The Scales of Justice have tipped back toward West Hudson, its residents and their well-being.
In a one-page ruling June 11 that was made public the following day, the highest court in the state — the New Jersey Supreme Court — overturned an appellate court’s ruling that reopened the Keegan Landfill and in doing so, immediately shut the dump down until at least July 25.
According to the ruling issued by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner: “It is ordered that the emergent application for temporary relief is granted, in part. The trial court’s order temporarily restraining the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority from continuing to operate the Keegan Landfill is reinstated effective immediately. If practicable in its discretion, the trial court should expedite the plenary hearing, now scheduled for July 25.”
In all likelihood, there will not be another appeal of the Supreme Court’s ruling before July 25 since the next stop for an appeal would be in the federal-court system and it is rare that federal courts dip into state-related matters.
Come July 25, in a hearing in New Jersey Superior Court, both the Town of Kearny and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, will argue their positions on why the landfill should be kept closed permanently or reopened.
Kearny Mayor Alberto G. Santos lauded the Supreme Court’s decision and explained the various possible outcomes of the July 25 hearing in an interview with The Observer last week.
“The Supreme Court’s decision is exactly what we wanted,” the mayor said. “But a temporary closure of the landfill won’t solve our issues. So this is only the beginning of the solution. A gas-collection system and an impermeable cap are required steps in the process. The first step has been taken — but until the steps are taken to eliminate hydrogen sulfide completely, nothing else will suffice.”
Following the ruling, Santos also issued a statement on the town’s website.
“The Town Council and I are elated for the residents of Kearny that the Supreme Court reinstated the closure and reversed the Appellate Division. The NJSEA sought to cover up that they are the responsible party for harmful hydrogen sulfide emissions from the landfill — they presented false information about the causation of noxious air emissions from dumping and about the amount of emissions being created. The NJ Supreme Court got the facts and science right.”
Many residents took to social media to praise the decision, too.
“(Thanks to) the mayor and town council and also the many activists that joined forces,” Len Twist said. “Together we are formidable adversary. They just don’t know who they are dealing with do they?”
Said Rosa M. Rodrigues: “It’s good that they came to their common sense to do what’s right, which is close this garbage site full of bad smells and dangerous toxic chemicals.”
And, said Phil Karp: “Great job mayor, this is a great first step. Keep the calls coming as this temporary closure will not solve the problem completely. Keegan must be permanently closed and capped.”
Now, come July 25, Santos says both sides will present “experts who will testify to what is happening at the landfill,” including toxicologists, solid-waste engineers and other related professionals.
If the case is ruled in Kearny’s favor, Santos says he expects the NJSEA to appeal that decision. Under that scenario, the landfill would remain closed until an appellate court heard the case. If the July 25 is ruled in favor of the NJSEA, the town would appeal the decision, but unlike in the previous scenario, the landfill would likely be reopened until the appeal is heard.
And, once again, depending on how the appellate court decides, the case could yet again go before the state Supreme Court for a ruling.
So while there is emergent relief now and for the next five-plus weeks, the crisis at the Keegan is not yet over. As such, it is Santos’s hope that residents will not fall into a sense of complacency — we must all keep the pressure on as has been the case for the last six months.
“They’ve had it easy, so yes, I hope everyone will continue to go to the NJSEA meetings, and write letters and call the governor’s office,” Santos said. “This is not over and we can’t let them rest for a moment … there is no amount of money that compensates for harm to our health or our environment. We want this closed and offending parties held accountable, even if they are an agency of the State of New Jersey.”
The next meeting of the NJSEA happens to be this week — 10 a.m., Thursday, June 20, at the Meadowlands Environment Center, 2 DeKorte Park Plaza, Lyndhurst. Phone calls may be placed to the governor’s office at 609-292-6000.
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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.