Silent Sundays on Passaic Ave.

Photo by Ron Leir The last building standing at the old Congoleum-Cairn complex on Passaic Ave.
Photo by Ron Leir
The last building standing at the old Congoleum-Cairn complex on Passaic Ave.


Kearny officials slammed the door on DVL Holdings’s request for Sunday demolition on the east side of Passaic Ave. after learning that decontamination work on the site was still going on.

At the same time, they designated Russo Development as the redeveloper for a portion of the west side of Passaic Ave., pending negotiation of a redevelopment agreement within 45 days. Russo is proposing to build more than 400 rental apartments.

Last Tuesday, DVL vice president Charles Carames returned to the mayor and Town Council to renew a plea for several consecutive Sundays to finish tearing down the old Congoleum- Nairn factory to clear the way for a BJ’s Wholesale Club as the anchor tenant for a new mall.

Two weeks earlier, a majority of the governing body agreed to waive a Sunday prohibition on such work for one “trial” Sunday to see if Belgrove Drive residents closest to the site would complain about noise and/or dust conditions.

However, Mayor Alberto Santos said that because a company notice to area residents was found to be “defective,” the town withdrew the one-time-only waiver and Carames acknowledged that no work was done that Sunday.

Still, Carames said, DVL remains “in a tight bind for time” because it is trying to get steel up for the new BJ’s Wholesale Club by September. It prefers not to ask its employees to work overtime during the week or Saturday because “the guys are stressed enough six days a week, so we’re afraid to push them,” he said.

That explanation struck Councilman Richard Konopka as a strange because when he recently visited the work site on separate days, “I didn’t see any major demolition going on. If you’re so pressed for time, I don’t understand that.” Konopka, who voted against the trial Sunday measure, said he remained “strongly against Sunday” work. “I see no reason you should be doing it then, especially in the summer.”

Councilwoman Susan McCurrie said she, too, was puzzled over the seeming non-productivity. “I don’t know why that building is still there. It should probably be done by mid-August if you do three weeks [excluding Sundays] of demolition.”

And Councilman Albino Cardoso joined the chorus, saying that in recent weeks, “we received complaints from neighbors and ShopRite [about Sunday work] so I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

After the council invited the public to speak, two Belgrove Drive residents who live above the work site added their opposition to Sunday demolition. Maria Saraiva said: “I do not agree with working on Sundays. It’s the only day we have to relax.” And Nick Kintos said that while he welcomes BJ’s as a prospective neighbor, he was upset over having had to call the police last Oct. 7 to get a DVL contractor to stop working late at night and on a particular Sunday morning. Kintos said his driveway is “full of dust when they’re doing demolition,” which concerned him even more because he had heard that “one building came back contaminated.”

Photo by Ron Leir Neighbor Nick Kintos gripes about construction issues at future mall site at council session.
Photo by Ron Leir
Neighbor Nick Kintos gripes about construction issues at future mall site at council session.

Town Administrator/ Construction Code Official Michael Martello responded that several previously demolished buildings that were part of the old factory complex were found to have “a lot of asbestos around the window openings.” He said that situation was “remediated” with state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and state Department of Labor (DOL) oversight.

But then came a surprise announcement from Kenneth Nieuwenhuis, the LSRP (Licensed Site Remediation Professional) retained by DVL to report back to DEP, who said that minor levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were being removed from flooring adhesive in the remaining building by high-pressure water blasting. The residue is placed in a tank and disposed off-site, he said.

So, Santos asked, “You can’t begin the demolition work [on the still-standing building] until the remediation process is complete?”

“That’s right,” Nieuwenhuis replied.

Asked about the risk of human exposure to contaminants, Nieuwenhuis said there are “air-monitoring stations positioned at the four corners of the property that are calibrated to national ambient air standards” checking for excessive levels. So far, there have been no alarming findings, he said.

Santos countered that on days he’s visited the site, he has found that, “just about every car in the [adjacent] Shop- Rite lot is covered with dust. … It shouldn’t be migrating from the site.”

Nieuwenhuis said that on days when demolition was proceeding, “three or four water cannons” were spraying the work site in an effort to mitigate the spread of dust.

Neither Carames nor Neiuwenhuis gave any indication how long the PCB remediation would take to complete.

In the end, the council voted to deny DVL’s request for the Sunday waiver.

Asked later why the company was pressing its Sunday work proposal, Santos said he presumed that it wanted to have the waiver in hand when it was ready to resume the demolition work.

Asked whether the surprise revelation would trigger a rethink on DVL’s right to proceed as the redeveloper, Santos said the town certainly “should have been informed” about the PCBs and “not have learned about it” after the fact. But he said that as the developer and owner of the property, DVL “will have to comply with the law.”

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