 2014, in Belleville, police concluded they’d uncovered another murder-suicide with the discovery of John Sykes, 42, and Felicia Hunt, 23, both dead of gunshot wounds, in a New St. home. No further details were released by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.

Cops break up narcotics operation

BLOOMFIELD –

Armed with a battering ram, Essex County sheriff’s officers and Bloomfield police last week forced their way through a steel-fortified apartment door and arrested three suspects on drug-trafficking charges, Sheriff Armando Fontoura reported.

Fontoura said detectives from Bloomfield and his department’s Bureau of Narcotics executed a search warrant last Tuesday afternoon at a third-floor apartment at 147 Franklin St. and took into custody Julio (Big Man) Lebron, 27, Joel Alejo, 23, and Denise Taveras, 28, all of whom are residents of the Bronx.

According to authorities, the warrant was obtained after a two-week joint investigation that had been prompted by “numerous neighborhood complaints” of narcotics trafficking at the location.

“Entry into the apartment was difficult,” the sheriff said, noting that “the door was fortified by both 2×6-inch wood beams and steel I-bars.”

Reportedly seized during the raid were 9 grams of heroin, 26 grams of crack cocaine, 256 grams of marijuana, 21 Xanax tablets and 17 vials of Propofol. The estimated street value of the drugs was $8,000.

Fontoura said the alleged distributors “apparently had access to a wide variety of narcotics, as Propofol is particularly unique for us to come across.”

Propofol, he noted, “is the narcotic that caused the death” of Michael Jackson.

Lebron, Alejo and Taveras were each charged with five counts of possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession of CDS with intent to distribute and possession with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of Bloomfield Vocational School.

The suspects were also charged with maintaining fortified premises, possession of narcotics paraphernalia and conspiracy to violate New Jersey’s narcotics laws.

Bloomfield Municipal Court Judge John Paparazzo set bail at $450,000, cash bond only, on each of the suspects.

They were remanded to the Essex County Jail with arraignments expected later in the week.

– Karen Zautyk 

Unneeded meds welcome 24/7 at HQ

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Got any unneeded or out-of-date medications at home that you’ve been meaning to dispose of?

Now you can do exactly that – safely and conveniently – by participating in the Lyndhurst’s “Project Medicine Drop.”

The Lyndhurst Police Department has installed a drop box in the hallway of its headquarters at 367 Valley Brook Ave., where residents are invited to deposit “unused, excess or expired prescription medications.

” In past years, the LPD has partnered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in “Operation Take-Back” in designating a specific date and location for residents to drop off their old, unwanted prescription drugs but now they can do it on a 24/7 basis, noted Det. Captain John Valente.

Drop-offs may be done anonymously and with no questions asked.

This new program is part of an initiative by the state Attorney General, in cooperation with the state Div. of Consumer Affairs, to put a dent in the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs, including highly addictive opiate painkillers.

Municipal police departments, county sheriff’s offices and State Police barracks across New Jersey are all opening their doors to these drop boxes.

“Project Medicine Drop is a natural addition to our commitment to help improve the public safety and quality of life in Lyndhurst,” township Public Safety Commissioner John Montillo Jr. said.

This initiative also aids the environment by keeping these drugs out of landfills and the water supply.

For more information about Project Medicine Drop, including a full list of drop-off locations, check out www. NJConsumerAffairs.gov/meddrop. Or to learn more about the LPD drop box, call 201- 939-2900, ext. 2740.

KPD: Axe & you shall be seized

At 4 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 1, KPD Officer Patrick Becker, responding to a report of a suspicious person lurking near vehicles on the 90 block of Elm St., saw a young man alight from a 2007 Chevy and run north.

After a short foot pursuit, he collared 19-year-old Abner Villanueva of Kearny, who police said had a cut on his hand and was in possession of: a motion detector, a white rope, screwdrivers, several pairs of gloves, one pair of glasses and $215 in cash.

Meanwhile, backup Officer Glenn Reed inspected the Chevy and found another pair of gloves, and an axe, outside the vehicle. The axe had apparently been used to gain entry.

The auto’s owner was contacted and confirmed that he was also the owner of the items in the suspect’s possession, police said.

Villanueva was charged with burglary, criminal mischief and possession of burglar tools and stolen property and was remanded to the Hudson County Jail.

• • •

Other recent reports from the Kearny police blotter included the following:

Jan. 30 

At 4:30 p.m., Sgt. Charles Smith, on patrol near Grand Place and the Belleville Pike, spotted Brandon Hidalgo, 18, of Newark, whom he knew to be wanted on a Belleville warrant. After verifying same, he arrested Hidalgo and took him to headquarters, and the Belleville PD was notified.

• • •

Vice detectives, conducting surveillance at Johnston Ave. and Chestnut St. at 4:45 p.m., witnessed what they believed to be a drug transaction taking place in a motor vehicle. Police said Bernardino Matos, 21, of Harrison, exited the vehicle holding “a large quantity of currency” and was subsequently taken into custody. The car left the scene but was stopped by other detectives at Passaic Ave. and Belgrove Drive, where its occupant, Guy Bartolomei, 52, of Nutley, was allegedly found to be in possession of a “bundle” of wax folds of heroin, stamped “Scorpion.”

Bartolomei was charged with possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia; Matos, with distribution of heroin, distribution in a school zone and possession of paraphernalia. Police also seized from him $115, believed to be the proceeds of a drug deal.

• • •

Officer Brian Wisely, approaching a parked car at Bergen Ave. and Devon St. at 9 p.m., saw what appeared to be loose marijuana scattered on the floor and the male occupant apparently trying to hide something between the seats. Police said Wisely recovered three cigars and two ripped-open ziplock bags containing pot. Joaopaulo Silva-Neto, 18, of Kearny, was charged with possession of the drug and paraphernalia.

Feb. 3 

Kearny residents Robert Conlin, 32, and Elizabeth Kempf, 34, were arrested by Sgt. Peter Gleason and Officer Jay Ward at 8:30 p.m. at a Davis Ave. residence on charges of unlawful possession of a loaded shotgun, an assault rifle, two blackjacks, a can of OC spray and a large-capacity magazine containing ammunition for the assault rifle.

If this sounds familiar, that is because Conlin was taken into custody on similar weapons charges Jan. 22 following a verbal altercation with another man at his Linden Ave. home. After a follow-up investigation by Det. Scott Traynor, additional charges were drawn up against both Conlin and Kempf, and warrants for their arrest were issued Feb. 1.

At the time of the second arrest, Conlin was reportedly free on $45,000 bail.

• • •

Pursuant to an ongoing prostitution investigation, Vice detectives were at Highland Ave. and Patterson St. for a 9:15 p.m. “rendezvous.” Arriving at the scene was a 2011 Mitsubishi with Pennsylvania plates, a vehicle police reportedly determined had been stolen in Elizabeth earlier that day.

The female driver, Ryanashle Robinson, 27, of Red Bank, was charged with engaging in prostitution, receiving stolen property and driving while suspended.

Police said she also had two warrants, from Newark and Monmouth County. She was remanded to the Hudson County Jail.

Her passenger, Michael Williams, 29, of Newark, was charged with receiving stolen property and possession of drug paraphernalia — a crack pipe.

Feb. 4 

At 4 p.m., Officer Wisely saw Shaeed Epps, 37, of no known address, entering the Kearny Public Library and confirmed that he had outstanding warrants from Hackensack and Elizabeth. Epps was arrested and was to be turned over to Hackensack police.

• • •

Vice officers near the Wawa on Harrison Ave. at 9 p.m. saw someone in a Kia discard items out the window. Approaching the car to issue a summons for littering, they reportedly detected the odor of marijuana and asked the occupant, Alexis Espinal, 24, of Harrison, to illuminate the interior. He complied, and the officers saw two cigars and a napkin containing suspected pot, police said.

Espinal was charged with possession of the drug and paraphernalia. In addition, police said he was found to have an outstanding Harrison warrant. He also got the summons for littering.

– Karen Zautyk