It’s hard to keep up with everything happening in Hudson County, but a look at the list of the top stories of the year may bring you up to date.
We’re here to help you keep track of your tax dollars, your local meetings, neighboring businesses, schools, development, and transportation. In such a regional transit hub, there’s no shortage of important news.
Here are 15 stories that had an impact on your community.
1. Hoboken train crash injures 100, kills local mom
On the morning of Thursday, Sept. 29, a NJ Transit commuter train running on the Pascack Valley line crashed into the Hoboken train terminal at an estimated speed of 21 m.p.h. Debris in the station killed Hoboken mother Fabiola De Kroon, who was heading to take the PATH train to work in New York City. She had just dropped off her young daughter at a Hoboken day care.
More than a hundred other people were injured in the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board has begun its investigation. Train engineer Thomas Gallagher has since been diagnosed with sleep apnea, although officials did not state whether this could be the cause of the accident. The NTSB is expected to release its final report in September of next year. The track on which the train crashed is still out of service, as is the track next to it.
2. Shootings continue to plague Jersey City
Jersey City, the second most populous city in the state, suffered a spike in domestic violence murders this year, while shootings and gang-related murders continued a disturbing trend. The city has taken steps to deal with these issues, including increasing the number of police officers. But the violence continues.
While the summer proved to be less traumatic than public safety officials feared, deadly shootings took place in every month during 2016, resulting in more than 20 gun deaths this year. Community outrage led to numerous meetings with public safety officials.
Among the most outrageous incidents this year were the gang-style shooting of a young man inside a community center in June, and the shooting last March of 12-year-old boy, an innocent bystander, in the crossfire of an apparent gang shootout. The culprit was never caught.
Most officials attribute the shootings to acts of revenge associated with jailed street gang members.
3. Federal flood protection for Hoboken, Weehawken, and border with Jersey City
On Sept. 8, state and local officials announced a plan to fight flooding in Hoboken, Jersey City, and Weehawken during storms. Engineering firms had proposed various alternatives to use federal “Rebuild by Design” funds. On Dec. 10, 2015, five concepts were presented at a public meeting in Hoboken. On Feb. 18, 2016, they were narrowed to three, which were presented at another meeting.
The chosen plan calls for construction of a flood resistant structure stretching from 19th Street in Weehawken south into Hoboken along 15th Street and then along Washington Street, with an additional resistant structure in Hoboken’s southern end. The project’s final design details will be chosen in April or May of 2017, with construction beginning in December of 2018 and completed in 2022.
4. High Tech high School campus to move; North Bergen High School to split in two
In 2019, North Bergen High School students in the 10th through 12th grades will be moved to the current High Tech High School campus on 85th Street after the township completes an estimated $15 to $20 million purchase of one building with classrooms, labs, and a gymnasium. Meanwhile, High Tech High, one of the county’s public high schools, expects to move its campus from that North Bergen building to new digs in Secaucus in the fall.
In North Bergen, the expansion should cut down on overcrowding in the public schools by reducing the number of students at the current high school from 2,450 to 1,800. The current high school building will house grades seven through nine. Seventh and eighth graders currently attend local elementary schools, but starting with the shift in student populations in 2019, the elementary schools will continue only up to sixth grade.
5. Secaucus Mayor Gonnelli suffers serious stroke – and returns to work
Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli suffered a stroke in his home shortly before dinnertime on June 8. The stroke was severe, and doctors told his family he might not walk again. But Gonnelli’s rehabilitation was successful and he was back at work on Thursday, Sept. 1. Since then he’s been at every council meeting and community event.
6. Death of a dictator
Fidel Castro died in early December at age 90. For residents of Hudson County, particularly towns bustling with immigrants like West New York and Union City, Castro’s death was a milestone. In northern Hudson County – often called “Little Havana” – some Cuban exiles and their descendants cheered the death. Others found the moment profoundly sad in that so many lives have been ruined by the Castro regime. Cuba remains under the influence of Fidel’s brother Raul.
7. JFK boulevard – An unsafe place to drive, walk
After several deaths of drivers and pedestrians along John F. Kennedy Boulevard – the road that stretches from Bayonne through North Bergen – local officials pledged to increase safety measures.
Two teen pedestrians were killed in early March by a vehicle that jumped the curb in North Bergen. Later that month, a 5-year-old boy was struck by an SUV in Bayonne, causing minor injuries. On March 9, a woman was struck by a car while crossing the Boulevard in Jersey City. On April 27, a 43-year-old Jersey City man was killed on JFK Boulevard between 30th and 31st streets by a Ford F-350 while entering his Nissan wagon.
The mile-long section of JFK in Jersey City, between Fairmount and Newark avenues, has been ranked the most dangerous stretch of road in Hudson County by the New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), which oversees, studies, and funds safety and transportation improvement projects.
City officials throughout Hudson County are cooperating in an initiative instituted in the spring called “Operation Slow Down, Save Lives,” to crack down on the 25 m.p.h. speed limit and jaywalking in areas of the roadway. The initiative also included adding crossing guards at the more dangerous intersections of the boulevard.
8. Little girl struck in WNY hit-and-run
A young West New York girl who was holding her mother’s hand on the way to school was killed by a hit-and-run driver in February. The parents of Sheyla Pichardo, an only child, were devastated. The driver allegedly fled to Newark. Detectives were able to decipher his license plate from video and track him down. The town raised money for little Sheyla’s funeral.
9. Development boom continues
Jersey City continued to lead the state in new development, along the waterfront and in key places throughout the city. The three KRE residential towers in Journal Square are nearly complete. The tallest residential tower in the state is on the rise along the waterfront, built by China Overseas America. A new tower is expected to break ground near McGinley Square early in the New Year. And development along Route 440 promises to create a whole new Gold Coast in Jersey City, including 8,000 proposed residential units.
Residential projects are rising in other towns. Two developers were designated this year for Harbor Station South, one section of Bayonne’s former Military Ocean Terminal.
The Hoboken is seeing new development on its formerly industrial west side, as well as new parks. The Harlow, a new luxury residential complex beside the 14th Street Viaduct in Hoboken, brought with it a new ice skating rink for winter.
10. Roque beats the rap again
West New York Mayor Dr. Felix Roque was found not guilty on Dec. 21 of a charge that he took kickbacks to refer patients to an MRI Lab.
Roque, 60, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Cuba, said he believed in the American legal system. “Had this trial been in Cuba, they would have convicted me, even though I was innocent,” he said.
This is the second time in three years that Roque was been acquitted of criminal charges. In 2013, a federal jury found him not guilty of conspiracy to hack into a political opponent’s website – although his son, Joseph, was convicted a misdemeanor in that case.
In the most recent case, Roque was charged with commercial bribery. Prosecutors from the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice claimed Roque allegedly accepted $200,000 in illegal payments between 2007 and 2014 in exchange for making more than 2,000 referrals to a Hackensack lab.
Rehan Zuberi, who operated the lab, pleaded guilty in the kickback scheme in May 2015. Under a plea deal with the state Division of Criminal Justice, Zuberi got a reduced sentence for every doctor he turned in.
“It was all very inconsistent,” Roque said. “In one instance, they said I received a $5,000 check, but nobody could find the check.”
A lot hinged on the case, Roque said.
“Had I lost this case, I would have been forced to declare bankruptcy,” he said. “I would have had no license and no way to make a living.”
But he said his legal difficulties are not yet done. He expects the state to try and take his medical license.
11. Short-term (Airbnb type) rentals prohibited in Union City, North Bergen
The North Bergen Board of Commissioners adopted an ordinance in August banning short-term rentals in the township. Violators will be fined $750 for a first offense and/or spend 10 days in jail. The town was following Union City’s lead, as Mayor Brian Stack wanted to crack down on short-term rentals. Officials have said that the rentals bring people into town that may cause a disturbance. The town updated their ordinance regarding short-term rentals to change the previous fine of $250 to $500 for a first violation to $1,000 anytime after that. But residents of Union City said that renting out rooms to visitors provided a nice second income, and brought visitors who use the town’s businesses.
12. West New York school board election results delayed
In the West New York school board race this year, there were two outright winners for three seats. Voters reelected incumbents David Morel and Ronald C. Scheurle to three-year terms. But the vote showed a very narrow lead by Jose M. Alcantara over Alex Navas. Alcantara seemed to be the winner of the third seat, beating Alex Navas by five votes. Then a recount performed by the Hudson County Board of Elections narrowed his victory margin to just three votes.
Although the election should have been certified within two weeks of the Nov. 8 election, the final election result will not likely be known until early in 2017, when election officials complete interviews with people whose ballots were tossed out for various reasons.
There were about 40 ballots tossed out on technicalities. Because the vote was so close, those who voted will be interviewed and could swing the election either way, election officials said.
13. Recreation Pier opens in Weehawken Nov. 13
A 500 foot, $3.1 million recreational pier opened on the Weehawken waterfront in November, with stations for kayaking and fishing. The pier adds to the waterfront recreation space of Weehawken and has been in the works for 15 years. The pier was paid for by federal and state grants and was designed by McLaren Engineering Group in collaboration with RSC Architects. McLaren developed the pier’s unique “pier pod” design, which connects a series of platforms through interconnected walkways. The pier is open to the public.
14. New Guttenberg community room opens
Guttenberg’s new community center opened on Friday, July 1 next to Anna Klein School’s gymnasium, between 69th Street and Hudson Avenue. The center will be open after school hours. During school hours it will be used as a multipurpose room. During the summer it will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekends. In 2017, Anna Klein School will get a new gymnasium and classrooms.
15. A record number of turkeys
Gobble gobble! The Brian Stack Civic Association, which has long raised funds to give away turkeys to needy families and shut-in seniors in Hudson County, set a new record this year. They assumed they would give away 22,000 to residents throughout North Hudson and parts of Jersey City, which in itself would have been 7,000 more than they gave away in 2015. But thanks to successful fundraising, the group gave away more than 30,000 turkeys for Thanksgiving.
Some other big stories this year:
Orlando murders bring LGBT community together: In Jersey City, with one of the largest LGBT populations in the state responded to the June 12 murders at the Pulse night club in Orlando, Fla. The local community brought thousands out for a rally on Newark Avenue. The event also foreshadowed concerns that emerged later in that community, with the national election and the possible loss of Obamacare, which could to fight HIV-AIDS.
WNY fur babies, furever: West New York’s animal shelter held a grand reopening over the summer to celebrate its new management. The shelter is owned by animal control officer Geoff Santini’s private NJ Animal Control and Rescue company but is now under the management of the state’s Humane Society, which is a non-profit adoption center. The new shelter is different from others because the animal control officers pick up domesticated or stray animals and wildlife to hold them for seven days in Santini’s Animal Control and Rescue company. After seven days they get transferred to the Humane Society for adoption, which is now part of Santini’s company. At the opening, Weehawken residents Mimi Marcus and her boyfriend Chip adopted a 2-year-old female cat and a female kitten. They didn’t even know at first that the older cat’s name was Chip, too.
Lyles reappointment controversy: Jersey City Schools Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles remains controversial after her reappointment at the end of 2015. With three of her strongest supporters deciding not to run for reelection to the school board in 2016, fights on the board over her policies are expected to continue into 2017.
Secaucus school board: Six candidates ran for three spots in the Nov. 8 election. The three incumbents were re-elected: Board Vice President Jack McStowe, John Gerbasio, and Kathy O’Connell.
It’s Hamilton on the Hudson! Weehawken became a hot tourist attraction this year due to the popularity of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.” Tourists from all over head headed to Weehawken to look over the bluffs where the famous duel took place between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr on July 11, 1804.
Hoboken’s proposed 500-foot bar repeal withdrawn: The City Council announced on Sept. 7 an amendment to the city code to repeal a rule that prevents businesses with liquor licenses from opening within 500 feet of one another. The city held a public meeting Sept. 26 in which over 30 residents and business owners discussed their thoughts on the repeal. Many residents raised quality of life and safety concerns. The ordinance was carried over several months until it was officially pulled from the council’s agenda on Dec. 7. The ordinance will be reintroduced sometime in the new year, according to Councilmen Michael Russo and James Doyle, after they solicit feedback from other council members and rewrite the ordinance.