Mayor Fife’s Legacy: Green Space Unfilled Promises & EPA Toxic SludgeSep 12, 2023
In the span of a year, Harrison Mayor James Fife has faced mounting criticism over his perceived failure to protect and foster green spaces in the Harrison Redevelopment Zone, a responsibility that falls both under his purview as the Chairman of the Harrison Redevelopment Agency (HRA) and Mayor of Harrison. The issue reached a boiling point in the August 29, 2022, HRA meeting where Mayor Fife was unable to convincingly pinpoint the existence of the promised green spaces for all Harrison residents.
A Tale of Neglected Commitments
During the meeting, Mayor Fife attempted to argue that all residents of Harrison had access to green spaces within their apartment buildings. However, this argument fell flat when it was pointed out that Green spaces in new apartment buildings were not public spaces. The initial commitment to Harrison residents was to provide green spaces for all residents of Harrison, not just within private apartment buildings.
Further, Mayor Fife tried to deflect blame from himself as Chairman of the HRA by pointing a finger at external agencies such as the Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), citing their hold-up on a significant piece of land, the former PS&G gas works property, initially intended for redevelopment as a Community Center and Park. The mayor mentioned plans being stalled due to the EPA's intention to use the area for the Passaic River dredge project, a process that could potentially span a decade.
Unanswered Questions and Unaddressed Concerns
Adding fuel to the fire is the EPA's plan to establish a dewatering plant alongside a concrete plant at the former PSE&G gasworks property, a project that involves handling highly toxic and carcinogenic substances derived from Agent Orange produced during the Vietnam War. Despite the serious health implications and the proximity to residential areas, Mayor Fife has remained conspicuously silent, failing to release any statement or take a definitive stance against the proposal.
In the most recent Harrison Redevelopment Agency meeting held on June 12, 2023, Mayor Fife maintained that he had not received any communication from the EPA, a claim that contradicts his previous statements acknowledging the EPA's plans dating back to at least two years.
Video (above) of Mayor James Fife speaking at August 29, 2022 Harrison Redevelopment Meeting about EPA's Sludge DeWatering plan. Click CC for Closed Captioned. Mayor Fife speaks a couple seconds into this video clip. The entire official video of meeting is available in link below.
Mayor Fife stated (video above) at the August 29, 2022, HRA meeting the following: “Of course, you have the biggest piece Public Service, the EPA is holding that up. We were going to do some planning over there but the EPA is going to using it for the [Passaic] River dredge [aka sludge]. We don’t know how long that is going to be it could be 10 years. But It is up to EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and PSE&G (Public Service Electric & Gas) to decide what is going on there.”
The Proposed 5th Street Pocket Park
In a recent development, Mayor Fife, a Chairman of the HRA, has proposed the creation of a new green space by taking over an entire block of South 5th Street, including the adjacent areas to the Cobalt Building, to develop a park. This initiative comes after planning consultant Heyer Gruel emphasized the dire need for additional green and open spaces in the Waterfront Redevelopment Area. Where did all the Green Space go was one of the questions asked at several meetings which continues unanswered.
The proposed 5th Street Pocket Park, while privately owned, promises to be open to the public, showcasing a collaborative effort to benefit the community. However, this arrangement raises concerns regarding the potential for restricted access in the future, urging the necessity for a contingency plan to retain the town's right to reopen South 5th Street to vehicular traffic should the need arise.
As Mayor Fife navigates the complex landscape of redevelopment, the residents of Harrison look on with hope and skepticism. While the proposed 5th Street Pocket Park offers a beacon of hope, the unfulfilled promises and lack of transparency surrounding the green space initiatives cast a long shadow over Mayor Fife's tenure as Chairman of the Harrison Redevelopment Agency and Mayor of Harrison.
Of much greater concern is Mayor Fife’s silence and lack of leadership. Mayor Fife has been fully aware of the EPA’s plan to place a toxic sludge dewatering and an ancillary concrete plant where a Community Center, Park, and Green Space would ideally go with a turnaround for vehicles dropping off commuters at the Harrison Path Station. How can Mayor Fife not oppose the EPA plan? That question has been lingering as Mayor Fife remains silent.
The community remains hopeful yet vigilant, expecting decisive action and clear communication from Mayor Fife in the coming months. The onus is now on Mayor Fife to steer the ship with foresight and responsibility, ensuring the well-being and satisfaction of all Harrison residents in the redevelopment endeavors.
Official Town Video of Harrison Redevelopment Agency Meeting of August 29, 2022 Where Lack of Green Spaces is discussed & EPA Sludge Statement is made by Mayor James Fife.
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