NJSEA (again) refuses to close Keegan landfill

Scores of Kearny folks — elected and non-elected — came out again Thursday, April 11, to plead with the NJSEA to shut down the Keegan Landfill. As in March, everyone left disappointed as the commissioners refused to truly hear their pleas — and appeared as tone deaf as they ever have.

While the crowd was a little smaller than it was in March, the message continued to be loud, clear and united — nothing short of closing Keegan will suffice.

The commissioners, none of whom live in Kearny, feigned interest in what speakers had to say, yet that $25 million they make for keeping the landfill open won out for the second-straight month. But don’t think for a second that will cause the fight to end — rather, it seems to have strengthened the fire lit under everyone who spoke.

The first speaker at the meeting was Christina Montague, who has been coordinating efforts as a civilian since late last year. She’s getting to the point where she’s fed up with the situation. When she spoke, First Ward Councilman Albino Cardoso held a large map of the area with numerous locations labeled to illustrate to commissioners just how close to the Keegan places like Franklin School, Harvey Field, Pathways to Independence, and others, are.

“Things continue to get progressively worse for our community,” she said. “With the warmer weather fast approaching, new fears are emerging regarding the dangers of this landfill that is in very close proximity as you can see right here to an elementary school and one of the busiest recreation fields in town.”

Montague told stories of how kids using Harvey Field got sick, and threw up, after using the field for practice. “In all my years of living in Kearny, I have never heard anything so alarming,” she said.

See Montague’s entire speech at www.theobserver.com.

Next to speak was Mayor Alberto G. Santos, who was even more animated than he was at the previous month’s meeting.

“What we want in Kearny is elimination of hydrogen sulfide (the gas causing the odors and potential health hazards),” the mayor said. “This is not in the middle of nowhere in the Meadowlands. This is adjacent to a neighborhood, to hundreds of residents, to a soccer field, two soccer fields.

“In the average week, 750 children will be on that soccer field, at different times … that soccer field is Ground Zero for our community. That’s where the most suffering will occur. We will have to evacuate that field every time we get reads of 20 parts-per-billion of hydrogen sulfide. We can’t wait until it gets to 30, because then the health impacts will result.”

Santos noted there will be eye, nose and throat issues as a result because “it’s right here in our community. We want elimination, we don’t want curb or reduction. You think you have science on your side, but you don’t … the source is the materials you’re taking … The honor system doesn’t work. I was outside the landfill the other day and you could see the sheetrock coming off the edges of the tarp on top.”

Santos again said that only an impermeable cap and full landfill closure will suffice.

By doing anything else, “That’s not being honest,” the mayor said. “That’s just keeping this going for other reasons and the reasons are the revenue you make from this landfill.”

During the course of his animated speech, Santos also reminded the NJSEA that the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) under the leadership of Susan Bass Levin, promised the Town of Kearny the world practically.

He held up a piece of literature from 15 years ago that said the NJMC said would, once the Keegan was permanently sealed and environmentally safe, turn the landfill into recreation facilities that would be “owned by the Town of Kearny. Limited portions of the Keegan site, adjacent to the Bergen Avenue extension, could be used as potential sites for economic development. Kearny Marsh would be rehabilitated into a first-class nature refuge suitable for catch-and-release fishing, canoeing, science education and wetlands exploration. Walking trails would connect the site to Harvey Field and Gunnell Oval. A canoe house and launch, boardwalks, nature trails and bird-watching blinds will be added to make the marsh accessible to residents.”

Does any of this seem familiar? It shouldn’t — it never happened. The NJMC and NJSEA reneged on this deal. It goes on. The NJMC also promised $20 million in tax relief over an 11-year period that would have been generated by cap materials and a $3 million escrow to build recreational facilities once the landfill was deemed safe.

And of course, this never happened, either.

See Santos’s full speech, including several testy exchanges with the NJSEA’s engineer and with Authority Chairman John Ballantyne, at www.theobserver.com.

Numerous others also spoke at the meeting, including Councilmembers Carol Jean Doyle, Peter Santana, Eileen Eckel, Albino Cardoso and Jerry Ficeto; Mayoral Aid Lyla DeCastro; attorney John Pinho; resident and owner of Spanish Pavilion Michael Fernandez; activist Len Twist and John Downey Jr., and many others. You can watch their comments at www.theobserver.com.

The bottom line — for the most part, the NJSEA continued to play a game with Kearny residents with plans to monitor the site. Speaker after speaker told them that just wasn’t enough. And you can bet the same group of people — and perhaps others — will be at the next NJSEA meeting at 10 a.m., May 16, One DeKorte Park Plaza, Lyndhurst.

Note: A protest is planned for 11:30 a.m., April 27. Protestors will gather at the town’s DPW lot on Bergen Avenue (where there is parking available) and march to the landfill. For more details, visit Facebook and search “Kearny Complaints for Smells.”

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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.