UPDATE: Braddock Park Pre-School Trailers Controversy

Earlier this week, Hudson TV published several emails obtained from North Bergen resident Robert Walden pertaining to the more than two decades old controversy surrounding pre-school trailers positioned on County land in Braddock Park.  Walden maintains the trailers are illegally placed in the park.

Mr. Walden contacted Hudson TV today to amend a small portion of what he wrote in one of the emails, dated 5/24/24 and 5/9/24.  The emails to the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the North Bergen Board of Education and the township of North Bergen, clearly outline what Mr. Walden’s objections are to the 23 year placement of the trailers in the park.

Below are Walden’s emails, with the corrections specified in BOLD BLACK TYPE (Walden indicates red type):

 

Please see the 2 sentences in red type below – what I wrote was based on the following 03-22-13 DEP statement to North Bergen about funding for projects # 0908-13-229 and 0908-83-068:
“However it now appears that the Township did not own the property at the time it received Green Acres funds for these projects”
I interpreted this to mean that DEP inappropriately funded improvements to the North Bergen BOE owned land on 64th Street.
New information indicates that the funded improvements were to the North Bergen Township owned land in Braddock Park and on 64th Street, not to the North Bergen BOE owned land on 64th Street.
I’m sorry for this mistake, but it does not impact the larger point I was making, which is that since 2001, North Bergen has broken promise after promise to remove its Preschool from Braddock Park by providing deceptive and false information to NJ DEP while NJ DEP and NJ DOE have not abided by, nor enforced State regulations.

North Bergen is a predator of DEP protected park lands and instead of enforcing regulations and directives to remove its preschool from the park, DEP seems more interested in rewarding  North Bergen for its non-compliance.  DEP should not continue to approve grants for towns like North Bergen until their non-compliance with regulations is corrected.
If NJ DEP approves North Bergen’s diversion application after-the-fact, it will encourage other NJ towns to likewise flaunt regulations and divert other well-established and supposedly protected park lands.

More examples of North Bergen’s deception, false information and broken promises:

10-19-2011:  Finally, after being issued violations for Braddock Park environmental regulations (10 years after-the-fact), North Bergen signed a lease with Hudson County which states that the North Bergen Preschool will be removed from Braddock Park and the land restored to park land by 09-01-13.

06-20(?)-2013:  North Bergen signed a lease addendum with Hudson County after North Bergen asked for, and NJ DEP granted a time extension.
The addendum said that the preschool would be removed and the Braddock Park land would be restored to park land by 02-21-14.

10-10-2013:    North Bergen assured NJ DEP that its plan to relocate the preschool to 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue (BOE owned land), was moving ahead, but it had been slowed down because North Bergen was previously told by NJ DEP that this land was on the ROSI (Recreational Open Space Inventory) which would make it unusable for school purposes.
As previously stated, this BOE owned land was on the ROSI because North Bergen inappropriately listed it on the ROSI – BOE owned land should not be on a ROSI.
North Bergen wrote NJ DEP:
“Based on the history abbreviated above – the 64th Street site is viable as of March 2013, and will be utilized to locate the Preschool Program.”
North Bergen asked NJ DEP to extend the deadline for removing the preschool from Braddock Park from 02-21-14 to 06-2014.

11-04-13 – Less than a month later, Carolyn Armstrong’s (NJ DEP)) stewardship notes state:
“CA – Phone conversation w/Nate Burroughs. BOE wants to consider remaining on site and diverting the park property b/c it would be far cheaper and more politically palatable to remain on site than to acquire the proposed private properties, deal with other complicating matters there.”
“Far cheaper” because North Bergen had received a proposal from developer Fred Daibes (who is currently being tried on felony charges with Senator Robert Menendez), for a combination preschool, library  and community center building which North Bergen claimed was too expensive.
NJ DEP asked North Bergen why it didn’t send out a new request for proposals for a preschool without the library and community center.
In its 08-19-16 response to NJ DEP, North Bergen claimed:
Removing the Township from the process would not reduce costs to the Board for the same type of project. Reducing the scope by eliminating the library and community elements would result in higher costs per square foot to the Board for the Pre-K facility as the Township would no longer leverage funding.”
NJ DEP didn’t challenge the preceding suspicious claim, nor did DEP insist that North Bergen issue a new request for proposals, as DEP had suggested.
What is incredible is that North Bergen also stated:
The intent was to program school functions in library and community spaces during the traditionally underutilized daytime hours and to allow the general public to utilize the library and community spaces during evenings and weekends.”
“Incredible” because in 2019 North Bergen built a library and community center (which opened in 2022), without any preschool classrooms and NJ DEP awarded North Bergen $1 million for the project rather than on insisting that the building contain preschool classrooms so that North Bergen would become compliant with NJ DEP and NJ DOE regulations.

11-12-13: North Bergen held a diversion pre-application meeting with DEP in Trenton and a representative from Senator Robert Menendez’s office was present.
DEP’s meeting preparation notes and discussion items are completely redacted.

11-15-13 The North Bergen police chief wrote a letter to the Township expressing “deep concerns from a public safety perspective” about moving the preschool to 64th Street.
His letter is full of deceptive and false information which multiple times in the past I documented in communications with NJ DEP.
A few of the many examples of the dangers present at the Braddock Park location:

1- The police chief provided traffic accident statistics which were  contradicted by the Acting Director of the NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

2- On 10-02-18 a pedestrian was struck and killed by a car at the entrance to one of two parking lots that the North Bergen BOE instructed parents to park in (the BOE instruction is contained in North Bergen’s diversion pre-application.)
This parking lot doesn’t have a traffic light nor a stop sign at its entrance/exit.
The police report states “The area of the crash, at that time of day, has a high amount of vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the area due to the pre-school located in the area.”
NJ DEP is not holding North Bergen responsible for illegally diverting both parking lots, it has thus far allowed North Bergen to inappropriately decide what and how much it has diverted and what it plans on diverting.
North Bergen is falsely claiming it has diverted/will be diverting six parking spaces for preschool use.
North Bergen’s Preschool currently has 14-15 classroom trailers and North Bergen is proposing to build a 22-classroom preschool in the park, yet North Bergen claims the diversion of only six parking spaces; the preschool uses/will use many more parking spaces.
DEP should hold North Bergen responsible for diverting both parking lots.  Environmental regulations do not state that a parking lot must be 100% diverted from recreational use in order to be considered diverted.  The N.J.A.C. 7:36 definition of a diversion, states:
“Divert” or “diversion” means to use or allow the use or control of parkland for other than recreation and conservation purposes, contrary to the Green Acres restrictions . . . using parkland for other than recreation and conservation purposes, is to divert it.”

3- The police chief didn’t mention that the Braddock Park site did not meet NJ DOE traffic safety guidelines for roadways, sidewalks, etc.
Town and County engineers recommended that these conditions be corrected – they weren’t.

4- The North Bergen police chief wrote “relocating the preschool may create some serious opportunity risks for criminality” while he ignored the dangers present in Braddock Park:
In 2014, a man was found dead in a 10-person homeless encampment in the woods just feet behind the preschool.
In 2021 the Hudson County Sheriff bulldozed these woods after a brutal attack on a park-goer.
In a nj.com article, “Sheriff’s Office Patrol Commander Capt. Anthony DeGennaro said that area of the park, west of the lake, has historically been a problem area.”
The Sheriff stated afterward “The proximity to scores of 5-year-old students “is a concern,” the sheriff said. “That’s why we are having the area cleared.”

5-  During a storm, a tree/or branches of a tree fell on electric wires, igniting two preschool trailers which had to be replaced, at a time when the trailers didn’t have emergency exits as mandated by State regulations.  The police chief callously stated the following at the 2016 diversion public scoping hearing:
You offered two examples of anecdotal  evidence that the area is not safe. You said that there was fire in the two preschool trailers and that there was a dead body found. You felt the area was  not safe. Well, I disagree with the evidence that you offer because it is just that,it’s anecdotal…that fire was the result of a snapped power line that landed on the roof of that trailer.
The introduction of a high powered high voltage high tension wire on the roof is the only reason that trailer burned…As far as the dead body goes, okay, there was — it’s an absolute tragedy a homeless gentleman passed away of natural causes, from what I am told, froze to death, and died probably of a combination of some alcohol and other things
…”

12-12-2013 North Bergen told NJ DEP that it would cost too much to build a preschool on 64th Street and it wanted to keep the preschool in Braddock Park.
North Bergen also included the police chief’s 11-15-13 letter (noted above), erroneously contending that the 64th Street BOE owned land is more dangerous than Braddock Park.
1- Schools are meant to be built on BOE owned land, not on protected park lands.  DEP is supposed to view diversions as a “last resort”.
2- A private preschool is situated adjacent to the BOE owned 64th Street land.
3- Across the street from this private preschool is the North Bergen Lincoln Elementary School which administers the North Bergen (public) Preschool.
4- Adjacent to the Lincoln Elementary School is the North Bergen Early Childhood Annex which was supposed to house all the preschoolers in 2001 but it didn’t, because of construction delays.  North Bergen opted for illegally placing its preschool trailers in Braddock Park rather than legally situating them elsewhere because North Bergen claimed other sites were too expensive.

North Bergen sabotaged its own viable plan to remove its preschool from Braddock Park and place it on 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue.
Then in 2020, North Bergen sabotaged its more recent plan to remove all its preschoolers from Braddock Park and place them in elementary schools after acquiring the unused 10 acre High Tech HS campus in North Bergen and realigning schools district-wide.  (7th and 8th grades were supposed to be removed from elementary schools and placed in High Tech which would become North Bergen’s JHS.)
Now North Bergen says most, not all the preschoolers will be placed in elementary schools but this plan is now 4-5 years behind schedule.

Sincerely,
Robert Walden

On 5/24/2024 10:35 AM, Bob wrote:

Dear Officials,

For 23 years North Bergen’s 17-trailer Preschool has been sitting in Hudson County’s Braddock Park in violation of NJ DEP, NJ DOE and previously, in violation of US NPS LWCF regulations, because of government misconduct.
Many millions of dollars have been misspent and lives have been jeopardized as a result.

1- NJ DEP failed to inspect its encumbered park lands for compliance every 3 years as required by N.J.A.C. 7A:36-25.1(c) regulations.

2- In 1999, North Bergen illegally built an EMS facility on North Bergen’s 43rd Street Park NJ DEP-encumbered/protected park land.
This violation wasn’t discovered/reported by DEP until approximately 21 years after-the-fact.

3- North Bergen illegally situated its 17 trailer preschool in Braddock Park in 2001, in violation of State and Federal environmental regulations.
In 2002, North Bergen applied for and received a NJ DEP Green Acres grant for improving a track/field, just a few feet from the preschool trailers.
North Bergen’s application for this grant included photographs which show the track/field with the preschool trailers, but DEP didn’t investigate and issue violation notices for the non-compliance that was observable in the photos.
Violations weren’t issued to North Bergen-Hudson County by NJ DEP until approximately 10 years after-the-fact, in 2011.
Ms. Lawrence, you inspected Braddock Park for DEP compliance in 2005, approximately two weeks before the preschool trailers were scheduled to be delivered.
The site, formerly a ball field, most likely was in preparation stages to receive the 15 or 16 large school trailers at the time you inspected.

4- In 2005, another DEP compliance inspector failed to report the non-compliance even though the trailers had already been there for 4 years.

5- In 2010, another DEP compliance noticed two violations and reported them.
The first violation was for the North Bergen Preschool’s illegal use of the park land.
The second violation was for North Bergen’s illegal use of the parking lot adjacent to the preschool.
a) NJ DEP functions as the compliance inspector not just for the State but also for the US National Park Service LWCF as well.
NJ DEP was responsible for reporting these two violations promptly to NPS LWCF but it wasn’t until 2013, approximately three years after discovering the non-compliance, that
NJ DEP reported the violations to NPS LWCF.
b) North Bergen-Hudson County are responsible for providing 5X as much NEW compensatory replacement but NJ DEP is not enforcing this regulation with regard to the illegal diversion of the parking lot adjacent to the preschool.
DEP has thus far allowed North Bergen to decide how many parking spaces it INTENDS to divert rather than on insisting that the compensation is based on its past diversion of the entire parking lot, as per regulations.
North Bergen is incredibly claiming it INTENDS to divert only six parking spaces even though it has presented a proposal to NJ DEP to build a 22-classroom preschool in Braddock Park.
DEP should be holding North Bergen responsible for compensating for its past diversion of the entire parking lot, not for North Bergen’s (dishonest) intended future  plans.
Further, a second lot has been diverted by North Bergen and NJ DEP has not held north Bergen accountable for this, even though a pedestrian was struck and killed by an automobile just feet from the entrance/exit to this parking lot which lacks traffic regulation devices (no traffic light or stop signs.)

6- Beginning in 2011, after  North Bergen-Hudson County received the two non-compliance violations, North Bergen promised to remove its preschool trailers from Braddock Park.
Since 2011, North Bergen has sabotaged every VIABLE plan to do so, while NJ DEP helplessly watched and continues to watch, instead of enforcing regulations.
The entire North Bergen Preschool currently is situated on less than 1.5 acres.
The North Bergen BOE owns close to 5 acres of land on 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue.
North Bergen had a plan (see the 10-10-13 “64th Street Plan…” attachment), which showed that the preschool trailers would be relocated to this BOE owned land while a preschool facility was built on it.
There was room for both the current preschool trailers AND a new preschool facility.
North Bergen sabotaged this plan by falsely claiming that the BOE owned land was on the State’s ROSI (Recreation and Open Space Inventory) and environmental regulations prevented the land from being used for preschool purposes.
Quite ironic, considering that North Bergen and Hudson County claim they didn’t know that Braddock Park (legitimately on the ROSI), could not be used for school purposes.
If the 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue land was on the ROSI, it was North Bergen’s (most likely deliberate) “error” because BOE owned land does not belong on a ROSI, only township owned land belongs on a ROSI.
That wasn’t the only “error” – North Bergen also applied for and received NJ DEP Green Acres grants (0908-13-229 and 0908-83-068) for this land – these grants are not supposed to be approved for BOE owned land.
And in 2017 and 2019, NJ DEP Green Acres approved two more grants for this land.
While North Bergen was abusing State regulations and grant money, NB BOE sold off a small piece of its 64th Street-Meadowview Avenue owned land and then claimed there was no longer room to build a preschool there.
That simply isn’t true – the North Bergen BOE still owns close to 5 acres of land there and another .57 acres ADJACENT TO IT has been for sale for years, but North Bergen refuses to buy it and use any of this land for all or part of the preschool.

7- In 2012, North Bergen issued a RFP (Request for Proposals) to build a combination preschool and community center in order to remove its preschool from Braddock Park and solve its non-compliance issue.
North Bergen’s Alternative Analysis states:
“In May 2012, the Township and Board issued an RFQ/RFP for the proposed lease of a full Pre-K facility, with joint use by a branch library, so that the TCUs could be vacated from Braddock Park. The responses received proposed leases at excessive rates.”

Environmental regulations and DEP memos say cost is not a sufficient justification for rejecting alternative locations, but NJ DEP didn’t and still doesn’t care about enforcing this regulation either.
On 04-12-16 DEP suggested that North Bergen issue a new RFP/RFQ for a preschool without the community center, but North Bergen didn’t issue a new RFP/RFQ because it claimed that the facility would still be too expensive.
Then, in 2020, North Bergen built a community center without any preschool classrooms and NJ DEP Green Acres funded it with $1 million.

8- In 2018, North Bergen devised another plan to remove the preschool from Braddock Park, which it also sabotaged (in 2020.)
In 2018, North Bergen submitted a LRFP (Long Range Facilities Plan), which NJ DOE approved, subject to a North Bergen funding referendum.
In 2018, North Bergen voters, in a special referendum, approved the expenditure of $65 million to fund North Bergen’s LRFP.
The LRFP was DESIGNED to remove the preschool from Braddock Park with the purchase of the unused 10 acre High Tech HS campus in North Bergen.
That is what North Bergen led NJ DEP, NJ DOE and the public to believe.
The LRFP specified that High Tech would be converted to a JHS and 7th and 8th graders would be removed from elementary schools and housed in High Tech, thereby creating room in the North Bergen elementary schools for ALL of North Bergen’s preschoolers.
North Bergen sabotaged this plan in 2020 when at a public scoping hearing, North Bergen dropped its diversion application, years-in-the-making and began a new application with NJ DEP’s blessing, supposedly because DEP discovered the non-compliance in the 43rd Street Park, around the same time.
The new application dropped the plan to remove ALL the preschoolers from Braddock Park – North Bergen claimed most of the preschoolers would be removed from Braddock Park, but some of the preschoolers would need to remain in Braddock Park, without explaining why, at the scoping hearing and since.
Nor has North Bergen explained why the BOE owned 64th Street/Meadowview Ave. land couldn’t be used for some, if not all the preschoolers.
NJ DEP failed to follow-up on this.
To date, NONE of the preschoolers is believed to have been removed from Braddock Park and placed in elementary schools.

9- While the preceding environmental fiasco was going on, NJ DOE also was not abiding by and not enforcing regulations:
a) OPRA responses show that no records exist which demonstrate that North Bergen had State approval to illegally locate its preschool in Braddock Park or that its facility met site regulations.
b) OPRA responses show that no records exist which indicate that NJ DOE performed annual educational adequacy inspections of North Bergen’s trailers prior to 2019 , as required by N.J.A.C. 6A:26-8.1(d)2.
In 2018 I reported that the North Bergen Preschool trailers lacked emergency exits, which apparently prompted NJ DOE to begin doing the inspections it apparently failed to do, from 2001 to 2019.
c) N.J.A.C. 6A:26-3.13(g) does not permit trailers to be used for classrooms beyond five years (maximum) – North Bergen’s school trailers are 23 years old (except for two that burned down and were replaced in 2012, at a time when the trailers didn’t have emergency exits – nor were they replaced with trailers that had emergency exits.)

If anything contained in this email is non-factual, then please correct me, otherwise I ask that those of you who contributed to this lawlessness or disregarded it, not be further involved in deliberating the merits of North Bergen-Hudson County’s diversion application; the application should be categorically rejected.

North Bergen is an “OBC” (Overburdened Community) and NJ DEP and NJ DOE should be remedying these improprieties, not contributing to them.

Sincerely,

Robert Walden

North Bergen

On 5/9/2024 4:46 PM, Bob wrote:

Newly uncovered evidence suggests that North Bergen improperly placed North Bergen BOE owned lands at 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue on the NJ DEP maintained Recreation and Open Space Inventory (ROSI) database for two reasons:

1- To inappropriately receive NJ DEP Green Acres funding in the 1980s (Projects 0908-13-229 and 0908-83-068).
Green Acres is not supposed to fund BOE owned lands.

2- To falsely claim to NJ DEP that North Bergen couldn’t build a preschool on NB BOE owned land on 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue because it was NJ DEP protected park land.

If this isn’t government misconduct, what is?
I have been pointing out other instances of misconduct related to this issue for 10 years and the State has either not paid attention to it, or it is covering it up.

Beginning in 2001, North Bergen illegally replaced a taxpayer funded ball field with its 17-trailer preschool in Hudson County’s Braddock/North Hudson Park in violation of environmental and educational regulations.
For the past 23 years North Bergen has falsely claimed no sites exist to build a preschool on, other than in Braddock Park which is protected against non-recreational/open space use by NJ DEP.
However, NJ DEP instructed North Bergen that preschool facilities can be built on several sites, not just at one, but NB disregarded DEP’s instruction in its Alternatives Analysis.
Nonetheless, DEP approved NB’s faulty Alternatives Analysis and allowed NB to proceed from a pre-application to a final application even though 23 years after-the-fact, DEP still does not know how much land North Bergen diverted and consequently how much compensatory replacement land NB must provide.
DEP is allowing North Bergen to decide how much land it has illegally diverted which is akin to letting a criminal decide what he/she will be charged with and what the penalty will be.

North Bergen is required to provide 5X as much replacement land elsewhere as it illegally diverted in Braddock Park and then NB is required to convert the replacement land to new park land.
North Bergen proposed replacement land in Hoboken that was already existing park land, falsely claiming it was “vacant and unimproved“.
DEP was aware this land was to be developed as park land because a DEP publication written several years earlier described the redevelopment plan.
And DEP was supposed to, but failed to inspect this land as part of its diversion pre-application conference with North Bergen-Hudson County; interestingly, DEP did inspect the other two replacement lands North Bergen proposed.
After multiple complaints from me over a long period of time, DEP finally told NB-HC this was ineligible replacement land.

North Bergen should be held accountable not just for illegally diverting State protected park lands (fiduciary irresponsibility), but also for supplying NJ DEP with a constant “stream” of false information, pointed out not just here, but in other documents I have provided to NJ DEP these past ten years.

NJ DEP should be held accountable for waiting 10 years (until 2011), to issue NB-HC violation notices (a result of flawed compliance inspections), and because for the past 10 years that I have been involved with this issue and have provided DEP with proof of NB’s misconduct, DEP has nevertheless allowed NB’s application to continue as if it were a normal request for a diversion.
It is not normal – it began with violations of State regulations in 2001 and it has continued with government misconduct since.
It appears that DEP “made a deal with the devil” and it does not want to say “no” to North Bergen-Hudson County.

In 2012, while North Bergen was falsely claiming 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue was protected park land and therefore not usable for preschool purposes, North Bergen issued a RFP to build a combination preschool/library somewhere downtown.
North Bergen told NJ DEP the RFP responses it received were too costly and DEP then directed North Bergen to limit the RFP to a preschool without a library.
North Bergen disregarded NJ DEP’s directive claiming there would be little difference in cost; no new RFP was issued.
NJ DEP did nothing, except to approve NB’s faulty Alternatives Analysis.

In February 2013 North Bergen conceded to NJ DEP that the listing on the ROSI of the 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue NB BOE owned land was a NB error.
North Bergen then resumed analyzing the  64th Street/Meadowview Avenue land for its preschool.
In October, 2013, North Bergen provided plans (attached) to NJ DEP showing how it would place all its preschool trailers on 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue so it could continue to operate its preschool while simultaneously building a permanent preschool facility there.
It never happened – why?
According to its 08-19-16 Alternatives Analysis, North Bergen claimed “Since 2014, lots adjacent to Lot 30 have been developed.  These lots were necessary in order to provide parking and access to the proposed preschool.”
First, parking was developed across the street from 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue and second, access is otherwise available to the proposed preschool site.
More importantly, why did NB allow these lots to be developed in 2014 when it was determined in February, 2013 that NB improperly listed this land on the ROSI?
The preschool could have been located there in 2013 and it can still be located there.

North Bergen is now proposing to use the 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue land as compensatory replacement land, but environmental regulations specify that diversions cannot be granted if a viable alternative location is available.
64th Street/Meadowview Avenue is NB BOE owned land and it is a very viable alternative.
The preschool would be just feet away from North Bergen’s indoor recreation center, outdoor ball field, playground and the Early Childhood Annex and Lincoln Elementary School, which administers the NB Preschool.
If one compares the two attached aerial photographs of the NB BOE owned land on 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue, one from when the land was improperly listed on NB’s ROSI, with a recent Google aerial photo, one will see that the NB BOE owned lands look virtually the same, then and now.

North Bergen’s preschool is currently situated on about 1.5 acres.
NB BOE owns almost 5 acres on 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue and an adjacent .57 acre is for sale.

Separately, North Bergen’s 2018 NJ DOE approved Long Range Facilities Plan (LRFP) describes how North Bergen’s non-compliance would be ended a different way, utilizing the acquisition of the unused 10 acre High Tech HS school campus in North Bergen after it is renovated and converted to a middle school.
The LRFP specified that ALL North Bergen’s preschoolers would be removed from Braddock Park and placed in elementary schools after 7th and 8th grades were removed from elementary schools and placed in the High Tech middle school.
In a special 2018 North Bergen referendum, North Bergen voters approved the expenditure of $65 million to accomplish this LRFP, thereby ending North Bergen’s non-compliance with State regulations.
On 12-20-16, NJ DEP gave North Bergen a generous deadline of 08-31-21 to remove its preschool from Braddock Park and North Bergen agreed to do so.
North Bergen sabotaged this viable preschool alternative as well…

At a 2020 public scoping hearing, NB announced it was discontinuing the diversion application it began in 2014 and beginning a new application, seeking to keep some preschoolers in Braddock Park:

Since the referendum was passed, plans to locate early childhood students in neighborhood schools can still be realized with the exception of the Robert Fulton and
Horace Mann schools. After renovation is complete, Lincoln, Franklin, Kennedy, and McKinley School Pre-K children will go to to their neighborhood schools. However,
the Braddock Park site is still needed for the ACES autistic program and Robert Fulton and Horace Mann Pre-K children, which will allow for NJDOE classroom regulation
compliance throughout the district.”

North Bergen has not explained in its DEP diversion application why the autistic, Robert Fulton and Horace Mann preschool students cannot be housed in elementary schools as the LRFP specified.
If for whatever reason North Bergen doesn’t want to place these preschool students into elementary schools, they can be placed at 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue.

North Bergen’s 2016 Alternatives Analysis states with regard to 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue:
acquisition of adjacent properties is necessary and the owner is unwilling to sell or transfer the land or allow for the lease or utilization of the land for preschool purposes”. 
That’s what eminent domain is for and even though NB uses it elsewhere, NB refused to use eminent domain in 2013 and still refuses to use it, to build a preschool.

Furthermore, as previously mentioned, a .57 acre parcel of undeveloped land adjacent to 64th Street/Meadowview Avenue has been for sale for 1335 days but North Bergen refuses to buy it:
https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/6217-6233-Meadowview-Ave-North-Bergen-NJ-07047/2076568585_zpid/

North Bergen falsely claims the LRFP was designed to overcome overcrowding in North Bergen schools, not to reach compliance with State environmental and educational regulations.
DEP possesses multiple documents which demonstrate that NJ DEP, NJ DOE, North Bergen residents and officials expected the preschool would be removed from Braddock Park as a result of the High Tech acquisition which added about 2,000 seats to a school district with only about 7,000 students.
The NB Preschool has fewer than 300 students.
Furthermore, NB school enrollments have steadily declined by large numbers for a decade and NB has predicted enrollments will continue to decline.
$65 million of taxpayer money is being misspent.

North Bergen is not a poor town as its officials claim – recently NB has had the largest budget surpluses ever and FY22, the State gifted North Bergen $10 million for its school realignment.
If North Bergen decided to remove the preschool from Braddock Park, taxpayers would be “on the hook” for 3X replacement land compensation, not 5X.

North Bergen’s diversion application should be rejected and government misconduct addressed.

Sincerely,

Robert Walden

North Bergen

On 5/3/2024 11:05 AM, Bob wrote:

Here is further proof that NJ DEP and NJ DOE have not done their jobs, thereby facilitating North Bergen’s non-compliance with state and federal regulations.
Taxpayer funds are being used for purposes other than for what they were intended.
Lives are being jeopardized because of unsafe preschool conditions and NJ DEP/NJ DOE’s either non-existent  or improper inspections of park lands and “temporary” school facilities.

This is an environmental and educational injustice in a NJ DEP designated “overburdened community” with a 90% minority school population and a high rate of poverty.

Our allowing North Bergen to move to final application means we concur with North Bergen’s assertion that this request to use parkland for an use not in support of conservation or recreation has an overwhelming public need and/or benefit and that there does not appear to be a feasible, reasonable and available alternative location.”
– Nancy Lawrence/NJ DEP March 6, 2024

23 years and not a single (legal) alternative location for part or all of North Bergen’s preschool?!
In 2021 I informed NJ DEP of North Bergen’s plans to redevelop multiple sites (listed below);  large swaths of the township where part, or the entire North Bergen Preschool could be situated…

1- NJ DEP did not direct North Bergen to analyze any of these sites for preschool purposes in order to end North Bergen’s 23 years of non-compliance with environmental regulations.

2- North Bergen did not voluntarily analyze any of these sites in its alternatives analysis, except for 8200 River Road, which by itself encompasses 36.45 acres (the preschool only needs 2 acres.)
North Bergen’s 2023 alternatives analysis “table” dismisses this property for only one reason: “Lot is not available“.
Elsewhere in its application*, North Bergen dismissed 8200 River Rd. because it is:
a) On a busy road (River Road).
Long ago I wrote NJ DEP that traffic on River Road is not a credible excuse because the Appleview Early Learning Center and Preschool is located nearby at 7800 River Road and because the 8200 River Rd. site is huge.
b) Subject to flooding.
If flooding is a credible excuse, then NJ DEP should not approve North Bergen-Hudson County’s proposed compensatory diversion replacement land, also very close-by at 7903-7909 River Road.

3- NJ DOE did not direct North Bergen to analyze using any of these properties to end its years of non-compliance with educational regulations, nor has NJ DOE seen to it that North Bergen implement its 2018 (NJ DOE approved) Long Range Facilities Plan (LRFP) which was designed to remove the preschool from Braddock Park and place all the preschoolers into elementary schools.
In a special 2018 referendum, North Bergen voters approved spending $65 million to implement this LRFP.
N.J.A.C. 6A:26-3.13(g) does not allow trailers to be used as classrooms for more than 5 years.

North Bergen can build part or all of a preschool or it could insist that the developers incorporate a preschool on these proposed redevelopment lands, but North Bergen is not doing either.

NJ DEP should have/still could direct North Bergen to analyze using these proposed redevelopment lands for preschool use, but it hasn’t.

Adopted North Bergen ordinances:

https://www.northbergen.org/ordinances

NJ DEP is improperly allowing North Bergen to compensate for its illegal diversion by providing nearly 5 acres of replacement land at 1401 64th Street-6300 Meadowview Avenue where an additional adjacent .57 acre lot has been for sale for years.
Environmental regulations specify that NJ DEP must reject diversion applications when proposed compensatory replacement lands can be utilized instead.
Part or all of the North Bergen preschool can be situated on these 5+ acres; the entire preschool currently uses less than 2 acres.

* Page 9:  https://dep.nj.gov/wp-content/uploads/otpla/plc-public-notices/braddock-park/may-1-2023-submission/section-ia-response-alternatives-analysis-methods-and-explanations-with-exhibits-x.pdf

Robert Walden

North Bergen

On 4/25/2024 10:26 AM, Bob wrote:

Dear Ms. Lawrence,

Regarding your second paragraph – your explanations for the failures of NJ DEP and NJ DOE compliance inspections is pitiful.
1- “not being brought to the field by the escort“:
That’s like saying the police, armed with a warrant to search for something illegal shouldn’t search, they should just allow the suspect to show the police what they want.
2- “not realizing that such a parkland wasn’t approved” – that’s the whole point of compliance inspections.

Thank you for your “cost” explanation (first paragraph), for why DEP accepted North Bergen’s rejection of 6217 Meadowview Avenue as well as “a number of other properties“.
Your explanation is that North Bergen rejected this property because of “the excessive cost of the property” and the “the unexpected rise in everything since Covid”
Your explanation seems problematic, given that N.J.A.C. 7:36-26.4(e)2ii and 26.9(e))2ii state “the incurring of increased costs alone shall not disqualify an alternative from consideration.”

Furthermore, you don’t address some very important problems with North Bergen’s cost rejections, such as:
1- North Bergen has had its largest budget surpluses ever in recent years.
2- North Bergen has been receiving a lot of $ in State ECPA since the 1990s and North Bergen was supposed to have a preschool (legally) up and running with that money, by September, 2001.
It didn’t – instead, North Bergen violated State environmental and educational regulations for two decades plus (due to improper NJ DEP and NJ DOE compliance inspections) and now NJ DEP is poised to award North Bergen’s illegal behavior and deceit, seemingly because of political pressure.  Several of the same “players” in 2001 are still “playing” now.
3- North Bergen recently received $10 million from the State FY22 above the $65 million that North Bergen taxpayers approved spending (in a 2018 referendum), for the LRFP/High Tech Realignment plan that was supposed to remove the preschool from Braddock Park and place ALL the preschoolers into elementary schools, thereby achieving compliance with NJ DEP and NJ DOE regulations.
4- North Bergen never considered 6217 Meadowview Avenue as an alternative site until after I suggested it, even though it is pretty much surrounded by NB BOE and NB Township land.
It has been for sale for 996 days.
If North Bergen (and NJ DEP), considers the $4 million cost to be “excessive” then it should use Eminent Domain and pay the fair market value instead.
https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/6217-Meadowview-Ave-North-Bergen-NJ-07047/38928657_zpid/
5- 2100-2126 83 Street:  I suggested this site to DEP and DEP told North Bergen to analyze it in its alternatives analysis.
North Bergen didn’t review it in its next alternatives analysis so DEP again directed NB to analyze it and in the next alternatives analysis, NB said it was sold.  It should have been further considered and again, eminent domain should have been and still can be used.

Regarding your third paragraph: “It is up to the public to be present at the final public hearing and State House Commission meeting to voice their concerns to the Township and State House Commission.”No – it is up to NJ DEP, NJ DOE and the NJ AG to see to it that agencies fulfill their job duties by following procedures based on regulations and by enforcing these regulations.
For more than two decades, the preceding agencies have not done so and the public has been quite outspoken about this since the issue first came to light 10 years ago.
This matter should not continue – DEP should not just be admitting that its past inspections were flawed, it should admit it has failed in many other ways and those of you who participated in this fiasco should not be involved in further decision-making at DEP.

Sincerely,
Robert Walden

Good morning, Bob.

Public Land Compliance did ask the Township about the property that has been for sale and is adjacent to the Board of Ed site. We also understand that you do not accept their concerns about the excessive cost of the property, added to the costs of a new school whose price tag alone has risen simply due to the unexpected rise in everything since Covid. However, Public Land Compliance has accepted their explanation as to why this, and a number of other properties would not work as an alternate location for the school. This is why they were allowed to proceed to Part 1 of the Final Application.

We also understand you cannot perceive how the school trailers we missed during inspection. I believe we have been over this a number of times, and there are a number of possible reasons including not being brought to the field by the escort and not realizing that such a misuse of parkland wasn’t approved. There have been trainings over the past 10+ years in order to prevent this from happening again.

The Township is now gathering the technicals for the diverted area and the compensation area. They have also been told their compensation is is lacking and are looking for additional compensation land. Public Land Compliance has determined the Township met the thresholds of overwhelming public need or benefit and demonstrated why certain properties are not fitting as compensation because they are not reasonable, feasible or available. It is up to the public to be present at the final public hearing and State House Commission meeting to voice their concerns to the Township and State House Commission.

Thank you for the time you have spent and your concern.

Regards,

Nancy Lawrence

Office of Transactions & Public Land Administration

Public Land Compliance Section

On 4/25/2024 8:08 AM, Bob wrote:

Look at this photo – this land has been for sale/is for sale and I have told you (DEP) about if for years!
It is ADJACENT to the North Bergen Board of Education’s owned proposed replacement land and it AND the replacement land are big enough for either part or all of the preschool.
North Bergen dismissed using this land because it is too small and it is not in the school district – NONSENSE!
A preschool needn’t be in one location, but it can be and if it is, as it is in towns, North Bergen’s excuse that it is not in the school district shouldn’t carry any weight.
It is zoned light residential/light commercial.
It is supposedly contamination free.
The price has been reduced.
Why hasn’t DEP told North Bergen it must use this land for all or part of its preschool?
Why haven’t I received an answer?

https://www.propertyshark.com/homes/US/Vacant-Land-For-Sale/NJ/Gateway/Babbitt/6217-6233-MEADOWVIEW-AVE/75596727.html
https://www.trulia.com/home/6217-Meadowview-Ave-North-Bergen-NJ-07047-38928657

NB’s 2nd (2021) alternatives analysis contains exactly the same alternatives as in its 1stanalysis (2016), with the exception of one property which I suggested to GAP on 08-12-21: 2100-2126 83 St., a building on a 2 acre property with parking for 30 vehicles.

NB rejected 2100-2126 83 St., stating “it would bring about unresolvable logistical problems to make the property suitable and safe for school children along a major State highway.”
False information – 2100-2126 83 St. is not alongside a major state highway, it is approximately 800 feet from Tonnelle Ave. (US 1 & 9).  The back of the building abuts the Hi-Tech HS bus parking lot and Hi-Tech is across the street from the parking lot.  The parking lot could be shared with Hi-Tech.  See Google Maps:
https://www.google.com/maps/place/2100+83rd+St,+North+Bergen,+NJ+07047/@40.8105444,-74.0170931,310m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x89c2f7efe92a6b2f:0x5d17723c23a458d1!8m2!3d40.810183!4d-74.0175813

NB claimed the owner is unwilling to sell or transfer the land to the applicant or to allow the applicant to lease or otherwise obtain, utilize, expand or manage the land for the purposes of the project; and condemnation of the land is not available to the applicant or is not reasonable…Even if the property were available, it is “not reasonable” as it would result in the incurring of additional acquisition and construction costs of an extraordinary magnitude. “

NB also claimed the lot was already developed – that’s right – it was developed with a 2-story building and parking and that’s exactly why this property was/is usable for preschool purposes.
Also, it is across the street from the North Bergen High Tech Middle School.

NB uses similar excuses to reject every possible alternative site; the owner doesn’t want to sell, NB doesn’t want to condemn/use Eminent Domain, construction is too expensive and/or will result in a loss of revenue, the site is contaminated, the site is too small for the entire preschool.

Why did NJ DEP take nearly 3 years to report North Bergen’s illegal conversion to the National Park Service LWCF? NJ DEP was supposed to be the “inspection watchdog” for NPS LWCF.
My understanding is that NPS LWCF considers conversions to be permanent if they have endured for more than 2 years, which is what happened here, only because NJ DEP didn’t do its job.
NJ DEP has not just done its job improperly in North Bergen, it has facilitated 2 illegal state diversions and one illegal federal conversion.

Robert Walden

North Bergen