2018 was a year that reminded its residents how much Secaucus is a small town at heart dealing with many of the problems that urban communities face.
Secaucus was once a suburban community to which many older Hoboken residents relocated in the 1970s. Since then, construction of a major rail terminal, and the fact that the town is bisected by major highways approaching the Lincoln Tunnel, pushed the former farm community toward a sometimes uneasy urbanism.
Today Secaucus often deals with many issues that mirror regional and national concerns, including school district controversies, flooding, traffic woes, and crime.
School issues, positive and negative
The attempt by the Board of Education to fire High School Principal Robert Berkes was probably the biggest story in Secaucus in 2018. Although the details remain sketchy, the situation escalated when the board moved him to another school and then tried to fire him.
Berkes responded by filing a $5 million lawsuit against the district. The suit and the firing, still unresolved by year’s end, are bound to resurface early in 2019.
But the school district generated a lot of positive news this year too. A new county High Tech High School opened near Laurel Hill Park in September.
The Board of Education election in November saw the reelection of Trustee Joan Cali, the return of former Trustee Barbara Strobert and the election of newcomer Mary Eccles.
Patricia Smeyers, a fifth-grade teacher at Clarendon Elementary School in Secaucus, was named Hudson County’s Teacher of The Year in June.
Flooding remains a problem
Secaucus is crisscrossed with ditches, some of which date back to the original Dutch settlers. Secaucus faced serious flooding at the end of the year, partly because safeguards installed during the 1970s became neglected. As many as 70 homes had water rising up around them during late year storms, an issue the city claims it will resolve early in 2019.
In January, Secaucus launched a shuttle service into the center of town for Xchange residents. While Xchange is within walking distance of the Secaucus Transfer rail station, it is still remote from the other residential and business parts of the town.
The town also tried a shuttle service between Laurel Hill Park and the rail station for commuter parking but shut it down in November when few people used it.
In June, Uber opened a driver hub in Secaucus, competing with a number of cab companies that traditionally do business here.
While always subject to traffic backups along Route 3, a freak snow storm in early November crippled the town streets, creating a New York City-like gridlock it took the town more than 24 hours to resolve. In this storm, first graders were trapped in a school bus for more than five hours, while other residents were trapped in their cars from one end of town to the other.
Some progressive measures
In March, the town council changed municipal law to allow non-U.S. citizens to serve on its volunteer fire department. Early in the year, the town also began to enforce zoning laws in order to shut down illegal apartments, which are often a fire hazard.
Medical marijuana is ok, recreational is not
In June, the Secaucus medical marijuana dispensary opened, a state-approved facility that dispenses marijuana to patients with prescriptions. A month later, the Town Council voted to ban recreational marijuana sales, anticipating state approval that was still pending by the end of the year.
Supermarkets and highways
Secaucus in 2018 continued to try to persuade a supermarket to locate in town, possibly in store spaces in Mill Creek Mall that other stores have vacated.
In August, Secaucus officials announced a repaving program for portions of Meadowlands Parkway, paid for largely by grants. Meadowlands Parkway has been a scourge on the town since its construction in the 1970s, and has seen significant increase in traffic over the last decade. In December, the council was already seeking more grants to pave additional sections of that roadway.
Animals and animal advocates
Secaucus, which holds an annual fishing derby in May, saw a number of curious animal-related events during the year. A dog chasing a rabbit in Laurel Hill Park got trapped in a pipe and took more than 24 hours to rescue. During the summer, someone abandoned a goat at the Walmart on the opposite side of town. Meanwhile, in July, several seals were spotted in the Hackensack River near Trolley Park.
Perhaps the saddest moment in the year came at the announcement of the death of former Councilwoman Sue Pirro, who was a staunch community activist and strong advocate for the animal shelter and rescued animals.
In December, authorities freed a woman who had been enslaved for years, while earlier in the year a series of raids busted a prostitution ring using local motels as their base.