Earth Day – Dredging Passaic River

April 23, 2014 | No Comments
Posted by Steven J. Corodemus

Earth Day is an appropriate time to reflect on the progress that we have made to make our environment a better place to live, work and enjoy. Recently the Chris Christie Administration announced an agreement with the US EPA to take action to address a very significant problem that has existed for decades – the contamination of the lower Passaic River in the Port Newark region.

Twenty years ago during my tenure in the New Jersey Legislature, I worked with another “Christie” – Governor Christine Whitman, on this same problem.  I and representatives from a broad spectrum of interested parties worked hard to preserve Port Newark and to identify a non-ocean disposal solution for contaminated sediments.  The Port is this region’s economic engine.  Daily, cargo ships deliver and export essential goods to the Northeast region and the entire United States through the Port.

The Port’s cargo ships need 40 foot depth for safe operations.  Unfortunately, the natural depth of Newark Bay is approximately 16 feet.  Therefore frequent dredging to keep apace of the millions of cubic yards of sediment deposited in Newark Bay by the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers is essential. Unfortunately, historic industrial activity upstream discharged into the rivers severely contaminated sediments settling in the river bottom. The disposal of the contaminated sediment presents a true challenge.  Governor Whitman embraced her advisory group’s recommendation to keep the contaminated sediments in Newark Bay by excavating a “vault” from the clean clay below the bay and replacing the clay with the contaminated sediment. A clean cap was then placed over the “vault.”  The NYNJ Port Authority paid for the project.

It appears that the Chris Christie Administration has struck an agreement on a scope of work with the EPA to dredge a sufficient part of the Passaic River, strategically cap riverbank to riverbank in the troubled areas, and treat and dispose of the contaminated sediment offsite. Implementing this strategy to address contaminated sediment in the Passaic River should have the effect of eliminating the delivery mechanism of contaminated sediment into the Newark Bay, thus breaking the chain on ongoing contamination plume. We should all hope that this agreement can be finalized and that funding can be procured from the federal government to implement this plan.

The outcome of the Governor Christie-US EPA plan is significant for everyone.  The Plan will keep Port Newark open and competitive but it will also prevent the further migration of contaminated sediment into the region’s bays, i.e. Hudson Bay, Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay.  Hopefully by next Earth Day we can rejoice in witnessing the progress of this long overdue project.

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