By Ron Leir
It may not compare with the breezes from the Jersey Shore but the Passaic River – albeit polluted – still offers some partial relief to urban grit.
But industrialization and development are obstacles blocking Harrison residents from getting to the riverbank, so the town is hoping to do something about that.
To that end, the mayor and Town Council have scheduled a public hearing for Aug. 12 at 6 p.m. in the assembly chambers at Town Hall, 318 Harrison Ave., on a proposed application for state Green Acres cash to acquire land targeted for a “public access waterfront walkway and park consistent with the Harrison Waterfront Development Plan.”
Mayor James Fife said that although the submission deadline for this cycle of Green Acres funding has passed, representatives of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) “have told us that if we have our public hearing by at least Aug. 15, we can still apply for this cycle.”
The area the town is looking to acquire is a 5.8-acre portion of what is listed on the tax map as Block 86, in part of the area designated as the Harrison Waterfront Redevelopment Area. The town owns a small section of land in the northwest corner (Lot 1.01) of Block 86 and the desired 5.8- acre vacant tract – owned by Hartz Mountain Industries – lies just south and east of it.
Susan Gruel, the town’s planning consultant, said that Harrison would be seeking $2.3 million in a mix of grant and loan funding from Green Acres, “all for acquisition purposes,” as a piece of a proposed riverfront walkway and park.
The walkway would run about 1,000 feet along the river, parallel to First St., and a small park is proposed for the water end of Cifelli Drive, offering a view of the Passaic River corridor showing part of downtown Newark and the N.J. Performing Arts Center, she said.
This section of the walkway would be 16 to 30 feet wide, depending on the placement of amenities like benches and planters.
Public access to the walkway would be “through the public street system or through an easement along First St.,” Gruel said.
“There could be some environmental remediation required as part of the walkway/park development,” she said, since the area to be acquired has been associated with industrial uses.
Asked if any portion of the land would have to be raised to comply with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines for flood-prone areas, Gruel said, “One of the pieces associated with the development of the walkway is coordinating with flood control plans.”
She said it was too early in the project’s planning to provide a more detailed explanation.
If the town is successful in getting the money from Green Acres, it will still need to find a funding source to actually build the walkway and park, she said.
To some extent, there is currently some public access to the river, via a walkway behind the Hampton Inn hotel on Passaic Ave. and behind the nearby gas station, crossing Harrison Ave. and continuing along River Park.