By Ron Leir
Just four weeks after a contractor began dredging a 5.6-acre section of polluted Passaic River mudflats at River Mile 10.9 in Lyndhurst, the $20 million job has come to a halt.
The Bridge St. Bridge, one of 11 bridges that must be opened to allow for the passage of barges hauling the toxic sediment scooped up from the top two feet of mudflats, has mechanical problems which could take as long as a month to fix.
Elias Rodriguez, a spokesman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the work, said last week that Ray Basso, EPA’s director of the Lower Passaic River Cleanup project, has “confirmed that the bridge isn’t working” and that, “the Cooperating Partners Group is working with the U.S. Coast Guard to determine a path forward.”
CPG spokesman Jonathan Jaffe said: “We are eager to continue dredging. Unfortunately, the [bridge] situation is beyond our control. We will be ready to dredge when the infrastructure is repaired by the county.”
CPG is an amalgam of some 70 corporate organizations that have accepted responsibility for the despoiling of the river from industrial discharges of high concentrations of dioxin, PCBs and other contaminants in years past.
CPF hired Great Lakes Dredge & Dock of Staten Island, N.Y., to excavate some 20,000 cubic yards of the tainted sediment and dump it into barges which transport the materials downriver to Clean Earth, a hazardous waste treatment facility in South Kearny for processing and the toxic residue, mixed with cement, is shipped by rail to a landfill in Oklahoma, while the water from the barges is diverted into tanker trucks for transport to a New England treatment plant. The work has been proceeding six days a week. When the six- to eight-week job is finished, a cap will be placed over the exposed area.
But the barge movements depend on a timed sequence of bridge openings – 10 crossing the Passaic and one spanning the Hackensack River – and the Bridge St. Bridge, which carries vehicular traffic along County Rt. 508 between Newark and Harrison, is the 10th bridge from the mouth of the Passaic at Newark Bay.
Built by the American Bridge Co. in 1913 as a swing span, Bridge St. Bridge is listed on the N.J. Register of Historic Places and was rehabilitated in 1981, according to Wikipedia. Its two electric motors were damaged by Hurricane Sandy last year and were recently replaced by Hudson County, which has a rotating joint responsibility with Essex for maintaining the bridge.
But a new problem – unrelated to the motors — surfaced on Saturday, Aug. 31.
On that date, “… at approximately 5:30 a.m., the Bridge Street bridge … experienced a major mechanical failure rendering it inoperable,” reported Hudson County Roads & Public Property Director Harold Demellier Jr. in a Sept. 4 memo to the county administrator.
“Subsequent inspection of the mechanical equipment on the bridge revealed that the differential gear is broken and various shaft keys and a pinion shaft sheared. Other mechanical repairs related to this event may become evident when the equipment is dismantled.”
Demellier said Perrello Inc., the Lake Hopatcong firm that is contracted for welding, structural and mechanical repairs for the Bridge St., Clay St. and Jackson St. bridges, has estimated that repairs could run between $100,000 to $150,000 and could take 30 days. Hudson and Essex would share the cost equally.
And, because “maritime traffic cannot navigate up or down the Passaic River while the bridge is non-functional,” Demellier said, “an emergency does exist, and work shall commence immediately to address this situation.”
After the bridge got stuck in the open position on Aug. 31, the county reportedly brought in two tow trucks to manually return the swing span into the closed position.
It continues to accept vehicular traffic – which is good news for fans of the New York Red Bulls who drive across it for the team’s home games in Harrison. Upcoming games at Red Bull Arena are scheduled for Sept. 14 and 22 and Oct. 5 and 27.
In phone interviews last week, both Lyndhurst consulting engineer Brian Intindola of Neglia Engineering and special Lyndhurst environmental counsel John Scagnelli said that before the dredging began, they’d warned the CPG to be wary of the aging Passaic River bridges.
“We suggested they set up an escrow account to fix these bridges if something happened,” Intindola said. “These bridges are fragile.” As a member of the Passaic River Rowing Club, the engineer has seen these structures up close many times.
Scagnelli said that back in June, as the CPG and EPA were drafting plans for the dredging enterprise, “we warned them about these old bridges and that they haven’t been opened and closed [on a regular basis] for many years so we had concerns about the barge transport procedure. I’m not surprised this happened. The CPG needs to address this now.”
Asked if Lyndhurst would be open to the possibility of the contractor trucking out the soiled sediment, Scagnelli said: “The township made it clear that the dredged materials cannot be trucked out through the streets of Lyndhurst. Our position hasn’t changed.”
The EPA is in the process of completing a “focused study of cleanup options for the lower eight-mile stretch of the Passaic, from Newark Bay to Belleville,” and releasing the results for public review by year’s end. It’s unclear how this setback to the Lyndhurst project will impact those plans.