U.S. Study to Focus on Passaic River

The Record
By:  Jan Barry, Staff
Nov. 29, 2000

From Paterson's scenic Great Falls to the grimy industrial waterfront of Newark's Ironbound section, urban stretches of the Passaic River will be the focus of a federal study on ways to restore the polluted waterway.

The $100,000 project is aimed at providing a comprehensive plan for finally cleaning up a long-neglected section of North Jersey's longest river, which flows through several cities and densely populated suburbs in Passaic, Bergen, and Essex counties.

Federal and state officials will announce details of the project today at the Newark Club, in an office building overlooking a crumbling stretch of Passaic River bank in downtown Newark. The site is being turned into a park designed to attract visitors back to a waterway that city residents have long shunned.

Acting as hosts today are Rep. Robert Menendez, D-Union City, and Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, who shepherded legislation through Congress to provide funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to do a cleanup study.

"We're looking to make the Passaic River a better place environmentally, economically, and recreationally," Pascrell aide Joe Waks said Tuesday.

A statement about the project painted a dramatic picture of impending improvement to a river that was a sewer from the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century through the 20th century.

"The Passaic River Restoration Initiative will serve as the pilot project study for [a] unique, nationwide effort to correct more than two centuries of degradation to urban waterways and their tributaries," the statement said.

Army Corps of Engineers officials, who have been working with various state and federal agencies to create a $75 million waterfront park near the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, characterized the Passaic River study as one among many by the corps across the nation.

"We do environmental restoration reconnaissance studies all the time on various river basins," said Paul Tumminello, project manager for the corps' flood control project in the Passaic River basin.

"We're doing one now on the Hudson-Raritan estuary," which encompasses the ocean bay areas that border New Jersey and New York City, Tumminello said. Other studies being done in the region concern the Saw Mill and Bronx rivers in New York.

Upstream of the urban sector of the Passaic River, the corps has been working with the state Department of Environmental Protection on a flood-control plan that includes buying wetlands to curb development in flood plains.

"We have the demonstrated expertise in this area, and we're happy that the Congress has the confidence in the Army Corps of Engineers to do a study of this nature," said an agency spokesman, Peter Schugert.