In April, a citizen group in Hoboken made a complaint to the Board of Health that the serpentine rock that was being drilled and blasted across the street from Frank Sinatra Park on property belonging to Stevens Institute of Technology contained asbestos. The Board of Health ordered Stevens to hydrate the site. However, the asbestos-contaminated construction dust had been blowing around for weeks. Steven admitted that they knew the serpentine rock contained asbestos, but they downplayed the health hazard. In May, the Meadowlands Commission ordered the construction company working for Stevens to stop unloading their dump trucks at a Meadowlands landfill and to remove whatever debris had already been dumped.
Was Stevens given a slap on the wrist for not letting the city know that there was asbestos in the serpentine rock and for not watering down the site from the outset? Was Steven criticized by any city official for having 30,000 cubic yards of crushed asbestos-contaminated serpentine rock dumped at the Meadowlands? Did any public official make a public statement that perhaps they had been misled by Stevens? The answer to all of these questions is No! The fact is that Stevens has received only support, praise and admiration from this administration.
Was the citizen group thanked for pointing out to the city that there was asbestos in the crushed rock at the Stevens site and for demanding that the site be watered down so that the dust wouldn't blow around? No, they weren't. Instead, they were vilified by both Stevens and by the president of the City Council. The president of the City Council also threatened to see to it that the citizen group lost its non-profit status. Meanwhile, Stevens' lawyers were busily writing vicious letters to the citizen group's funders with the intent of cutting off future support.
Stevens and the city council president accused the citizen group of having an agenda. They claimed that the citizen group's actions were biased and should be ignored, despite the fact that the citizen group's assertions about the presence of asbestos turned out to be true, and its demands to hydrate the site were reasonable. Stevens and the city council president indicated that Stevens and the city's intentions to enter into a public/private partnership had nothing to do with the special treatment given to Stevens and the disrespect given to the citizen group.
Citizen groups have agendas. Their agendas are never a secret. Their agendas are generally part of their mission statements. Universities are also entitled to have their own agendas. We can only hope that they are up-front about disclosing these agendas.
Municipal government officials should have no agenda other than looking out for the citizens of the municipality. The citizens must be their first priority and should be treated with respect. Conversely, citizens should never be disrespected. Asbestos blowing around a construction site should be treated as a health hazard and not as a topic for debate. The people responsible for guarding the welfare of the citizens of Hoboken (our welfare) should act responsibly. In this case, they failed to do so. Could it be that they don't care?