Gov. Christopher Christie’s threat to cut off funding to the proposed Trans-Hudson rail tunnel under the Hudson River, also known as Access to the Region’s Core (ARC), could have a huge impact on county taxes because of a pending deal with NJ Transit for the sale of Kopper’s Koke in Kearny for use as a staging area for the tunnel construction.
The sale would not affect the current budget, but will have a heavy impact on next year’s county budget, in which the sale revenues were to be used to pay down county debt and help reduce yearly payments.
Hudson County Freeholder Bill O’Dea said that in light of Christie’s threat to kill the $8.7 billion project that included funding to purchase much of the county-owned Kopper’s Koke site for a rail repair yard, the county needs to ask the Hudson County Improvement Authority to move even more aggressively with plans to find developers and tenants to buy or lease the 100-plus acre site.
“I think that earlier this year the administration and the HCIA really started to come around to my way of thinking about the Kopper’s site.” – Bill O’Dea
“I hate to say ‘I told you so,’ but I did,” O’Dea said.
For the past three years, O’Dea has been pushing the county to find users of the site that will create jobs and a large tax ratable for Hudson County and not to rely on the NJ Transit purchase of about 45 acres.
“While I am disappointed that the ARC project is not going forward, we need to now sell the site, pay off the bonds and create blue collar jobs for our residents. The residents of this county cannot afford any more delays.” O’Dea said. “We need good paying jobs for our residents.”
County has some options
O’Dea took some credit for at least getting the county to seek potential developers and users earlier this year. The county received eight formal responses as well as five additional expressions of interest.
“That will save us a few months time.” O’Dea said the county should put out requests for proposals right away, not only to those who responded earlier, but also to anyone else. “Now that the specter of NJ Transit taking the land away through eminent domain is gone, many more potential buyers and users of the property should emerge, hopefully increasing both the value of the land as well as the amount of jobs and taxes it will generate.”
O’Dea said that the county should reach out to both NJEDA and the governor’s office for assistance in marketing the site and providing financing and incentives for the end users. He also says that both the Town of Kearny and the NJMC need to be active participants in the process.
“I think that earlier this year the administration and the HCIA really started to come around to my way of thinking about the Kopper’s site and I credit them for that. Now we all need to move full speed ahead in the same direction and make this happen,” said O’Dea, who pointed out that NJ Transit should also be cooperative, especially with helping provide an access road to and from the site to maximize its value.
“This site, with water, easy highway and potential freight rail access is one of the best industrial/commercial development sites in the entire region,” O’Dea said.
A historic problem
O’Dea, who doesn’t normally approve of one-shot revenue deals to fill budget gaps, has been pushing the county administration to get this deal done for years, and last year he warned that they county should not rely on a timetable set by NJ Transit, which was expected to purchase a significant portion of the project – estimating a $10 million down payment.
Hudson County took possession of the contaminated site in Kearny in the late 1980s as a possible location for a county incinerator. Lack of easy access to the site and cleanup concerns has kept the property from being marketed easily.
County Executive Tom DeGise made the cleanup and sale of the property a priority when he took office in 2003. His office managed to obtain federal grants to improve one of the two docks on the property and to get a commitment from the state to create a public road access to the property, two steps that made the property more marketable.
While NJ Transit was expected to purchase a portion of the property, the county is expected to retain about 65 acres for redevelopment as warehouse, promising a future revenue stream/
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.