Pollution Settlement Money to Aid NJ Waterways

By Erin Delmore

A victory for environmental advocates in the fight for a cleaner, greener Passaic River waterfront.

“Long time coming. River’s been stolen from the communities for decades now,” said Ironbound Community Corporation Executive Director Joe Della Fave.

The Department of Environmental Protection is sending dollars from pollution settlements back into the community to build up the waterfront around the Lower Passaic River and Newark Bay.

Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno called it “a major turning point.” From DEP Commissioner Bob Martin: “perhaps never before have we seen such sweeping public access improvements planned for the Passaic River, or for that matter any New Jersey river at one time.”

A great reward following a great risk.

“The Passaic River is one of the most if not the most polluted river in the entire United States. The Superfund cleanup is the most expensive that we’re engaging in,” Della Fave said.

“The money that’s coming in from the natural resource damage settlements are like, game changers,” said NY/NJ Baykeeper Executive Director Debbie Mans.

These funds are separate from the Superfund cleanup. Forty-seven million dollars is headed toward increasing public access to the waterways, including Newark’s Riverfront Park, and a new boathouse there, a walkway along the Arthur Kill in Carteret and an entry point to Dundee Island in Passaic City. Hackensack, Garfield, Bloomfield, Harrison, Bayonne and Perth Amboy also stand to benefit. Another $6 million is earmarked for wetlands restoration.

“And over time, the industries that grew up along here just dumped their waste along the river, most significantly was the Diamond Alkali site, which was producing Agent Orange and a byproduct of that is dioxin, which is highly toxic,” Mans said.

The EPA is involved in a plan to dredge and cap the lower 8.3 miles of the Passaic to shield contaminants from the waterway.

It’s familiar ground for community organizer Melissa Miles. She runs “toxic tours” of sites tied to pollution, open to the public.

“We have actually three power plants in the area, sewage treatment plant. We have an incinerator that burns trash — over half from New York. We have a metal management center that crushes metal. We have, I would say, no less than 50 to 75 or even 100 just auto body shops, places that fix trucks. All of these places emit pollution,” Miles said.

There’s legislation going up for a vote on Monday in both the Assembly and the Senate that would constitutionally mandate all these settlements go back into the resource. Right now, they don’t. Anything over $50 million goes into the general fund. If the bill passes, it’ll go before voters next year.