Future of Jersey City Embankment To Be Decided

By David Cruz

In Jersey City, a long-running legal battle to preserve an old railroad embankment and turn it into Jersey’s version of the High Line in Manhattan appears to be close to a settlement. But the deal’s not quite done – yet.

For a hundred years, Conrail ran freight on the Sixth Street Embankment, crossing through a now gentrified neighborhood to deliver everything from bicycles to cattle to the city’s waterfront.

Back in the mid-1990’s, Conrail sold the Embankment to a developer. The developer wanted to build condos there but residents – seeing an opportunity to save a part of the city’s industrial past – filed suit, claiming that Conrail had not followed federal guidelines for the sale.

“In order to sell a railroad property, especially if it’s a line of railroad, Conrail would first have to abandon the property through a federal process, which offers protection to the city and the public at large, both historic and environmental protections,” explained Steve Gucciardo, the president of the Embankment Preservation Coalition, which was formed to save the Embankment from being sold.

After a decade of appeals and conflicting court rulings on the matter, an appeals court ruled last week that the original suit could go forward, making a settlement more attractive to all parties concerned, since legal bills were in the hundreds of thousands on all sides.

But Conrail has really emerged as a wild card in the case. They had been a silent participant since they sold the property back in 1995. Now they are the key player because Embankment supporters and the developer – Steve Hyman – have signed off on the settlement and the city council is expected to do likewise at their meeting tomorrow night. They could end up having to make the developer whole, which could ultimately cost them $20 million.

Supporters see a park similar to the High Line in Manhattan. The Embankment is not as long as the High Line but it is in the middle of a densely populated old neighborhood and could become part of a larger network of green space stretching all the way into Bergen County, including paths for hiking and cycling.

The city council vote is scheduled for tomorrow at 7 p.m.