Panel: Keegan’s worth $7.88 million


Here’s a holiday fable that’s guaranteed to knock you for a loop.

Remember the Keegan landfill in Kearny? Just a dump, right? A place where contractors haul construction and demolition debris. Where equipment monitors for the presence of methane gas as a precaution.

Well, not so for three wise men who visited the place and apparently came away inspired – to what extent, dear reader, will soon be revealed.

The trio – Fairfield lawyer Gary Potters, Jersey City attorney Anthony J. DeSalvo and Union City realtor Carl J. Mucciolo – were assigned by Hudson County Superior Court Judge Peter Bariso Jr. to appraise the 104.6-acre property.

The New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (successor to the N.J. Meadowlands Commission), which has leased the dump from Kearny, wants to hold onto the property.

When its lease ran out June 30, Kearny tried to kick them out but, instead, NJSEA countered with a move to take the land via eminent domain.

Kearny challenged that in court, alleging that the state agency welched on a prior commitment to release the land so the town could convert it to recreational use.

Sorry, Kearny, ruled Judge Bariso, who found that the NJSEA was justified in the taking because it proposed to continue the land’s use for a legitimate “public purpose,” namely, as a place to receive construction trash.

Kearny is taking its case to the Appellate Court.

That brings us back to the issue of deciding how much the Keegan dump is worth – if it comes down to the NJSEA actually taking the land and paying Kearny for it.

Earlier this year, as the lawyers for both sides were haggling over prices, the NJSEA came up with a projected value of about $1,880,000 for the property, according to James Bruno, attorney for the town.

But the three condemnation commissioners dispatched by the court to fix a fair price for the parcel came up with $7,880,000, Bruno told The Observer.

Needless to say, the NJSEA immediately appealed that figure and both parties are due back before Judge Bariso, sitting in Jersey City, on Jan. 6.

At that hearing, Bruno said, the court will confine the discussion solely to the issue of the value of the landfill.

Assessing the actual worth of the real estate is likely complicated by several factors: its prior use, years ago, as an unregulated dumping ground – before the NJMC substantially invested in a cleanup effort – and its current use as a receptacle for commercial trash and its irregular contour, given the various mounds of dirt-covered trash spread over the parcel of varying elevations of up to 60 feet.

Before and during its eminent domain filing, NJSEA proposed to extend the elevations to as high as 100 feet on the assumption that the life of the landfill would continue and possibly grow.

At one point, Kearny had high hopes of converting the site to accommodate municipal recreational space for golf and/or ballfields.

A worst-case scenario now envisioned – if the town could still end up in possession of the site – is that the parcel could still be salvaged for passive recreation or possibly solar farms, said Mayor Alberto Santos.

If Kearny loses the land, it also stands to lose more than $1 million a year it receives as a landfill “host” fee from the NJSEA, thereby leaving a big hole in the municipal budget.

Also, a still-open question is whether the NJSEA has put away enough money from tipping fees collected from haulers to pay for state-mandated closure costs associated with the shutting of a licensed landfill or whether it will look to Kearny to provide assistance to meet those costs.

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