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Close Keegan Landfill March Anniversary

Apr 30, 2022

Three years ago on Saturday, April 27, 2019, a group of residents and elected officials organized a Protest march to the Keegan Landfill down Bergen Avenue in Kearny.  The goal of the protest march was to bring attention to the need to close and cap the landfill.  Three years ago, the closing and capping of the Keegan Landfill was a steep uphill battle.  A handful of community members and some local and statewide elected officials were pitted against a very powerful New Jersey state quasi-autonomous agency, the New Jersey Sports & Exhibition Authority (NJSEA) which had the backing of Governor Murphy.

Irreparable Harm, Governor Murphy’s Silence, Unanimous NJ Supreme Court Uphold Judge’s Decision

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy was not at the protest but was in neighboring Jersey City for a 5K Run at the Liberty State Park.  When a reporter asked him to comment on the protest march, the Governor refused the invitation.  Governor Murphy would remain silent and not step foot in Kearny for an entire year refusing to comment on the Keegan Landfill hiding behind the excuse that he could not comment on pending litigation.  He did comment after saying he would not comment because of pending litigation and said that the issue was complicated. Governor Murphy did speak after the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously voted to overturn a two-Judge Appellate Panel decision that reinstated Hudson County Chancellor Judge Jeffrey Jablonski decision that the Keegan Landfill was causing “irreparable harm” to neighboring communities because it was discharging large quantities of hydrogen sulfide gas.  The Commissioners of the NJSEA denied that the landfill was the source of the Hydrogen Sulfide.  The Commissioners of the NJSEA were reluctant to close the Keegan Landfill because it generated over 17 million dollars per year in tipping fees.

The Reopening

Aerial View of Keegan Landfill (Brown Area at Center of Photo)

The Protest march was headed by Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos and the then Kearny Town Council members.  In 2005, Mayor Santos had made the mistake of championing the reopening of the Keegan Landfill.  It is not something he likes to talk about or even admit that it was a mistake BUT the reality is that but for Mayor Santos’ championing the reopening of the Keegan Landfill in 2005 there would have been no dumping of construction debris, in particular sheetrock, into the landfill and thus there would have been no hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S)  being produced by the perfect mixture of sheetrock, water, and bacteria. The H2S is still produced but now a large percentage is captured and burned off.  There are alternative high tech means of cleaning the hydrogen sulfide gas but those have yet to be installed at the Keegan Landfill.

Mayor Santos Gets Animated

Mayor Alberto Santos with bullhorn calls for Closure of Keegan Landfill

At the Keegan Landfill protest, Mayor Santos was not reflecting on the past but on the present and he got animated demanding over a bullhorn that Governor Murphy Close and Cap Keegan (video above).  With his bull horn in hand, and an enthusiastic and animated audience, Mayor Santos stood just outside the entrance to the Keegan Landfill and stated that Governor Murphy and NJSEA needed to close and cap the Keegan Landfill.  In the background (actually in front of him) garbage trucks were going into the Keegan Landfill to dump.  At that point, the NJSEA had denied that Keegan accepted sheetrock for dumping.  As the Gods would have it, one of the trucks going into the landfill hit a speed bump and dropped sheetrock within feet of Mayor Santos and other protestors.  You could not have asked for better proof that NJSEA’s statement that there was no sheetrock accepted at the landfill was simply false.

Harrison 2nd Ward Councilman Anselmo Millan at Keegan Protest March

In April of 2019, the Commissioners of NJSEA and Staff thought that they would never be forced to close the Keegan Landfill.  The arrogance of NJSEA at that point in time was through the roof.  NJSEA’s management knew there was a scheduled Protest March to the Keegan Landfill starting at 11:30 am on a Saturday, management did not close the landfill for that Saturday and/or announce an early closure at 11:00 or 11:30 for protest marchers safety and/or avoid poor optics of garbage trucks and container trucks going into the landfill to dump.  The landfill was kept open its regular Saturday hours leading to a great backdrop for environmental justice and evidence dropping from a dump truck.

Kevin Canessa, the Editor of The Observer Newspaper

Other notable members of the community who took leading roles beyond Kearny’s Mayor & Council were Cristina Montague and Kevin Canessa.   Many others banded together to attend every NJSEA Board of Commissioners meeting.  Some made statements about how the hydrogen sulfide gas affected their lives and their families.  Others asked questions and others were in the audience in support of the speakers.  The grassroots group was a formidable force that combined with Mayor Santos and the Kearny Council kept the public pressure on.  The Town of Kearny’s attorneys litigated a case against NJSEA in the Hudson County Superior Court.  Chancery Judge Jeff Jablonski rendered an opinion that the hydrogen sulfide gas was causing “irreparable harm” to the community and ordered the landfill closed.  An appeal to the New Jersey Appellate Division resulted in a two judge panel reversing Judge Jablonski.  The Town of Kearny’s attorneys appealed.   In a unanimous decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court found “irreparable harm” and revered the Appellate Division.  The combined efforts of members of the community and the lawsuit brought by the Town of Kearny to close and cap the landfill brought much needed Environmental Justice to the community.

Kearny Senior Citizen at Close Keegan Landfill Protest

The Air Quality in Harrison is much better since the closure and capping of the Landfill.  There have not been any updates from Mayor Santos on whether the capping is complete and what systems are in place to burn and or clean up the hydrogen sulfide gas still being generated by the Keegan Landfill. There is no recent updates on NJSEA's website either.

Cristina Montague (in red and off center) with white Bullhorn took a Leadership Role

For more information on the Keegan Landfill visit the landfill page and “Kearny Complaints for smells” Facebook page.

Take a look at the page “Status of Support to Cap, Close and Filter Air”.  Harrison Councilman Anselmo Millan,attended the Kearny Close Keegan Protest march and circulated a Petition with assistance of volunteers seeking Closure of the Keegan and delivered it with the volunteers to Governor Murphy's office in Trenton.  Mayor Fife was standing by not wanting to offend Governor Murphy or the Commissioners of NJSEA.  A Resolution was passed by the Harrison Mayor & Council but it was only for a partial closure.  A partial closure would do nothing to collect and burn off the hydrogen sulfide gas.  If you left part of the landfill open, the gas would escape out of the uncapped portion of the landfill.

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