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Environmental Justice Triumphs But The Next Fight Looms In Harrison NJ

Jan 28, 2024
Dioxin Sludge DeWatering Plant

In a significant victory for environmental justice, New Jersey Transit has abandoned its plans to construct a gas-burning power plant in South Kearny, New Jersey. This decision marks a crucial win for the residents of Kearny, Harrison, and East Newark, collectively known as the West Hudson community. It is a testament to the relentless advocacy and determination of environmental justice advocates who have made New Jersey's Environmental Justice law meaningful and effective.

The proposed NJ TransitGrid Microgrid Central Facility in Kearny was intended to enhance resilience against severe weather disruptions, a response to the challenges faced during Hurricane Sandy. However, the plan was met with staunch opposition from environmentalists and local advocates concerned about the potential adverse effects on Kearny and surrounding areas. The West Hudson Community already has more than its share of contaminated Superfund sites, former landfills emitting hydrogen sulfide and methane gas, and a garbage-burning Incinerator.

Matt Smith, New Jersey state director for Food and Water Watch, lauded the decision as a victory for grassroots activists. He criticized the initial proposal as a flawed solution in the face of a climate emergency, highlighting the project's contradiction with sustainability goals.

Redirecting Funds to Sustainable Projects

NJ Transit has now reallocated over $500 million initially dedicated to the Kearny plant to three other infrastructure projects, emphasizing more sustainable and community-friendly initiatives. This includes $240 million for the replacement of the Raritan River Bridge, damaged during Sandy, $175 million towards the Delco Lead & County Yard Expansion for storm-protected vehicle storage, and $80 million for filling the Hoboken Long Slip to mitigate flooding and improve emergency rail service.

Past Victories and Future Challenges

The West Hudson community's fight against the Kearny power plant mirrors the community's successful effort over five years ago to close and cap the Keegan Landfill, notorious for emitting toxic hydrogen sulfide gas. The landfill, owned by the New Jersey Sports & Exhibition Authority (NJSEA), was closed following persistent efforts by Kearny's Mayor, Council, and a grassroots group of residents.

However, the community faces a new environmental justice challenge: preventing the EPA from utilizing a cleaned-up former PSEG Gas Works site in Harrison for dewatering toxic dioxin-laden sludge from the Passaic River. This site, once an industrial property, now lies in a residential area and across the street from luxury apartments, a transformation envisioned by the late Mayor Raymond McDonough and council members 26 years ago.

The current Mayor of Harrison, James Fife, also the Chairman of the Harrison Redevelopment Agency, has not opposed the EPA Sludge Plant and has avoided addressing concerns raised in recent town meetings. This lack of opposition has raised concerns among residents and environmental advocates. It must be concluded that Mayor Fife is in favor of the EPA’s plan for dewatering toxic sludge in the Town of Harrison.  Hard to fathom.  Why Mayor would welcome toxic sludge into its new revitalized residential area across from luxury residential apartment buildings?

The abandonment of the gas power plant project in Kearny by NJ Transit is a significant milestone for environmental justice in New Jersey. It underscores the power of community activism and the importance of sustainable development. As the West Hudson community prepares for its next challenge, their past successes serve as a beacon of hope and a reminder of the power of united community action in the face of environmental threats.

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