Grant, if awarded, would allow for significant tree replenishment in Kearny

Rising Kearny High School juniors Jocelyn Huancaya and Amna Abdou measure trees the week of July 11 in the Manor. Photo by Lisa M. Feorenzo

About a week ago, The Observer’s Co-owner Lisa Feorenzo was taking a walk with her dog, Colt, in the manor — think Manor Park, West Bennett Avenue — when she came across two teenage girls with a measuring strip in hand as well as a couple of clipboards. Always naturally curious, Feorenzo and Colt stopped to chat to the girls.

“What are you guys up to?” she asked.

“We’re measuring the trees for the Town of Kearny,” one of the two teens replied. (We’re not sure which teen spoke up, but we later learned from Kearny Business Administrator Steve Marks the two girls are rising Kearny High School juniors called Jocelyn Huancaya and Amna Abdou.

They’re both Hudson County Summer Youth Employment Program interns, who were diligently working to help Marks prepare to write a grant proposal to the State of New Jersey that could bring significant cash to Kearny to buy and plant new trees townwide.

Whats the state program?

On Earth Day 2022, Gov. Philip D. Murphy announced a $15 million initiative and investment in “nature-based infrastructure designed to fight climate change.” In plainer terms, or at least for Kearny, that means enhancing the town’s tree population.

This is something the governor spoke of during his 2021 re-election campaign, and he’s coming through on his promise.

“Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to New Jersey’s people, communities and economy,” Murphy said. “This year’s Earth Week theme of investing in our planet is reflective of our New Jersey values as we aim to set an example for the nation. Through our new Natural Climate Solution Grant Program, New Jersey proudly becomes one of the first states to invest proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) auctions into natural resource restoration and enhancement projects.”

Whats happening here in Kearny?

“Kearny is one of 348 municipalities which is considered to be an ‘overburdened community.” Kearny is also a combined sewer overflow community, meaning, whenever there is a storm event, rainfall overwhelms our sanitary sewer system and overflows to local bodies of water, including the Passaic River and Frank’s Creek,” Marks told The Observer. “The Clean Water Act prohibits combined sewer overflows. The mayor and Town Council approved a long-term control plan last year which was submitted to the NJDEP for approval which would reduce/eliminate combined sewer overflow events. However, the Clean Water Act is an unfunded federal mandate.  Whatever the town does not get through state and federal grants, it will have to fund itself. Therefore, it is important to seek any and all funding opportunities.”

And that’s where this opportunity comes in.

“The grant has several eligible categories, including ‘Urban Forest Canopy’ and ‘Water Quality Enhancement,’” Marks said. “Kearny is particularly well positioned for this category. The town has lost a lot of its tree canopy over the last several decades due to the age of trees, storms and development. For example, Hurricane Ida, last year, knocked over more than 100 shade trees in Kearny alone.

“The town will be proposing to plant up to 300 native shade trees to replace lost trees and bioswale/rain gardens to capture stormwater runoff. If funded, the combination of new shade trees and rain gardens would capture stormwater before it goes into the combined sewer system and help the town comply with the Clean Water Act.

“The new shade trees and rain gardens will also reduce flooding downstream in flood prone neighborhoods in town. The investment would also have a co-benefit of beautifying neighborhoods, improving property values and shading/cooling homes to reduce air-conditioning usage and electrical demand. Grant awards are between $250,000 and $5 million. We are still formulating the budget, but it could be up to a half million.”

And this is where the two teenagers Feorenzo met come in. (There are two other doing similar work — both go to High Tech High School in Secaucus.) Because one NJDEP requirement for grant allotment is a complete inventory of the existing trees here. Marks says this is to help measure the trees’ impact on the environment before and after grants are awarded.

“They are measuring the diameter of each tree and its species. If funded, the town will reach out to local property owners to see where residents want new trees planted.”

And speaking of residents, you can help add to the town’s application for the grant. If you believe this is a great idea — and you should, because it is — send a letter of support to Town Hall, 402 Kearny Ave., Kearny, N.J. 07032. Address letters to Mayor Alberto G. Santos.

Learn more about the writer ...

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.