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NJDEP Commissioner Gets Push Back on Greenway From Skeptical Residents

Jan 29, 2024
NJDEA LaTourette Kearny Roosevelt Public School

Last Tuesday, January 23, 2024, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt School in Kearny, NJ, Shawn M. LaTourette, the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environment Protection (DEP), passionately pitched the Greenway Project as a transformative opportunity for the residents of Kearny. The project, stretching an ambitious 6 miles through the heart of Kearny, was met with a mixture of curiosity and skepticism by the locals gathered in the school's historic gym auditorium, a monument to excellent construction and workmanship from 1932. There was a capacity crowd requiring the use of the balcony seating area with its original chairs with a carved emblem of Franklin D. Roosevelt's (FDR) headshot.

Kearny Mayor Carol Jean Doyle, a seasoned figure in Kearny's political landscape, showcased her diplomatic finesse in steering the meeting. Her adept transition from a moderator to an explainer, and ultimately a peacekeeper, and advocate for Kearny underlined her deep-rooted connection with the community. Her ability to maintain decorum, even when residents expressed their reservations, spoke volumes about her influence and respect within the town. She also called on many who raised their hands by name.  She also told a couple not to speak at the same time.

Audience With Deep-Seated Reservations

Commissioner LaTourette, despite his earnestness and clear commitment to the Greenway project, faced an audience with deep-seated reservations about the DEP, stemming from past grievances. His assurances of diligent oversight and commitment to the project were commendable, yet they couldn't fully dispel the lingering doubts rooted in the DEP's history with Kearny. The mention of the Keegan Landfill issue during the meeting highlighted the complex interplay of past and present in shaping public opinion. In the eyes of many in the audience, many who participated as a group in attending monthly New Jersey Sports & Exhibition Authority (NJSEA) Commissioner meetings, the DEP had not done enough to reign in its fellow State of New Jersey Agency (NJSEA) when hydrogen sulfide gas was invading the community and NJSEA Commissioners denied the Keegan Landfill was the source.  Ultimately, the Keegan Landfill was closed by Order of the New Jersey Supreme Court but it still remains NOT fully capped.

Amtrak Train Service from Poconos to NYC

The recent announcement by Amtrak, regarding a new train service potentially sharing the Greenway's proposed path, adds an intriguing dimension to the discourse. The State's focus is currently on developing select segments of the Greenway, particularly around Branch Brook Park in Newark and a major portion in Kearny, with a call for community suggestions on potential amenities. This development invites comparisons and considerations of alternative options, such as a NJ Transit Light Rail, mirroring successful implementations in other Hudson County locales (Union City, West New York and Jersey City). Such a rail service, synergized with strategically placed green spaces, could offer a multifaceted uplift to the area.

The backdrop of Kearny's history, especially the loss of two train stations on the Boonton Line in 2002, casts a significant shadow on current transportation discussions. The proposed Light Rail, bridging Montclair and Kearny, offers a tantalizing vision of connectivity and urban rejuvenation. This proposal is not just a transportation solution but resonates with broader federal infrastructure goals reminiscent of FDR's public works initiatives.

Yet, beyond the immediate logistical and transportation benefits, this proposal carries the potential for socio-economic upliftment. A Light Rail could catalyze property value growth, alleviate pressures on local emergency services, and offer a more manageable and sustainable urban development model. The integration of green spaces within this framework presents an opportunity for environmental stewardship without overwhelming the urban landscape. Not to mention a rail line from Kearny to the Poconos and NYC through Amtrak and NJ Transit respectively via the Bay Street Station in Montclair.

While the Greenway project presents a picturesque vision of urban greenery and leisure, the practicalities and historical context of Kearny point towards a need for a more nuanced approach. A Light Rail system, complemented by pockets of green spaces, could be the key to harmonizing Kearny's needs with environmental and infrastructural ambitions. This blend of utility, environmental consciousness, and historical sensitivity could indeed be the multifaceted solution that Kearny residents have been waiting for.

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