Soon after Hudson County Superior Court Thomas Olivieri ruled that the P&N/SJG Recycling Specialists plant on Dell Avenue should be shut down for not living up to the terms of an agreement made last month, brothers Ronald and Patrick Stamato, the owners of the company, as well as subsidiary trash collecting company H.C. Company, Inc., immediately shut their doors and filed for Chapter 11 - leaving nearly 50 employees without a paycheck or severance.
It forced local towns like Secaucus and Guttenberg to make other arrangements for trash collection - but still didn't solve the problem of the existing trash that remains at the North Bergen facility, much to the dismay of township residents who live nearby.
Wednesday morning, there was a hearing before a United States Federal Bankruptcy Judge in Newark to determine what will become of the property - and the accumulated trash.
"The judge appointed a trustee that will oversee the entire situation," said township attorney Herb Klitzner, who sent an associate attorney to represent North Bergen at the hearing. "One of the issues we had was the existing garbage on the site. A provision was made that will enable the trustee to take care of the matter."
Klitzner said that he received word that representatives for the Stamato brothers informed the bankruptcy judge that they were considering selling the facility as soon as possible.
"We learned that they [the Stamatos] had received offers to purchase the entire facility," Klitzner said. "One way or another, the trash is going to certainly be removed. Our attorney presented all the health issues that remain with the existing trash being there. So if they're going to sell it, we're going to make sure that the trash gets removed."
Klitzner said that in bankruptcy court, liquidation begins so that debtors can get paid.
"We're one of those debtors," said Klitzner, referring to the back taxes and health summons fines that have yet to be paid, in excess of $100,000. "The existing facility is worth millions, and they're not going to simply give it away. So we have to deal with how things turn out. It's more than likely going to be sold, and then we will have other issues to deal with, like a transfer of licenses to a new owner."
Not taking more garbage
But Klitzner said that the township is going to do everything in its power to insure that the existing trash is removed as soon as possible.
After all, it's remained there for over a month and residents have been concerned about the smell, the air quality, standing water, dust from construction debris, rodents, and insects.
"Well, now that they're closed, then maybe now the troubles will go away," said Edward Banning, who lives within 200 yards of the now-vacant plant. "There isn't a sign of life over there. The trucks were just left there. The trash is there. Nothing is happening. I'm hoping someone does something, because the stink is unbearable."
Representatives from both the Hudson Regional Health Commission and the North Bergen Department of Health had formally asked Judge Olivieri in September to permanently shut down the facility, because the Stamato brothers allegedly have been in violation of their township-approved permits.
The HRHC and the township filed charges against the Stamato brothers, stating that they were taking in far more trash that allowed by law and have not properly cleaned their trash collection areas on a consistent basis.
Citing worry that a trial would last eight months, Olivieri told representatives from both sides that he would be "hard-pressed" to permanently close the facility for such an extended period of time. But when the Stamato brothers made no apparent move to remove the trash like the judge ordered, he ordered the facility to be shut down.
The HRHC had sued the Stamato brothers' company in September, alleging it failed to remove waste and clean the floors within the required 24-hour period, exceeded capacity limits, and improperly allowed waste, litter, and dust to accumulate on its property.
Now, since the brothers have filed for bankruptcy, that litigation remains in complete limbo.
"There are temporary conditions that they have to abide by," Klitzner said. "It's going to be a long haul, no question."
Still, the filing for bankruptcy is considered a victory for the township, according to Mayor Nicholas Sacco.
"I'm very pleased with it," Sacco said. "We're fortunate to get to this point, where Judge Olivieri had it shut down. We will get the place cleaned up as soon as possible and see what goes there to replace it. Whatever goes there will be an improvement, because the other one was a virtual nightmare. We're working on it and working with the courts to make sure that it gets taken care of. We're pursuing it actively enough that no new garbage was taken in, so now we have to get rid of the garbage that was there. I guess they were trying to squeeze every last bit of life they had left. I guess they didn't care what happened to the residents down there, but I also guess they didn't care about their employees either."