Newark, NJ—U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, North Ward Council Member Anibel Ramos Jr. and Council Member at Large Luis Quintana called out Norfolk Southern Friday for failing to address several concerns about an inactive freight rail line it owns in the North Ward, including illegal dumping, idling diesel trucks and improper storage of materials.
At a press conference held on Summer Avenue, Ruiz said that the gate was closed Friday morning about an hour before the press conference because the company feared what reporters would see.
The elected officials said Southern Norfolk is leasing out property it owns along the abandoned rail line to tenants who are operating industrial businesses in a residential zone. Southern Norfolk does not have proper permits and zoning variances from the city, they said.
“When they figured out that they could make a profit on the backs of the residents of the city of Newark they did so,” said Ruiz. “And what has transpired. They lease multiple parcels of land with no governance from the municipality or the state and it is the wild, wild west out here.”
Ruiz said that this is a quality of life issue for residents and she requested that Norfolk Southern stop its current leasing practices and turn the tracks over to the city, so the space can be used for a better purpose.
“You have diesel trucks running at all hours of the night,” Ruiz continued. “You have mill that we have no idea where it has come from that is now covering the tracks. You have residents who don’t have access to the backyards where they paid thousands of dollars in taxpayer money who are being held hostage in their own homes here along Summer Avenue and you have an agency that thinks that they don’t have to respond to anyone. If we were another town in the state of New Jersey I would tell you that this wouldn’t happen. But Norfolk Southern thinks that it’s okay to treat Newark residents this way.”
Ruiz said that she intended to call the Department of Environmental Protection to have the soil tested.
“This is a social justice issue,” said Ruiz. “This is an environmental justice issue. And this is a race and socioeconomic issue. How dare we have corporate America come in here and treat our families like we were second class citizens.”
Ruiz and Sires both said they spent years trying to work with Norfolk Southern only to be shut out by the company.
“What kind of a neighbor is that? That locks you out,” Sires said, during the press conference. “They should be a better neighbor. They should know that Newark is on the rebound. Norfolk Southern should watch who they lease this property to.”
Sires said he has been working on the issue for the last year after he was notified by Ruiz about the problems.
“This has been affecting the residents of my district for far too long and it is now out of hand," Sires said. "As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, I will continue to work with my colleagues here today and in Washington to ensure that Norfolk begins to pay attention and address the concerns of the community.”
Ramos said he believes there are several dump trucks and industrial vehicles parked illegally and it is negatively impacting the quality of life for residents in the area.
“What’s happened here over the years has been neglect… and most recently by Norfolk Southern,” said Ramos. “They’ve been very shameful in their approach. They have subleased parcels of the land along the railroads without any kind of collaboration or cooperation from the city of Newark.”
Ramos said if a resident kept their property in the condition Norfolk Southern does that they resident would be fined, would end up in court and may even face jail time.
“But they believe that because this is federal property, that because this is a rail line that they don’t have to comply with local laws and ordinances,” said Ramos.
After the press conference, reporters took a tour of part of the area the elected officials are concerned about. Sires pointed out oil stains on the ground. Ruiz pointed to large stacks of wood and said if there were ever a fire the whole block of residences would be in danger. There were garbage bags, appliances and other debris in the area.
A resident who lives near the Norfolk Southern property and who asked not to be named in this story said that, “This has been hell for me and for my family.” He said he was concerned about the diesel, the pollution and the noise. “We pay a lot of taxes. We deserve something good right here. Not this.”
Manager of Public Relations for Norfolk Southern Corporation Jonathan Glass told TAPInto Newark that company would investigate the concerns presented during the press conference.
“Norfolk Southern is committed to being a good corporate citizen in the communities we serve,” said Glass. “We are reviewing the concerns raised today by these elected officials. We have worked with local authorities in the past to ensure that this property is cleaned of trash, and we will review the current situation and take appropriate action, including reminding tenants of their responsibilities through their leases with Norfolk Southern.”