What the smell is that odor in Kearny?

Kearny’s elected officials are looking to their state counterparts to raise a stink about noxious odors wafting from the Keegan Landfill on Bergen Avenue.

On Jan. 8, several town residents whose homes are close to the 110-acre dump now owned and operated by the N.J. Sports & Exposition Authority (NJSEA) asked the municipal governing body what could be done to suppress the foul smells.

William Street resident Cristina Felix-Montague, along with Eileen Verdi and Emily Pinto, both of John Hay Avenue, pressed their concerns about the odors which they trace to the landfill’s leachate and/or gases.

First, Felix-Montague wanted to know if the air quality had been compromised from whatever chemical elements may be part of the mix.

Noting the relatively recent residential developments in place along Bergen Avenue, off Schuyler Avenue, with more on the way, Felix-Montague said: “No one’s gonna come here if Kearny stinks!”

Verdi, who has lived in Kearny half a century, griped: “The smell is constant, absolutely horrible.”

But that wasn’t the only thing bothering Verdi. Flooding, up and down John Hay, is another annoyance when the town’s overworked pumps can’t help. When it rains, “go up and down John Hay – all you will see is water pumping out of people’s homes.”

With the development that’s taken place and with nearby “mountain” of mounds that have sprouted at Keegan, the water runoff that “used to go into the marshland is now getting stuck. It’s like a bathtub here. We’re getting ready to sell. We’re losing our foundations here.”

Mayor Alberto Santos agreed that “the old system of streams and tidal gates” that allowed tidal water to flow into the meadows “is gone” and any “long-term solution would cost billions.” In the interim, he said the town is looking to upgrade its pumps in the low-lying marsh areas.

What’s worse, though, Verdi said, is when winter sets in and “when it’s below 20 degrees, everything freezes – our cars get stuck and we can’t get them out of the ice. It’s like we have an ice-skating rink.” Santos said he’ll ask the DPW to salt more frequently.

Next up at the microphone was Pinto, who said her complaints phoned in to an odor hotline – 201-817-9844 – drew three separate visits by inspectors dispatched by the Hudson Regional Health Commission, each of whom took air quality readings, none of which have apparently led to what the mayor characterized as “investigations” of what’s behind the odors.

One of those inspectors, Pinto said, told her the stuff “smelled like hydrogen sulfide – which, at low levels, is not too concerning.” Pinto said she was told “they have to verify it’s at a certain level” – and that it’s coming from a particular source – before pursuing the matter further.

Acknowledging that, “I’m not a scientist,” Santos said that if the substance were hydrogen sulfide, it could be a by-product of sludge” – a material that, he said, was being accepted more frequently at the landfill, reportedly from the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission.

“We’re 99% certain,” Santos said, that the smell “is from Keegan.” He said the odors seem to be more prevalent “on weekends” – which, he added, happens to be when sludge deliveries to the site are reportedly made.

Santos said the town may explore the possibility of acquiring and setting up its own monitors to take air levels at or near the landfill and he invited residents to “flood the hotline with complaints” to help build a case for an investigation.

And, because the Hudson Regional Health Commission is “an arm of the New Jersey DEP (Dept. of Environmental Protection), “we need to let our state legislators and the governor know [about the issue],” he added. Councilman Susan McCurrie said people should complain to the DEP as well.

Kearny is still licking its wounds in the wake of two recent skirmishes it fought with the NJSEA. Last year, the courts upheld NJSEA’s takeover of the dump after its lease had expired – a move Kearny fought, claiming NJSEA’s predecessor agency had pledged to clean up the site and help Kearny convert it for recreational use.

And in a condemnation action, Hudson County Superior Court Judge Francis B. Schultz ruled Dec. 19 that the land’s fair market value was $1,818,000 – a far cry from the approximately $23 million that Kearny’s real estate expert estimated it was worth, based on annual tipping fees the landfill generates.

The found that the “best and highest use” of the property, as of the day the NJSEA took title, May 19, 2016, was for “passive recreation,” particularly since it was “highly unlikely that any private purchaser would come forward to purchase the Keegan landfill.”

Unlikely, the court said, because “the potential exposure due to some sort of environmental mishap could be immense and a purchaser would attempt to insure his liability by requiring an indemnification from the seller, Kearny” and, the court added, “it would be fanciful to assume that Kearny would grant or purchase an indemnity for such a purpose.”

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