Some came on one of the Kearny-owned senior citizen jitney buses, including Mayor Alberto G. Santos, his assistant Lyla DeCastro and Councilmembers Peter Santana, Eileen Eckel and Albino Cardoso. Others drove. A few even took taxis, Uber and Lyft to get there.
It was a cold, grey and rainy day, with clouds so low you could barely see the noisy jets flying overhead on takeoff from Newark Liberty International Airport.
Yet the message that day was one of unity — those (there appeared to be at least 100, perhaps more) gathered at the March 21 meeting of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (NJSEA from here on) just two towns to the north in Lyndhurst wanted but one thing: the Keegan Landfill shut down for good.
One by one, they took to the podium situated right at the center of the meeting room. Each commissioner sat there “listening,” concerned — as did NJSEA CEO Vincent Prieto, of Secaucus, a man who represented each of the speakers in the General Assembly from 2004 to 2018.
And, one by one, the commissioners refused, even temporarily, to consider closing the dump that nets them, depending on whom you ask, $24 million to $25 million annually. Is it a wonder they refused to consider closing it, despite the obvious odors and despite the clear health risks associated with breathing in the hydrogen sulfide everyone but them seem to know is coming from the landfill?
At any rate, here’s a breakdown of what some of the speakers had to say. We highlight two elected officials and one resident.
Santos was among the first to speak. The graduate of Georgetown Law earned every penny of his miniscule salary as mayor in one passionate address to NJSEA commissioners. Rarely before this day was he so animated. Rarely before this was he so apparently so ticked off. He was not going to accept defeat here. And despite a lack of action on the commissioners’ parts, he is not about to give up.
“We’ve had multiple high-read dates since we acquired our own monitoring stations,” Santos said, his voice practically cracking at times. “We’re up to 12 days where the parts per billion exceeded 30 (the maximum allowable safe reading). At that level, you have health impacts. You have irritation to eyes, nose, throat — and if you have respiratory problems, you’re going to have a hard time breathing.
“Forget the quality-of-life issue. Forget you can’t even open your windows and enjoy your property. Now we’re talking about very fundamental issues of health impact. And I know the executive director knows Kearny well. And some of you may know Kearny. But I don’t think most of you do. And right near this facility, we have over 1,000 residences. Right near, within 500 feet of this facility, there’s an outdoor recreation field (Harvey Field) that’s the most active soccer field in our town. And even if you only on the surface know Kearny, you know how important soccer is to this community.
“ … within 1,000 feet, we have a K-to-6 elementary school (Franklin) with over 1,000 children. And we have daycare centers near this facility. So you can see why this is so important to this community. … It pains me to see where we are, today, with this agency.”
Following these statements, Santos said the most recent audit he could “get his hands on” revealed the agency receives $25 million a year for keeping the Keegan open.
“At the end of the day, you’re using this (landfill) to make money,” the mayor said. “And that’s an outrage, because you’re compromising the environment.”
The mayor then challenged the commissioners on a promised gas-collection system the NJSEA proposed. It would not be put into place for at least six more months. Not good enough, the mayor said, especially since NJSEA guards are not opening up and closing the dump down as they’re supposed to.
“They’re there (dumping trucks) before 7 o’clock in the morning,” the dump’s supposed opening time, Santos noted.
“You did everything you could to deflect … and the only reason I could see you doing that is that $25 million — whatever it is, it could be higher — that you generate from this facility,” Santos said. Again, that’s wrong.
“ … At the end of the day, when you go to your respective communities, you’ll have to remember — this will have to end — this is wrong. This is the lowest point in my 20 years with this agency. Keep that in mind.”
In response to Santos, John Ballantyne, the chairman of the authority, quickly noted he has family in Kearny and his wife is from Kearny. The last time he saw those relatives, he said, was at a recent wedding, but the Keegan situation “did not come up at the wedding,” he said, prompting jeers from the crowd.
Eckel and several others, at that point, could be heard saying, from their seats, “Well, then shame on you.”
The next speaker was Doyle. Her speech immediately became explosive when she recalled a meeting current NJSEA Commissioner Anthony Scardino Sr. had with her, at a school in Kearny, back in 1989.
Doyle recalled that Scardino at the time blasted her mindset as being a bit too old fashioned to know what is and isn’t right for a community when it comes to engineering — and the need for a garbage dump. Scardino, of course, didn’t recall the 30-year-old exchange.
“At the time, you claimed I had a mindset of the 1950s,” Doyle said to Scardino, who sat just a few feet away. “You remember that, I remember it so well. And I wanted the dumps closed then. At that time, you were talking about hiring an engineer to supervise the trash going in. Why can’t the town of Kearny hire an engineer? I found it insulting that you had to hire an engineer. Do you remember holding that conversation?”
No, he said, he didn’t. But Doyle insisted it occurred.
“You were the executive director of the (now-defunct) Meadowlands Commission,” Doyle recalled. “… I am wearing red and black today — Kearny colors. I’ve lived in Kearny over 50 years and I agree with the mayor, this is one of the lowest points for the Town of Kearny. … When a mayor of a town in this district gets ignored, how insulting is that?”
In closing, Doyle said, “Oh by the way, is there any commissioner here from Kearny?” And as no one so admitted, she said, “I didn’t think so — thank you.”
As Doyle addressed the commissioners, her dear friend, Joann Carratura, held a poster-board sized replica of last week’s Observer front page, “Santos to Murphy: Shut Keegan now.”
THE AIR COULD ‘KILL (HIS SON) IN HIS SLEEP’
Now while we could have included comments from all of the many speakers at the meeting, we choose just one more, because it was his words, and his scenario, that put this entire hideous situation into perspective in ways others couldn’t.
His name is Jason Pedraza and he owns a home on Beech Street between Laurel and Magnolia avenues. When he was finished speaking, the audience gave him a rousing standing ovation.
“My wife and I moved to Kearny three years ago,” he said. “We really love the town. We bought a house. We’re really happy with it. … In the last three or four months, it’s gotten so bad it’s reaching up by where I live on Beech Street. And this became pretty urgent for me and my growing family.
“My first son was born on Feb. 6 of this year. He was born with a lung condition. He had to have surgery on day two of his life — to have part of his lung removed. When we brought him home, the doctors kept telling us how important it was to make sure he lives in a place that has good air quality because he’s going to have respiratory issues moving forward.”
Then, fighting back tears, his voice cracking, Pedraza said: “Are you kidding me? My wife and I came to this town and bought a house — we didn’t have college loans, so we were able to buy a home, a thing that many people in our generation can’t do.
“And now we’re living in a place where our property is in decline and not only that, it can now literally affect my son’s life. It could kill him in his sleep. So I am asking all of you, to wake up … wake up. It’s affecting us, it should affect you, too. It should affect how you sleep at night … empathize with us. We are Kearny. Thank you.”
Sadly, on March 21, 2019, the NJSEA had no empathy to offer.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.