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Robert Walden is a retired investigative evidence photographer who is a qualified expert photography witness. He has been chronicling misconduct related to North Bergen’s 17-trailer preschool, which has been illegally situated in Braddock Park for 21 years. Comments may be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2001, North Bergen Public Schools illegally placed its 17-trailer preschool in Hudson County’s Braddock Park.
Twenty-two years later the trailers, rotting away, are still there, endangering the lives of young children and teachers as North Bergen violates environmental regulations intended to save Braddock, and many other parks across the state, for recreation/open space use.
Unfortunately, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s compliance inspectors looked the other way and didn’t report North Bergen’s violation until 10 years after the fact. Since “getting caught” in 2011, NJDEP has been directing North Bergen to get the preschool out of Braddock Park and reimburse taxpayers by creating five times as much new parkland as North Bergen violated. But then North Bergen-Hudson County pulled a fast one and offered the State already existing parkland, falsely claiming it was “unimproved and vacant” and “there was no open space/recreational use” of it.
North Bergen’s fiduciary irresponsibility is costing taxpayers many millions of dollars.
With its acquisition of the former High Tech High School campus, North Bergen now has a middle school and many more classrooms, enabling a reorganization of the district’s schools and providing a means to end North Bergen’s long-standing non-compliance with NJDEP regulations. In fact, in 2017, North Bergen’s Board of Education said the acquisition would allow our schools “to move kindergarten students into the elementary schools and Pre-k students into the current early Early Childhood Center and out of Braddock Park, solving another longstanding issue.”
But someone modified the plan and decided to place the preschoolers into elementary schools.
Martha Sapp, Director of NJDEP Green Acres wrote to North Bergen, “Removing the trailers as quickly as possible is the only scenario we are considering, and is what the Township has assured us will happen. Allowing the trailers to remain permanently is not an option.”
Why then are the trailers still in Braddock Park?
Because NJDEP has not enforced its own regulations. Neither has the NJ Department of Education, which doesn’t possess any records showing it gave North Bergen permission to move the preschool into Braddock Park, and has failed to annually monitor the district’s preschool as it is required to.
Furthermore, N.J.A.C. 6A:26-3.13(g) does not allow school trailers to be used for more than 5 years, maximum. North Bergen’s trailers are 22 years old and they are in very bad physical shape.
North Bergen residents were promised permanent preschool facilities more than two decades ago and the 88% Hispanic school population still doesn’t have them; this is an educational injustice. The misuse of parkland is also an environmental injustice.
There is much more to this story that would sicken parents, taxpayers, and responsible officials.
It’s way past time for responsible state officials to fix this North Bergen’s mess or it could happen in your town too.