UPDATE: Dec. 20, 2019: The Keegan landfill in Kearny, New Jersey will be capped and closed after local officials reached a settlement with Gov. Phil Murphy's administration, NJ.com reported Friday.
The landfill generated more than $17 million in tipping fees last year, but nearby residents have repeatedly argued the site represents an environmental justice hazard. The North Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority had fought to keep the landfill open and appealed a September closure order. Under the terms of the settlement, the landfill's west side will be capped in a year, while the east side will follow suit in 2021.
- A New Jersey Superior Court judge has ordered permanent closure of the Keegan Landfill, owned and operated by the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority (NJSEA). Judge Jeffrey R. Jablonski decided on Sept. 30 that NJSEA remedial activities were “impermissibly temporary and only attempt to mitigate the hazardous condition the Landfill creates, rather than to eliminate it,” according to the 46-page ruling.
- Air samples at the facility showed levels of hydrogen sulfide above state standards numerous times this year, as reported by NorthJersey.com. NJSEA efforts to address public health concerns included daily cover, air monitoring and installation of a gas collection system.
- The landfill is located in the town of Kearny, which filed a civil action in May 2019. Residents have submitted nearly 400 complaints about odors and public health hazards since 2018. The situation escalated after Mayor Al Santos obtained video in January 2019 showing illegal sewage disposal. The state Supreme Court affirmed a county injunction that temporarily closed the facility until July 25, 2019.
The Keegan Landfill has been a simmering political issue in New Jersey this year. Last month, state senators Nicholas Sacco and Brian Stack introduced a bill urging NJSEA and the Department of Environmental Protection to immediately close and cap the facility.
The department entered into an administrative consent order with NJSEA in March 2019 to resolve issues with hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs and can irritate the eyes and lungs or cause nausea and vomiting. Yet, Judge Jablonski called NJSEA’s efforts to resolve hydrogen sulfide issues “untested” and its successes “speculative.” The court agreed that the landfill created a “clear and immediate danger” for Kearny residents.
In addition to elevated hydrogen sulfide levels and illegal sewage disposal, the court found Keegan Landfill operators blocked a health commission inspector from investigating the site in December 2018 and subsequently installed a leachate venting system without obtaining a permit or operating certificate.
A representative with NJSEA declined to comment on the ruling or whether the authority plans to appeal.
The 110-acre site is authorized to accept C&D waste, vegetative material and industrial waste. The landfill earned NJSEA $17.7 million in tip fees last year. The town of Kearny has received $14 million in lease payments and host community benefits, as well as $400,000 worth of free disposal, since 2005.
When asked about potential economic impacts from the closure, Mayor Santos countered that he couldn’t quantify the benefits it would have on residents’ “quality of life and public health.”
“The Court's decision permanently closing the landfill fully vindicates the Town's position that the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA) grossly mismanaged operations at the Keegan Landfill and in the process created a health hazard with dangerous emissions of hydrogen sulfide,” Santos said in an email to Waste Dive.
Santos said he’s now focused on ensuring the Keegan facility is properly capped.
“While this is an important victory for our residents, we suffer the risk of continued exposure to hydrogen sulfide because construction waste can take up to 10 years to decompose. That is why we will continue our fight with the NJSEA, the DEP and Governor Murphy to require the prompt installation of a synthetic cap liner over the landfill's surface in order to keep [gases] from escaping and prevent further decomposition of waste,” he said.
Gov. Phil Murphy, who has largely refrained from commenting on the Keegan Landfill dispute, told News 12 this week that closing and capping the facility is “complicated.”