By Ron Leir
A plan for cleaning up the lower 17 miles of the Passaic River is still two years in the making but federal environmentalists hope to draw some clues on how to proceed when they start dredging a 5-acre section of contaminated mudflats in Lyndhurst next month.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working closely with the Lower Passaic River Study Area Cooperating Partners Group, representatives of some 70 companies who’ve agreed to accept the responsibility of removing industrial pollutants from the waterway.
The EPA said it’s focusing on the mudflats near Riverside County Park because it’s found “high levels” of contaminants like dioxin, mercury and PCBs there.
However, EPA says that sampling and testing of soil contained in the Lyndhurst and North Arlington sections of the park itself shows nothing “alarming” and has greenlighted recreational activities there while the work at the mudflats proceeds.
At a public meeting held in the Lyndhurst Senior Center on June 5, Stan Kaczmarek, senior project director for the Cooperating Partners Group, outlined a scenario for the cleanup. EPA has yet to sign off on the design plan but EPA Project Manager Stephanie Vaughn says it’s “90% completed” and expects no major obstacles.
If things go according to schedule, the cleanup will launch “after the July 4th weekend,” Kaczmarek said.
In the meantime, four buoys have been set up – two on either side of the mudflat area, one north of the Rt. 3 bridge and one south of the DeJessa (Park Ave.) bridge – with equipment that’s testing the turbidity – amount of sediment – in the river.
Vaughn said those readings will show the levels of sediment “stirred up by the natural flow of the river” so that when machinery begins removing material from the mudflats, EPA will know not to increase it beyond what naturally occurs so as to avoid creating more disruption – and possible spread – of toxins.
Starting in early July, Kaczmarek said, for six days a week, between dawn and dusk, excavators from the Great Lakes Dredge & Dock of Staten Island will scoop out the top two feet of sediment in the riverbed – a total of 20,000 cubic yards – and dump the stuff into barges which will be sent down river to the Clean Earth of North Jersey plant in Kearny, a hazardous waste processing facility.
As a precaution, all dredging work will be enclosed in “fairly shallow water” by polypropylene silt curtains anchored by floats, he said.
“And we don’t expect any chemical odors or anything volatile,” he added. But air monitors will be installed at the edge of the park and in the water around the dredging site, as a further precaution.
At least five bridges that cross the Passaic – the DeJessa Bridge, Rt. 7 Bridge, Clay St. Bridge, Bridge St. Bridge and Pennsylvania Railroad (Center St.) Bridge – will have to be opened periodically to allow for the barge transport down river each day. These openings will be timed to happen at night or during early morning.
Kaczmarek conceded that the dredging and barge traffic “will be an inconvenience to recreational boaters and area high school crew teams that use the river.” Every effort will be made to minimize disruption, he said.
At the Kearny plant, the sediment will be mixed with Portland cement and placed in rail car containers to be shipped to a landfill in Oklahoma licensed to receive toxic materials.
According to the EPA, water from the barges will be pumped into tanker trucks and sent to a sewage treatment plant in New England.
When the dredging is completed, plans call for the depositing of a 2-feet-thick multi-layer cap consisting of sand, a geotextile membrance, large stones and a thin layer of sand atop the mudflat dredging site.
The operation is expected to take six to eight weeks to finish at a cost estimated at $20 million, which will be borne by the Cooperating Parties Group.
No aspect of the job, however, will touch on concerns raised by Lyndhurst residents and officials about flooding from the river. Lyndhurst wants the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ante up $65 million to build up the riverbanks for better protection against future spillovers and to fund a study to control meadows infiltration and road repairs. State Sen. Paul Sarlo assured residents at the June 5 meeting he intended to schedule a follow-up public meeting to deal with long-term flooding strategies.