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Fifth Anniversary of Historic Keegan Landfill Protest March

Apr 27, 2024
Kevin Canessa Editor Writer The Observer Newspaper

Saturday, April 27, 2024, marked the fifth anniversary of the pivotal Keegan Landfill protest, a bold stand against environmental injustice. The march, which began at the Kearny Department of Public Works on Bergen St. in Kearny and ended at the now-closed NJSEA Keegan Landfill down the street, drew a diverse crowd including local elected officials, community leaders, and concerned citizens.

Among the attendees were Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos, members of the then Kearny Council, and community members including Kevin Canessa, editor of The Observer newspaper, and Cristina Montague, alias Dolce Vita, a key figure in the online activism surrounding the landfill issues. Melanie Ryan also joined, as part of the initial group raising alarm over the hazardous emissions from the landfill.  Of note as well there were Harrison residents including then-Councilman Anselmo Millan, Monica Miguens, Kathy West, Michael Fernandez (owner of the Spanish Pavillion Restaurant), and students from Harrison High School’s Environmental Club. Fernandez is technically a Kearny resident.

Then-Harrison Councilman Anselmo Millan At Keegan Protest March with HHS Students & Monica Miguens

The protest marked a significant chapter in local environmental advocacy, initially sparked by alarming levels of hydrogen sulfide gas detected emanating from the landfill. This toxic release, often surpassing safe limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, prompted urgent action from the community.

Residents and Elected Officials consistently attended NJSEA Commissioner meetings asking questions, making statements, and expressing their very personal experiences dealing with the toxic Hydrogen Sulfide gas being released into the community by the Keegan Landfill.  In the meantime, the Mayor & Council of Kearny continued its lawsuit in the Hudson County Chancery Court and won a victory before Honorable Jeffrey Jablonski when Judge Jablonski ordered the closure of the Keegan Landfill.  NJSEA appealed and a two-judge panel in the New Jersey Appellate Division overturned Judge Jablonski’s decision.  The Mayor & Council appealed the Appellate Court decision to the New Jersey Supreme Court on behalf of the residents of Kearny and ultimately won that appeal.

On June 12, 2019, the New Jersey Supreme Court delivered a unanimous decision to uphold the closure of the Keegan Landfill, citing the "irreparable harm" caused by the landfill's hydrogen sulfide emissions. This decision was a culmination of relentless efforts by local leaders, residents, and activists who had long campaigned against the landfill's operation due to its adverse health impacts.

Since the closure, air quality in Kearny and nearby towns like Harrison, the Ironbound Section of Newark, and North Arlington have significantly improved, bringing relief to residents who had suffered from the foul-smelling and harmful toxic gas. The closure was not only a victory for public health but also a testament to the power of community mobilization and legal advocacy.

James Montague, Cristina Montague, John M. Pinho & then-Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos

Room For Improvement

Despite the landfill's closure, concerns remain regarding its capping and the long-term management of residual emissions. A gas collection system has been installed to mitigate hydrogen sulfide and methane emissions, but the complete capping of the landfill remains pending. Community leaders continue to press for a thorough and environmentally sound resolution to prevent future environmental hazards. The current gas collection system burns off the hydrogen sulfide and methane gas but that in itself generates pollution. The State of New Jersey has operated a cleaner gas collection system at the Morris County Fenimore Landfill that does not burn off the gas but converts it into water.  The system has worked for over 10 years at the Fenimore Landfill but NJ DEP, a sister agency of the NJSEA that owns the Keegan Landfill has not been required to install the more modern gas collection system.

The local attorney John M. Pinho, who played a role in the advocacy efforts, was a vocal participant in NJSEA board meetings, continually pushing for transparency and accountability by asking questions of NJSEA professionals. Some of the answers elicited at meetings assisted the Town of Kearny’s litigation against NJSEA to close the Keegan Landfill. The website, created by Pinho, was a crucial resource for community updates during the campaign to close the Keegan Landfill.  The Facebook Page Kearny Complaints for smell was the first social media page that spurred awareness of the hydrogen sulfide gas emitting from the Keegan Landfill. The Close Keegan website contains to this day a link to the live Hydrogen Sulfide Gas meters readings that are in the perimeter of the Keegan Landfill. If you smell an odor in town you should report it.  Information on how to report it is on the website.

As one looks forward, the legacy of the Keegan Landfill protest five years ago serves as a powerful reminder of the community's resilience and commitment to safeguarding its environment. The fight for environmental justice, though challenging, has forged a united community ready to tackle future challenges with the same vigor and solidarity.

Close Keegan: then-Mayor Alberto Center (with bullhorn) to his right Cristina Montague

The next challenge is stopping the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from bringing toxic dioxin-laden sludge from the Passaic River onto the PSE&G property on South Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. in Harrison NJ, between the Jackson Street Bridge and the new PATH Jersey City & New York City bound station.  The Harrison community faces a tougher challenge because Mayor James Fife, and Councilman James Doran have known about EPA’s plan for over two years but have not opposed the plan and from all indications support the plan to place toxic dioxin-laden sludge in a residential community across the street from modern luxury apartment buildings. We know it makes absolutely NO sense but it is the present reality.

If you want to get involved in fighting EPA’s Harrison Toxic Sludge Plant, join to be a member of Your Harrison (It’s Free) and Subscribe for periodic emails.  You can also attend Harrison Mayor & Council meetings and ask questions and state your opinion. The next Harrison Mayor & Council meeting is Tuesday, May 7, 2024, at 6:30 p.m. at the Harrison Town Hall.

Cover Photo: Kevin Canessa, Editor of The Observer Newspaper, whose role in covering the Keegan Landfill toxic hydrogen sulfide gas story included broadcasting Live on Facebook NJSEA Board Meetings to inform the public in addition to stories in print, an online newspaper, and YouTube channel. Those of us breathing a little easier should support our local newspaper The Observer by taking out an Advertisement or Boosters during the Holiday special editions, and frequent businesses who advertise in The Observer and let the merchant know you found them in the newspaper.

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