Shut down State closes three waste transfer sites

If you’re keeping score in the ongoing battle between the government and the operators of railroad solid waste transfer stations in North Bergen, score one for the side of the government.

Last week, the New Jersey State Department of Community Affairs closed three solid waste transfer stations in the township, citing a lack of fire sprinklers as the reason for the immediate closures.

The stations are on 83rd Street, 43rd Street and 32nd Street and Paterson Plank Road.

The action is just the latest of a series of battles between legislators and the New York Susquehanna & Western Railroad Corp., which owns and operates the rail line that has leased its property to the waste handling companies.

The solid waste has been collected at different construction sites throughout northern New Jersey, then brought to North Bergen, where it is then placed in rail cars to be shipped to sites outside of the state.

However, there is no real timeline as to how long the solid waste remains in the North Bergen receptacles, thus the cause for the concern. Also, the waste is not tested for any contaminants or toxins and remains until it is able to be shipped via the railroad.

The NYS&W has maintained all along that it doesn’t have to abide to any local or state regulations, because it is protected by a federal law, written in the 1880s, that encouraged transportation via rail to enhance business.

Federal law used to stymie legislators

Legislators, including Gov. Jon Corzine and U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, have all gone on record to say the federal law is outdated and does not protect the citizens who reside near the waste transfer stations from dangerous pollutants and air quality levels.

The officials, legislators and environmental advocates all agree that allowing the waste to pile up poses serious environmental and health hazards to the neighboring areas and should be subjected to some sort of state regulations.

In the past, both the local Superior Court and state Supreme Court have said that the standing federal railroad protection laws prevail. Those rulings have not only allowed the waste stations to continue to do business in North Bergen, but they led to additional stations being built and operated.

But now, the state DCA has stepped in with their newest findings and shut down the three existing stations in North Bergen citing fire safety standards.

“It’s not safe for the occupants of the building,” said Bill Connolly, the state director of the Division of Codes and Standards, a subdivision of the state DCA. “It’s not safe for the firefighters who might be called to fight a fire at the building, and it’s not safe for the community.”

Thomas O’Neil, a spokesman for the NYS&W, maintains that shutting down the waste transfer stations will only cause further problems to the area. Without the use of the railway, the collected construction debris is now being removed via trucks.

While the trucks were removing the debris last week, there was significant dust that was visible to the naked eye.

“Construction debris isn’t going to magically go away,” O’Neil said. “What this means for the region is just that instead of moving waste by train in the most environmentally friendly way, it will just be trucks traversing the highways in the area.”

Will appeal new shutdown

Two years ago, then acting Gov. Richard Codey tried to fine the NYS&W a record $2.5 million for the numerous health and environmental infractions. He ordered the railroad to comply with regulations stipulated by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

In turn, the NYS&W sued the state DEP, saying that the proposed fine levied by the state would put the railroad out of business and again used the 120-year-old federal railroad law as leverage in the suit.

Last February, a federal judge ruled in favor of the NYS&W, dismissing the $2.5 million fine and ruling that the federal law takes precedence over the state environmental regulations.

Regarding the most recent shutdown, O’Neil said that the NYS&W has already filed an appeal in federal court, asking for an injunction on the closings.

Not just a local issue

North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who is also the state senator in the 32nd District, applauded the efforts of the state DCA.

“I think that it’s great that the state Department of Community Affairs took the jurisdiction in this matter,” Sacco said. “It’s very important for North Bergen. We couldn’t accomplish anything alone, but I think we were able to shed some light on the problem. When the state realized that it was a problem statewide, not just in North Bergen, the state DCA got involved. I’m grateful that they took the lead.”

Sacco said that the township of North Bergen couldn’t fight the battle against the waste transfer stations alone.

“It would have become a financial burden for us in terms of a legal battle,” Sacco said. “I know that the state DCA has now shed some light on this problem nationally and it’s a very legit problem. Maybe Congress will now address it, knowing that the law that protects this operation belongs in the 19th Century and is not appropriate now.”

Sacco was asked if there could be a happy medium reached between the railroads and the government.

“There could be, if these operations are controlled properly,” Sacco said. “But they would have to be entirely enclosed and show no danger whatsoever to the residents.”

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either or


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