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Uncertain Future For Developers Across From Proposed EPA Sludge Plant

Feb 28, 2024
EPA Toxic Sludge Plant Harrison NJ

The Town of Harrison Planning Board is gearing up to review a significant development case, #2401, by Block A Partners Urban Renewal I, LLC, during its upcoming meeting on Wednesday, February 28, 2024, at 6 p.m. at Harrison Town Hall. The proposal, which encompasses a major site plan and subdivision for properties located at 1000 South Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. (Blocks 138.01 and 138.02), has resurfaced at a time of uncertainty in Harrison’s Redevelopment Zone.

A Look Back

Nine years ago, in February 2015, the developer received approval for a major site plan to construct a 5-story, 150-room hotel along with conference space, a restaurant, and parking facilities on Block A. However, the project never materialized, leaving the site undeveloped. Now, Block A Partners Urban Renewal I, LLC, proposes to transform the area with 1,998 residential units, 60,757 square feet of retail space, and parking across four subdivided blocks. The Town of Harrison is also converting a public street that will divide the properties into a private road to assist the developer with meeting New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection water runoff requirements.

The Current Proposal and Its Challenges

The ambitious project aims to introduce a vibrant mixed-use community, incorporating residential buildings, retail outlets, structured parking, and public green spaces. The phased development plan seeks to enhance the Redevelopment Zone's livability and economic vitality, creating a new retail corridor and ensuring balanced community growth. The public green space is a fairly new added requirement for developers a reaction to Harrison’s residents' complaints about the lack of Green Space in the town’s Redevelopment Zone.

Toxic Sludge Dewatering Plant

However, the project's revival comes at a time of environmental concern. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is planning to establish a toxic sludge dewatering plant directly across the street from the proposed apartment buildings. This development raises significant questions about the timing and appropriateness of moving forward with the residential aspect of the project, given the potential health and environmental implications.

Mayor James Fife has known about EPA’s plan for some time but has not alerted the public about EPA’s plan.  On August 29, 2022, at a Harrison Redevelopment Agency meeting, Mayor Fife stated that EPA was going to use the PSE&G property, directly across the street from 1000 South Frank E. Rodgers Blvd., for dewatering of toxic sludge from the Passaic River for at least 10 years.  Mayor Fife shortly after making the statement attempted to deny his statement.  His statement, however, was recorded as part of the official record on the Zoom-based meeting.  The recording was made public after much delay by the Town of Harrison confirming Mayor Fife’s knowledge of EPA’s plan. 

It’s been eighteen months since Mayor Fife’s statement. Mayor Fife has continued, when asked at Harrison Town meetings, to refuse to take a position FOR or AGAINST the EPA sludge dewatering plant. The only conclusion that can be fairly drawn is that Mayor Fife is FOR the toxic sludge plant coming to the Town of Harrison.

Reevaluating the Redevelopment Plan

With the shadow of the previous project's abandonment lingering and the new environmental concerns posed by the EPA's plans, there is a growing sentiment that Block A Partners Urban Renewal I, LLC, may need to reconsider its timeline or the project's scope. The community and potential residents could be adversely affected by the proximity to the dewatering plant, making the site less desirable for residential and retail purposes. The EPA’s sludge dewatering plant will also affect other developers including luxury apartment buildings across the street from the plant.  Steelworks, Vermella, Cobalt, and The Wyldie are across the street and down the block from the EPA’s toxic sludge dewatering plant.

The Path Forward

As the Harrison Planning Board prepares to discuss this case, the broader implications of the proposed development and the adjacent EPA project weigh heavily on the decision-making process. The developers may have to get together to fight alongside community members given the environmental danger posed by EPA’s plan. The meeting on February 28 will not only be a platform for reviewing the proposed site plan and subdivision but also an opportunity for public and expert input on the project's viability in light of the planned toxic sludge dewatering plant.

Harrison At A Crossroads

The redevelopment in Harrison stands at a crossroads.  The late Mayor Raymond McDonough and the then Town Council, over 26 years ago, envisioned the transformation of a contaminated industrial zone into a vibrant residential community.  Mayor McDonough’s vision is coming to fruition.  Mayor Fife’s approval of EPA’s plan to construct a toxic dioxin-laden sludge dewatering plant at the PSE&G property on South Frank E. Rodgers Blvd is reprehensible and is counter to the Harrison Redevelopment Agency plan.  It puts every resident and stakeholder in Harrison at risk of losing their health and financial investment.

In 2022, Mayor Fife, in campaign literature, went as far as stating that then Councilman and Mayoral Candidate Anselmo Millan was lying about EPA’s toxic sludge plant coming into what is now a residential neighborhood. Alice Yeh of the EPA has confirmed in a public meeting that the EPA intends to use the PSE&G property.  Given Mayor Fife’s August 29, 2022 statement, there is no doubt that Mayor Fife knew that his statement that Anselmo Millan was lying was False. It is Mayor Fife who is the liar and not Anselmo Millan.

Stakeholders and concerned citizens are encouraged to reach out to Mayor Fife and ask him why he is not opposed to EPA’s plan.  You can ask him privately but don’t let him fool you that there is no plan, the plan has been confirmed it’s just a matter of time until it’s too late to undue the plan and Stop it.  Or you can attend the next Harrison Mayor & Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, March 5, 2024 at 6:30 p.m. starting on the 3rd Floor of the Harrison Town Hall, and ask him in person.

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