The Turnpike Authority is in the process of constructing a $235 million exit to service the Secaucus Transfer station, scheduled to begin operations in September, 2003. This exit will include six ramps, a toll plaza, a utility building, and a parking lot.
The plan would remove an estimated 3,500 remains from a site that was until 1962 used as a graveyard for residents of Hudson County facilities located at Laurel Hill, including a jail and hospital.
More recent construction of a temporary county jail, the installation of landfill by Turnpike construction crews and overgrowth and flooding have erased most signs of the graves. Many of the markers are underwater, or under several feet of fill. While there are county records showing the names of people buried at the site, the locations for the most part are difficult to locate.
Joseph Orlando, a spokesperson for the Turnpike, said the removal would likely begin in February. Workers will use machines to gently remove the soil until the graves are uncovered, he said. These workers will use shovels and other tools to manually remove the remains.
Remains found during the excavation must be moved to 200 plots currently reserved at the Hoboken Cemetery in North Bergen. A memorial must be erected with the names from the county's journals and old maps, and the Turnpike must establish a trust fund for the perpetual care of both the memorial and the graves to which the remains have been reburied.
Robert Grimm, an engineer for the Turnpike, said the project will cost about $5 million. Last year, the Turnpike purchased five acres that include this graveyard from Hudson County for about $5.5 million.
A non-denominational service will be offered for the remains by local clergy. Last year, Turnpike officials sought approval from local church leaders to leave the remains untouched while they built over them, and four of five agreed.
Rev. Will Henkel of the First Reformed Church of Secaucus objected to the plan, saying the dead should be respected.
During his ruling on Jan. 17, Oliveri said he had visited the site and found that it disrespected those buried there.
"It has become a resting place for garbage," he said "One would never know, ever, that there are people, men and women, residents of this county, who lie there."
Oliveri was particularly upset by the fact that county officials, in constructing a jail in the area, had installed a basketball court over part of the gravesite.
"The only word that comes to mind is 'disgraceful,' " He said. "Mud, garbage, and a basketball court."
Yet, in allowing the Turnpike to continue its work, Olivieri said he believed the need for the rail station and the exit "outweighed society's general concern about disturbing the dead."
Bill Hastings, who gathered more than 1,000 signatures to petition the court not to move the remains but to maintain the existing site as a graveyard, said he disagreed with the court's conclusions. Hastings is among a handful of critics who have family members buried at the site.
"I am sure the judge has made in his eyes the proper decision for the section of cemetery to be moved with the information that was presented before him," Hastings said. "I do not however agree with moving of this section of cemetery. The judge said the conditions of the cemetery were deplorable, which if anyone who has been to the cemetery can see is very true. I, however, in my opinion think it is a more deplorable situation to take over five acres of cemetery and reduce it to a mere 2,400 square feet for the benefit of a roadway system."
Hastings and other critics, such as former Secaucus Mayor Anthony Just, said there were alternative sites that could have been used, such as a nearby piece of property currently owned by PSE&G, or the easement along the existing Turnpike which is currently open space.
Olivieri, however, also ordered the Turnpike to allow Patrick Andriani to be on site when the remains he believes to be his grandfather are removed. Andriani was seeking permission to witness the procedure and then to relocate the remains to another burial ground. The Turnpike will be required to post a sign that would redirect any future relatives to the North Bergen site.