In a March 2021 letter to the NJ Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA), the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) endorsed the installation of a geomembrane cover system placed over the entire Keegan Landfill in Kearny. The estimated cost of the remedy, to be paid by the NJSEA, is $46.7 million. The permit application for closure is pending before the NJDEP.
The landfill closure is ongoing with the importing of clean soils used for grading and contouring, a necessary precondition to achieve the precise slopes on the landfill’s 90-acre surface that will support the installation of an impermeable geomembrane cover. Under the Town’s legal settlement with the NJSEA and the State’s Administrative Consent Order with the NJSEA, the closure is the responsibility of the NJSEA, which owns the landfill. Grading and contouring are scheduled to be completed by October 2021. The geomembrane cover is the next phase of the closure.
In its letter, the NJDEP considered different types of geomembrane covers and whether the entire surface or just half of the surface should be covered. The estimated costs of the options ranged from $20.8 million to $46.7 million. The NJDEP endorsed the costliest option presented – requiring coverage of the entire landfill – because of the benefits to be gained from reductions in hydrogen sulfide emissions over the entirety of the post closure period and the need to minimize moisture infiltrating the landfill. The Town of Kearny’s environmental engineer had previously submitted comments to the NJDEP in August 2020 that also supported a geomembrane cover over the entire landfill for similar reasons.
Key Dates in the History of the Keegan Landfill in Kearny
1950: Landfill operations begin under William A. Keegan, Inc. on property owned in part by the Town of Kearny. The 90-acre landfill received over 170,000 loads per year, including industrial waste such as waste oil, chromate and pigment from DuPont Chemical.
1972: William A. Keegan, Inc. ceased operations due to the lack of environmental controls. Garbage remain exposed on the surface and unauthorized “midnight dumping” became frequent.
1976: Fires begin to periodically erupt on the landfill, including two in 1976, three in 1978, a seven-day fire in 1984, one in 1995, two in 2002, and one in 2006. Some emitted so much smoke that closure of the nearby NJ Turnpike was required.
1984: Rainwater that percolated with the waste material, generating leachate, begins pouring into nearby Frank’s Creek and the Kearny Marsh at the rate of 65 million gallons of leachate per year.
1987: The State DEP orders the Town of Kearny to cover the landfill to stop the fires and reduce leachate. Kearny never fulfills that directive.
2005: Kearny and the NJ Meadowlands Commission enter into a lease agreement under which the Commission would properly close the landfill and then reclaim the site as active recreational facilities for the Town called the “Green Space Initiative”. The Commission spends over $25 million to construct a leachate collection system and a containment wall around the entire landfill and builds two sewage pump stations to move the leachate to a treatment facility. The cost of this work is to be recovered through tipping fees over five years from the disposal of demolition debris, beginning in 2010, that would serve as a cap on the site. The landfill operating permit expressly excludes the dumping of debris containing asbestos and drywall (gypsum board).
2016: Under the lease agreement, the Commission was scheduled to end landfill operations on June 30, 2016. Instead, the NJ Sports Authority, which took over the Commission, files an eminent domain action against the Town to forcibly acquire the land on which the landfill operates. On July 27, 2016, the Superior Court authorizes the eminent domain action and the NJ Sports Authority applies for permits to continue landfill operations. The Town files an appeal which it loses in 2017.
2019: In February 2019, the Town installs monitoring stations for hydrogen sulfide, a foul-smelling gas generated by the decomposition of gypsum board, at Harvey Field and on 3rd Avenue. Regular exceedances of NJDEP’s limits for hydrogen sulfide are recorded at the monitoring stations. Throughout the year, residents regularly attend public meetings of the NJ Sports Authority to voice their opposition to landfill operations. On April 27, 2019, hundreds of residents march to the entrance of the landfill on Bergen Avenue to protest the landfill’s operation by the NJ Sports Authority.
2019: The Town files a lawsuit against the NJ Sports Authority to end landfill operations because of hydrogen sulfide emissions that exceed NJDEP’s limits. In May 2019, the Superior Court issues a temporary injunction stopping all landfill activities. The NJ Sports Authority files an appeal and loses. A trial is held and on September 30, 2019 the Superior Court enters an Order permanently closing the landfill.
2020: The Town and the NJ Sports Authority enter into a settlement agreement requiring expansion of the gas collection system, the grading and contouring of the landfill with clean soils, and the installation of an impermeable geomembrane cover to eliminate hydrogen sulfide emissions and to stop the generation of leachate. The cost estimates for this work range from $20.8 million to $46.7 million, to be paid by the NJ Sports Authority.
2021: Grading and contouring on the western half of the landfill is completed in January 2021 and the eastern half is on schedule for completion in October 2021. Installation of the impermeable geomembrane cover is to begin after grading is complete.