Wall Street Journal files report from Passaic River boat tour

Wall Street Journal: Newark Reintroduces Itself to River

For decades, the Passaic River was an industrial dumping ground in Newark and surrounding cities.

Now, Newark is billing its long-defiled section of the state’s longest river as a tourist attraction, heralding the opening of a new park on its shores and lengthening its city-run boat tours of the waterway to include views of new parkland and a burgeoning wildlife population.


Hope and boat tours for the Passaic

Star Ledger: Newark Riverfront Boat Tours continue to lift veil on lesser-known feature of city
Includes a thumbnail history of the Passaic and hopeful news about it’s recent development. (Which has been a long time coming).

Led by Sheehan of Hackensack Riverkeeper and Damon Rich, Chief Urban Designer for the City of Newark, the four-year-old city-sponsored boat tours are intended to raise awareness and build support for a river long-fraught with pollution and limited public access. Except for the occasional blue heron or egret, little activity can be found on the Passaic.

Boat tours are still running: $5, more info here.

ICC given $60K grant to raise Passaic River awareness

Newark Patch: Ironbound Group gets $60K EPA Grant

The Ironbound Community Corp. has received a $60,000 grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA announced Friday. The purpose of the grant is to “educate the community about the history and ecology of the Passaic River and what can be done to protect it,” the EPA said in a statement.

The cleanup and construction of green space along the Passaic River is one of the things I’ve been most excited about in recent memory.

On The Waterfront, At Last

On The Waterfront, At Last

Imagine living a stone’s throw from a river but never seeing it or strolling along its banks. That’s what happens in older industrial cities like Newark, where views of riverfronts are often blocked by a landscape of factories, warehouses and shipping terminals.

In a construction trailer alongside Raymond Ave in the Ironbound, the owners of Riverfront Condominiums gestured over plans for a park on the riverbank and assured me that it’s construction would begin “next year.”

That was five years ago.

The creation of a park along the riverfront had been one of the most anticipated promises of urban development in our neighborhood. As parks sprung up or were refurbished throughout the city, I had hoped that the construction of this one would begin sooner rather than later. Newarkers waited patiently, watching as our neighbors in Harrison constructed a stadium and townhouses popped up like wildflowers across the river.

Riverfront Park, the first in a series of connecting parks along the winding Passaic is, without a doubt, one of the greatest expressions of optimism our city has offered in recent memory.

Star Ledger: EPA chief tours N.J. two worst Superfund sites in Newark, Pompton Lakes

Star LedgerEPA chief tours N.J. two worst Superfund sites in Newark, Pompton Lakes

She was met with greetings of “welcome home” during a stop in Newark, where she focused on efforts to clean up a stretch of the Passaic River polluted with dioxins from a former Agent Orange chemical factory.

Jackson said the planned cleanup of the Passaic, along the portion known as the Diamond Alkali Superfund site, was one of the EPA’s two largest dredging projects in the nation, the other being a segment of New York’s Hudson River.

Pollution, like debt, is a plague where poor decisions in the past continue to rack up consequences as time rolls forward. The damage to the Passaic will continue to hold up progress in Newark and Harrison until the river can be restored.

Another American Experience at 80 Lister Ave., Ironbound

The EPA director, our own Lisa Jackson visited one of the nation’s most notorious Superfund sites at 80 Lister Avenue on March 26, promising speedy action towards clean-up, which will be the first step for Newarkers to reclaim the Passaic riverfront.
At 11:59 a.m. on February 20, 1960, a huge explosion blew up the roof of the 125-by-250-foot building at 80 Lister Avenue, sending tons of toxic debris into the Passaic River and surrounding streets. Many workers had to be dug out by fire rescue squads. Soon after, Alfred Casatelli, 35, a chemical engineer, died in St. James Hospital of chemical poisoning, among many others badly injured. The chemical factory, Diamond Alkali, was about to accelerate its 24-7 production schedule to produce one million gallons of Agent Orange for the Vietnam War. By the time the factory closed its production in 1983, it left behind “a sprawling tomb” for the herbicide’s toxic byproduct, dioxin, measuring 500 parts per billion, with some samples as high as 1,200 parts per billion. (The EPA classifies a level of one part per billion as dangerous to humans.) Producing DDT at the Lister Avenue site for over 40 years, Diamond Alkali had ordered its employees “to wade out surreptitiously at low tide to chop up mounds of DDT” to avoid being detected for dumping waste into the Passaic River.

On June 4, 1983, after a chilling contamination report, Governor Kean showed up in the site with Mayor Ken Gibson to order further inspection and to close the nearby Newark Farmers Market, the largest seafood supplier in New Jersey, in addition to fresh and frozen goods for the tri-state area. A few months later, the Federal Government declared it among the first Superfund Sites. However, all politicians, reporters, and lab workers in white moonwalk outfits soon disappeared, leaving scared Ironbound residents puzzled. Governor Kean’s spokesman Carl Golden explained, “This is not the kind of thing that leads to a quick, overnight solution.” In past 27 years, the 65,000 cubic yards of polluted dirt and debris faced a few remedies, none of which led to easy solutions. According to the company, the only place for processing highly contaminated materials is in Coffeyville Kansas, with a price tag of $241 million, plus transportation, that would take seven to ten years. A second solution is on-site incineration, which successfully removed dioxin of lower concentrations (400 parts per billion) at Diamond Alkali’s other Superfund site in Times Beach, Missouri. In a more populated urban area, the two-year decontamination would cost $40 million. Not surprisingly, in 1998, the responsible corporation (Occidental Chemicals) took the third route: to “encase” the four-acre site with a floodwall and a groundwater treatment system at a cost of $22 million, the lowest-cost approach. Some additional debris was put in 932 cargo containers piled along the Passaic River. (For more details about the EPA Lower Passaic River cleanup, see www.ourpassaic.org/projectsites.)

The EPA-approved “interim solution” thereafter turned to be permanent, while the Dallas-based company went into its fast global expansion during the Golden Era of massive deregulation under the Bush Administration. The CEO, Dr. Ray Irani, has lived a high life in Beverly Hills, with a record annual earning of $460 million in 2006. (For a bad year, he made $59 million in 2009.) Meanwhile, Newark has developed “Renaissance on a garbage heap,” as Johns Hopkins University researcher Eileen McGurty has called it. The largest garbage incinerator opened in 1991 to process 930,000 tons of garbage annually. Alan Gerson, a New York City Council member representing Lower Manhattan, complained about the incinerator air: “Some of the stench and toxins could waft right back to Manhattan on an easterly wind.” In our local Jersey, struggling to dispose of municipal solid garbage, the state and the county tried to entice Newark to allow more incinerators by throwing in an employment opportunity – a jail, also in the Ironbound. As adjunct law professor of Seton Hall University Tirza Wahrman observed, “Another thing going on here is New Jerseyans don’t feel a sense of ownership about Newark.”

This typical urban American story will not be completed without mentioning its heroes. With some other enduring Ironbound residents, a young man Arnold Cohen started the Ironbound Committee Against Toxic Waste in 1983. Among many heroic “pushing-backs,” the committee sued the State DEP for its negligent inaction in 1984. In the past three decades, his daughter has been born and has recently left home to attend Princeton University, while his hair turned grey at the age of 62. I hope that my little Newarker daughter will some day join Arnold’s daughter to carry the Committee’s battle for a just and clean America.

Mt. Pleasant Cemetery Walking Tour – October 5th

Hi, I’m posting to share the news that Newarkology has gotten permission to offer a walking tour of Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.
Mt. Pleasant and Fairmount cemeteries were the only two options for eternal rest for well-to-do 19th century Newarkers, with Mt. Pleasant being the choice for most of the Anglo-Protestant aristocracy. The Ballantines, Murphys, Kinneys, and Frelinghuysens who did business and socialization together in life all elected to spent eternity together as well. Learn about the lives and fortunes of the men and women who made Newark an industrial colossus and Victorian mourning customs.

Come learn about the great politicians, businessmen, inventors, and divines of Newark’s Golden Age on this exciting tour.

Date: Sunday, October 5th
Time: 12:15
Cost: $10 for those coming on their first Newarkology tour
Location: 375 Broadway, Newark, New Jersey

More information is available at my website.

Feds announce $80M cleanup of Passaic River

Feds announce $80M cleanup of Passaic River
London has the Thames, Paris has the Seine, Florence has the Arno — Newark, on the other hand, has the Passaic.

The Passaic River, once the dumping grounds for over seventy companies that took up residence along its banks, will receive a limited cleanup of some key “hotspots” by the EPA. The price tag for the cleanup clocks in at $80 million, revealing a conservative cleanup strategy as compared to the previously reported $900 million to $2.3 billion cost to completely overhaul the troubled waterway.

Fourteen years after a 1994 ruling against Diamond Shamrock, whose managers dumped so much dioxin into the river (a key ingredient to Agent Orange), that employees were sent out with shovels and flashlights to the riverbank at night in order to shovel mounds of the chemical that had washed back ashore back into the river.

The cleanup is scheduled to take about two-and-a-half years to complete. Eating crabs or fish from the river at that point? Not recommended.

Federal officials today outlined a massive, $80 million cleanup of the Passaic River that will remove hundreds of tons of dioxin-laden sediment contaminating the river along a notorious Superfund site in downtown Newark.

“This removal of contaminated sediment from the Passaic is a real down payment on the river’s future,” said Alan Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator. “Today’s agreement allows us to get the worst contaminants out of the river so it will never haunt the environment again.”

EPA on the Passaic River: it Really is that Bad

Star Ledger: EPA details Passaic cleanup options. I remember when we moved to Newark that NJPAC was planning to partner with the city to create a riverfront retail space with shops, cafes and restaurants. I haven’t heard much of that discussion lately, in part, it appears, because of just how complex cleaning that river has become. Costs range up into the billions of dollars, which the state expects to collect from over 70 companies that participated in the river’s pollution.
Even assuming that collecting the funds goes well, this project could take years, but I have a strong feeling that the government won’t be able to keep this out of the courts once these companies are served their bill of (on average) over $31 million each.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency yesterday unveiled six options for cleaning up the contaminated muck along an eight-mile stretch of the lower Passaic River, ranging from a full-scale dredging of the polluted sediment to capping it with clean sand and rocks.

The estimated cost of the plans ranges from $900 million to $2.3 billion, money the government plans to get from 73 companies that have already been identified as polluters.

“We’d like to see a remedy that provides the longest-term protection as possible,” Jackson said.

Ella Filippone, executive director of the Passaic River Coalition, said she favors the dredging option, which would clean out the dioxins from the river, rather than capping the dioxins with clean sand or rock. In a tidal river like the Passaic, the strong tides can disturb clean materials and also spread dioxins to other areas, she said.

“It’s now going to be a question of how do we pay for it,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, whose district includes an area along the lower Passaic, called the announcement of the options “a great step forward” and called for strong negotiating to get the polluters to pay.

“We’ve got to keep this out of court,” he said, citing delays to the cleanup that a lawsuit would bring.

Steinberg said the EPA would be aggressive. “The remedy could be expensive and we intend for the polluters to pay.”