It all happened on a Saturday morning, when most are usually either relaxing or spending time with family.
Hundreds of citizens and elected officials — from Kearny, Harrison, East Newark, North Arlington and beyond — marched and protested from the Kearny DPW yard on the Bergen Avenue extension to the Keegan Landfill half a mile away. And the message was clear, unified as one and couldn’t have been much louder: The Keegan Landfill must close, it must be closed forthwith and Gov. Phil Murphy had better do so soon or face the consequences of a very determined and angry electorate that helped put him in office in the first place in 2017.
Here’s how it all went down on April 27.
The march left the DPW yard at about 11:30 a.m., led by Mayor Alberto G. Santos and his civilian co-protestor-in-chief Cristina Montague. Both had bullhorns and led the crowd in chants, most notably “Shut it down!”
Marchers walked on the south side of Bergen Avenue, on the sidewalk, and had an escort from the Kearny Police Department. Police, meanwhile, did an excellent job of keeping everyone out of the streets, on the sidewalk and away from vehicular traffic, which built up along the entire length of the Bergen extension.
Passers-by — and those who were caught in traffic for a while — remained calm for the most part and many beeped their horns in solidarity with the marchers.
At the entrance to the landfill, those protesting gathered around Santos, Montague and company — and the mayor took to the bullhorn after first leading a three-minute, loud chant of “Shut it down!”
Then, Santos took off and ripped into the NJSEA and state representation in general forthwith.
“We’re here to shut this down and we’re yelling because we want our state leaders to hear us — this has to shut down!” he said to roaring applause. “And we’re here to point out the lies of our state leaders — lies. Nine years ago, they said this would be opened and there would be a golf course, there would be baseball fields, football fields. They said that was going to happen. Lies!
“Last year, the state told us no sewage sludge was going here. And we caught them on video with sewage sludge. Lies! Then they said the rotten-egg hydrogen sulfide odor was not from the landfill. That’s what the state said. So we got our own monitoring stations and proved it was theirs — and they continued to (tell) lies, lies, lies.
“Then the state said we can fix it. Well, we got one of the highest reads of hydrogen sulfide last week. They continue to lie … we are here because this is about our health. This is not because of what something looks like. This goes to our health. Hydrogen sulfide is poison … they have to shut this down.”
Santos then noted the state said it didn’t have the cash to close the landfill. Yet each year, the NJSEA collects at least $25 million to keep it open.
“Where has that money gone?” Santos shouted. “Why are they still lying?”
Interestingly enough, Tom Marturano, the NJSEA’s director of solid waste and natural resources, apparently drew the shortest straw as the only representative of the NJSEA to be on-site for the protest. For most of the protest, he hid away from the crowd, sitting in a state-owned, gigantic gas-guzzling SUV just beyond the front gate to the landfill.
He was only seen out of his vehicle toward the end of the protest after a few children innocently built a “rock wall” that couldn’t have been any more than an inch off the ground. Though Marturano’s NJSEA have sworn to the contrary, when one truck hit the “rock wall” — which Marturano futilely complained about to the KPD — a large chunk of sheet rock, which leads to the creation of hydrogen sulfide, fell off the truck, practically into Santos’s lap.
“This sheet rock is going to form into a leachate that’s going to turn into hydrogen sulfide — so shut this down,” Santos said as he held a piece of the sheet rock in his bare hands.
Meanwhile, among the protestors was Kearny’s own Ruth Ann Hatfield.
She recently moved to Quincy Avenue, a very short distance away from the landfill. In the last year alone, in addition to suffering respiratory issues, she has suffered two heart attacks. Doctors say they have no clue why she’s had the attacks.
“It’s not right — something is wrong here,” Hatfield said. “How does a human being have two heart attacks where the doctors can’t figure out why they’ve happened? It just makes no sense at all.”
Present at the protest were all of the Kearny Council, except for Second Ward Councilman Rich Konopka. He is unable to attend anything related to the Keegan Landfill — though we’re told he wishes he could — because he works for the Passaic Valley Sewage Commission. He was advised by his superiors there to avoid any involvement with the Keegan.
Also present were most of Harrison’s elected officials as well as some former officials and town employees. We were also advised several officials from East Newark and North Arlington also marched.
Noticeably absent were every single one of Kearny’s state and federal representatives (unless they were incognito and/or in sunglasses) — including state Sen. Nicholas Sacco, Assemblymembers Angelica M. Jimenez and Pedro Mejia, U.S. Reps. Albio Sires and Bill Pascrell and Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez (who, by the way, lives in Harrison.)
Roger Quesada and Mahmoud Mahmoud, who are running in the June primary for state Assembly against Jimenez and Mejia, did attend.
Perhaps most inspiring were the numerous children and senior citizens who rallied. Some senior citizens even marched with walkers or canes.
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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.