Rejoice (for now)! The Keegan Landfill has been permanently closed

West Hudson residents have good reason to celebrate. For now.

Judge Jeff Jablonski’s preliminary injunction to close the Keegan Landfill became permanent when he issued a 46-page decision Monday, Sept. 30, and in doing so, he made it clear there is a health crisis and that the NJSEA’s motives for keeping it open were purely financial.

Editor’s note: The decision came down too late for a full story in the Oct. 2, 2019, edition of The Observer.

Upon learning of the permanent closure, state Sen. Nicholas Sacco and Kearny Mayor Alberto G. Santos were happy but cautioned we’re not past the finish line just yet.

“We’re very happy but now it’s time for the state to place an impermeable cap on the landfill,” Santos told The Observer in a phone interview in the afternoon of Sept. 30.

The mayor says it is still important for residents to attend the next meeting of the NJSEA — 10 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 17, at 2 DeKorte Park Plaza, Lyndhurst — to voice their continued, albeit now different, concerns.

“We need them to encourage the NJSEA to install the cap,” Santos said.

Meanwhile, Sacco, whose resolution calling for the closure and capping of the landfill will continue to go through committee and then the entire state Senate, praised local leadership for its stark victory over the state agency.

“This is a great victory for Mayor Santos and the people of Kearny,” Sacco told The Observer. “Now that the landfill is closed, it should be capped. I hope the NJSEA now sees the wisdom of capping the landfill as soon as possible.”

Judge Jeff Jablonski, right, swears in Kearny Councilman Albino Cardoso.

Tough words from the judge

Jablonski, meanwhile, did not mince his words in his opinion/decision. (You may read the entire opinion at www.theobserver.com).

“This court finds that the remedial efforts taken by the defendant, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, are impermissibly temporary and only attempt to mitigate the hazardous condition that the landfill creates, rather to eliminate it,” Jablonski wrote in his opening opinion. “The preliminary injunction, therefore, is made final.”

He cited numerous complaints that were filed by local residents in support of his decision. At first, he said, the complaints were sporadic in the latter part of 2018. But as 2019 progressed, the complaints became more serious and greater in number.

Jablonski quoted the actual text of complaints made to the Hudson Regional Health Commission. We’ll do the same here, now.

  • “The inspector himself noted that while investigating a citizen complaint, the inspector’s nose started burning, stated (he was) getting a mild headache and felt a little dizzy.” (Dec. 2, 2018)
  • “Another complaint reports the start of a headache.” (Dec. 31, 2018)
  • “Odor makes me physically ill, queasy, headache, migraine.” (Jan. 12, 2019)
  • “(The landfill is having an) impact on my sleeping.” (Jan. 15, 2019)
  • “My 7-year-old complained and closed his nose to escape the smell.” (Jan. 17, 2019)
  • “Other times has caused headaches. Tonight, breathing issues.” (Jan. 17, 2019)
  • “Throat gets raw and wakes me up.” (March 8, 2019)

Other complaints were made in the field.

  • “This stink came into my house all night and I have air purifiers in all my rooms.”
  • “Smell is strong again right now — strong enough to enter my house. Windows are closed.”
  • “I happen to have gone home early yesterday due to the snow storm and noticed the awful sulfur smell as I was nearing my house. It seeped into my car and had me gagging, my throat was burning and my eyes were actually watering! It happened around the Devon Street / Bergen Avenue intersection and when I pulled my car into my driveway and got out, I could smell the horrible stench all around. Also please note that I live down the bloc from Kearny High School and very close to Franklin School, so just wanted to also voice my concern about the health risk this is undoubtedly posing to our children.”
  • “Another night of this awful odor … it’s terrible living here. I’m ready to sell this house.”

With these complaints — and hundreds of others — Jablonski noted that they had little effect on the NJSEA.

“Despite these complaints, the NJSEA took no affirmative action and only continued to monitor the situation and to measure the constant H2S emissions,” he said. He pointed to the exceedances, which often went well above the 30 parts per billion threshold we’ve heard so much about over the last year.

He also cited the NJSEA for violating the Solid Waste Management Act on Aug. 30, 2018, when it supposedly accepted banned materials at the landfill.

The judge also noted that despite assurances from the NJSEA that a gas-collection system was, indeed, installed, that exceedances continued before, during and after installation, including one exceedance at 400 parts per billion. Those were according to the NJSEA’s monitoring stations.

Editor’s note: We also know the town’s monitoring systems had two readings over 1,000 parts per billion.

In further support of his decision, Jablonski cited extensive case law. In doing so, he was hoping to prove that permanent relief from the injunction was necessary and lawful. He also made it clear he saw the testimony from Kearny’s witnesses at the five-day hearing as more qualified than those from the NJSEA.

He noted one NJSEA witness spoke in generalities and had “no experience in landfill operations.”

Lastly, Jablonski weighed the hardships the town and the authority would face if relief were — as it has been — granted. The town’s hardships — the health and well-being of its people. The NJSEA’s — purely financial. In fact, he said the NJSEA’s “expert” witnesses presented testimony that offered “self-serving efforts at mitigation of the offending conditions rather than those designed to eliminate it.”

He said the gas-collection system, while helpful, was “at best, temporary and there is no guarantee that the gas-collection system would even satisfactorily abate the conditions.”

Jablonski also slammed the NJSEA’s ability to properly manage what kind of waste is accepted at the Keegan. “This conclusion follows both the Aug. 30, 2018, inquiries following the videotaped sludge-dumping incident as well as the Nov. 13, 2018, report by inspectors about the lack of administrative oversight.”

And in the end …

“Because the plaintiff (Kearny) has proven clearly and convincingly that the condition at the landfill represents a clear and immediate danger — and because the NJSEA’s substantively untested remedial efforts are temporary, at best, and the success of those efforts are speculative, the proper exercise of discretion requires that the preliminary injunction be made final,” Jablonski concluded.

It is possible the NJSEA could appeal this decision. However, it has offered no indication, as such, as yet.

 

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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.