For nearly 70 years, the Keegan Landfill in Kearny was operable until a court ordered it to shut down in 2020 and directed its owner, the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, to clean the 100-acre property along Bergen Avenue for future recreational use.
Now Kearny residents are wondering if it will take another lifetime before they see the conversion. Those living near and upland of the site have complained (still) of breathing in noxious fumes from the dump, potentially causing headaches, nausea and dizziness.
Residents got an update on where matters stood at the June 28 mayor/Town Council meeting held at Kearny High School while the council chambers is undergoing renovations.
In an email, Mayor Alberto Santos said: “The town and NJSEA are in alignment with a closure that both eliminates (hydrogen sulfide) gas emissions and improves stormwater drainage to help mitigate area flooding. The closure entails the installation of an impermeable liner topped off with clean fill while maintaining the existing mature vegetation at the base of the landfill to absorb stormwater. Proposed end uses include walking trails and access to the Kearny Marsh.”
Michael Neglia, the town’s consulting engineer, said the “best option” for ensuring proper drainage to minimize spread of foul-smelling fumes is to leave the top, side and bottom of the dirt mounds that have built up over the years “in their natural state” covered by an impermeable liner designed to prevent fume emissions and leachate generation; topped by 18 inches of clean fill, and, in turn, by six inches of vegetation.
An existing vapor collection system of 28 wells, coupled with the drainage, should help minimize moisture infiltrating the landfill and thereby control the releases of odors in future years, Neglia said.
Still, he cautioned, because the landfill property sits in a flood plain, it’s possible that heavy rainfalls from a “100-year storm” situation could dislodge leachate that “hopefully” should flow into a storm water sewer for treatment.
But meanwhile, Neglia noted, “we still have to order the liner and get the clean fill,” both of which, he added, could account for delays to the project.
Assuming permit approvals are granted by the state Department of Environmental Protection, Neglia estimated a 1 1/2- to-two-year time frame to complete the closure process.
Technical consultants to the NJSEA offered no dissenting views to Neglia’s assessment of the closure proposal.
As reported by The Observer, the DEP in March 2021 endorsed the placement of a geomembrane cover system across the entire landfill and estimated closure costs — which must be borne by NJSEA — at nearly $47 million, but permits for the liner and closure are still outstanding.
(The NJSEA’s predecessor agency, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, invested $25 million in an effort to improve the landfill drainage by building two sewage pumps to transport leachate into a collection system for treatment instead of the waste materials spilling into the Kearny Marsh and Frank’s Creek.)
Santos, in a separate email, said the NJSEA “has advised us they will have funding for the closure (but) they did not provide a cost estimate. The NJSEA did not tell us whether the funding has been formally appropriated by the State of New Jersey or is being funded through existing escrow accounts.”
For the past year, the NJSEA has been performing air monitoring of emissions from the landfill site, according to Santos.
If and when the landfill is closed to the satisfaction of DEP, the NJSEA is expected to proceed with development of what the town is hoping will be passive recreational uses for the property.
Christine Sanz, chief operating officer of the NJSEA and CEO of the Meadowlands Conservation Trust, shared some concepts of what residents might expect to see as possible “passive end uses” for the site in “post-closure” status, generally envisioned as a “public park and wildlife preserve.”
Initially, Sanz said the NJSEA may arrange for what she called “one-day, sneak/peek events,” such as tours by school groups and/or public officials along a designated trail or perimeter road.
But scheduling these activities may be complicated, Sanz said, if they are “competing with heavy construction” associated with the “ongoing maintenance of the gas collection system” and preparation of the land for recreational purposes.
In the future, Sanz said, the NJSEA envisions such notions as hiking and/or biking trails, bird watching, kite-flying, outdoor art shows and concerts and possibly kayaking to the nearby Kearny Marsh.
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Susan McCurrie encouraged the NJSEA to “have discussions with the town on finalizing end uses for the site” and, in particular, to collaborate with Kearny ACES (Advisory Committee on the Environment and Sustainability), a non-profit pledged to pursuing green initiatives that improve Kearny’s environment and quality of life, on individual projects.
Kearny ACES “should be your first line of communication,” McCurrie said.
McCurrie also called for setting “benchmarks” for completing designated recreational goals for the former landfill site as a way of establishing a timetable for reaching those goals.
Asked to assess the likelihood of seeing a productive end use for the property, Third Ward Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle labeled the NJSEA presentation a “grandiose play. Guess what — I’ll believe it when I see it. And who will pay for it? I really don’t know. I believe (the NJSEA) will put down matting plus dirt and vegetation but, as far as the amenities, who knows? We’ve been promised things before and we have yet to see them.”
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Ron Leir | For The Observer
Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.
He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.
He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York