Our goals with the Community Boat Build extend beyond just constructing a boat to access the Raritan River to building a community of individuals that have an interest in the Raritan River as a resource for recreation. During the past eight weeks, more than 60 individuals have assisted with the project in one way or another. We are grateful to those who have helped us source donated goods, recruit volunteers, mill wood for the construction process, set up forms, glue strips to the forms, sharpen chisels and wood planes, document the building process, train other volunteers, and so much more. It has truly been a ‘community boat-building and community building effort!
We are working with a boat pattern, or form, designed by Graeme King. The boat pattern, called Cockatoo, will guide construction of a boat meant to be rowed by one person. This ‘stable recreational’ vessel is constructed on forms that are inverted on a workbench referred to as a ‘strongback’. The boat utilizes thin Western Red Cedar strips for the hull with a framework of Sitka Spruce, Ash and Mahogany woods. The rowing boat; often referred to as a ‘shell’, includes a moving seat. The person rowing the boat engages the seat and two oars (sculling) to move the boat.
We have now completed the application of the final strips on the boat and will be applying the epoxy resin and fiberglass on the hull. Additionally, we have started cutting and shaping the pieces for the interior. These structural pieces create the ‘bone structure’ for the boat and will support the rower while rowing the boat. The first boat will be coming off the building forms in the next week and the construction of the second boat designed by Graeme King will begin.
The program has presented opportunities for the participants to acquire woodworking skills and also to meet and interact with a variety of community members. While Derek Hartwick has been leading the boat-building project, Brian Smith, Sarah Tomasello and Eric Marshall have stepped into leadership roles by leading or teaching some of the skills required for the project.
Each week the ‘Boat Shop” has been a buzz of activity on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Due to the strong interest from the community, and with the gradual post-Covid “return to normal,” for each build day we are pleased to be able to open up more slots for participation. We hope you will join us!
Dozens of amazing volunteers joined the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership on Sunday March 21 to celebrate Spring with a day of service cleaning up the Old Bridge portion of the South River floodplain.
GRATEFUL for the chance to join together to do this work. With thanks to Central Jersey Stream Team, the Old Bridge Department of Public Works, Middlesex County Department of Parks & Recreation, Old Bridge YMCA, Sewa International of Central Jersey, Hackensack Riverkeeper, Raíces Eco-Culture, and so many folks young and old who came out to lend a hand.
We may have removed as many as 400 tires – final tally will come next week. We filled a garbage truck with bags of trash and stuff that really should be recycled or reused.
The doorway to spring is unlocked at the time of the vernal equinox and begins to slowly open on creaking, weather worn hinges. As the door opens, winter’s final icy breath rushes though without hesitation. The cold gusty wind is an intruder who is soon vanquished by spring’s eternal promise of warming conditions favorable to the earth’s explosion of new life.
March is handed winter’s eviction notice as it departs, however, given ten days to respond, little if anything is changed. The task then falls to April to conclude winter’s lingering intrusion.
April wrestles mightily with remnants of last season’s cold, the winner of each daily round, is at best unpredictable.
Though the battle is as real as the chill in the air, the spectators have bet their life on the eventual outcome.
Tension still remains, fired by doubt, despite eons of evidence, that winter’s grasp on the earth will not this time, be broken.
Deep within April another doorway appears. Stepping through, a closer look reveals a vestibule and rooms beyond, colored with every conceivable tint of green. Stare long enough and isolated clusters of bright colored blossoms and wildflowers appear within the green expanse. Pink and white apple blossoms serve as irrefutable evidence the profusion of life may proceed unimpeded.
As we step though late April’s green garden gate, its reflective surface allows a momentary rearward glance of winter finally and completely consumed in a distant vanishing point.
A collective sigh of relief is expressed as the promise of spring is delivered.
In the same way pens are handed out when ground breaking documents are signed, the profusion of wildflowers that appear are the reproducing instruments nature provides as mementoes of spring’s return.
Spring beauties, trout lilies and native columbine are the visualization of invisible changes taking place triggered by increasing daylength. They are bookmarks and gauges that map the path of the season.
Diminutive spring beauties decorate the meadows and open woodlands, their five white petals marked with delicate pink pinstripes. Growing in scattered patches among the short meadow grass, their presence, when discovered is like finding a lost coin. It is not the equivalent of finding a fortune in gold, but as with a found silver coin, it adds enrichment, satisfaction and a smile. A moment of escape from your incessant busy thoughts is a spring beauty’s most powerful affect. Consider that respite from consciousness an inherent medicinal property.
Trout lilies are appropriately named as their appearance coincides with the opening of trout season. Also called dogtooth lilies, they are found in moist areas along streams and rivers. Trout lilies are short plants with thick green, mottled brown leaves at the base. Each plant features a single bronze colored stalk bearing a lone yellow flower. The yellow flower hangs upside down to reveal a bronze underside. I notice these plants in the more pristine areas and link them to my memories of early trout seasons past.
Native columbine grows on the face of the red shale cliffs that line the river. A beautiful red flower, shaped like a crown, which like the trout lily, hangs upside down. I wonder at the age of some of these plants that grow out of creases in the cliffs. How many springs have they ushered in, how do they survive in such a specific environment, how did they seed themselves in such a precarious place? The bloom is short lived and occurs at a time when hardly anyone passes by, so these plants are rarely noticed. The momentary appearance of this delicate beauty in such an unexpected place enhances their magical qualities. Surely these flowers would be welcome in anyone’s version of a secret garden. The brief appearance of ephemeral spring wildflowers, make them especially precious. Swaying in the cool spring breeze, these native flowers are the starting flags waved to initiate a race. And so begins the cascade of life renewed, as it ebbs and flows through the entire living community found behind the green door of April.
Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. See more articles and photos at winterbearrising.wordpress.com.
Interview by Stacey Nunda, LRWP Spring 2021 Raritan Scholar
In December 2020 I had the opportunity to speak with Marcia Shiffman, the LRWP’s 2021 Windows of Understanding partner artist. I learned about Marcia’s work, how she became involved with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, and how the LRWP’s October 2020 Environmental Justice listening session helped Marcia shape the collages she created for installation as part of the 2021 Windows of Understanding program.
How did you decide on the medium for the artwork you produce?
I would have loved to have done a print but I really couldn’t so I started out by doing sketches and using photographs. I went out with Heather to see her do water quality testing one day, and I took a lot of pictures. Originally I did a sketch based on the photos and took the sketch and created it as a digital image. As I worked through the sketch I decided I wanted to use the photographs more directly, so I took them and modified them. I put them together similar to the sketch but then it got developed into a collage where it combined the photos. When I finished that I decided I would look at creating it as a digital print, so I photographed it then I worked on it a lot in terms of sketching on top of the image and making the collaged photos fit together more smoothly.
What prompted you to incorporate environmental themes in your work?
I’m working with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership which is an environmental organization. I looked at an important part of their work. I reviewed their website which is pretty amazing. I tried to show different elements of how the Raritan is used and how access is important. I wanted to tell a story.
How did those environmental themes motivate you to include social and environmental justice, along with environmental equity themes?
Public access to open space is really important and making sure it’s available. That was something that came out strongly in the discussion with the group. Environmental justice, access to clean water…it all ties in. I thought about that when I was doing the images. I remember one of the people at our meeting talked about the need for more trees and more greenery in the city. The need for better access to the park as well, so it was something I thought about when I was putting together the images.
In what ways did you first engage with the work of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership?
I was coordinating with Heather, the board president. We set up a zoom meeting which was made available to anybody who was on their list to join us to talk about the project and what they felt was important to be considered. Heather had done a really interesting presentation to start the process. I had provided sketches and then I met with Heather and another volunteer. We went to two testing sites and then I visited other sites myself which was really fun. I hadn’t known about some of these parks in Edison and Sayreville. After that I put together the sketches with the photos and sent them to Heather who distributed them to the Partnership for comment.
Your piece “Along the Raritan” showcases the many possibilities for engagement along the river. Which activities would you say have helped you form a personal connection with the Raritan in your own life?
I live in Highland Park so with Covid I’ve walked a lot and a number of them have been at Donaldson Park which is along the Raritan. I think with Covid and lockdown that makes one more aware of the beauty of the river and the need to protect it. You’re really limited where you can go and how you can access things. Mental health is a real issue for a lot of people, especially when you’re isolated or live at home by yourself. Having access, it makes you aware how important open space is.
What feelings or motives do you hope your pieces will evoke in the viewers who see it?
I think one thing is understanding the importance of the Raritan Watershed and how it’s important for everyone in this environment. It does provide, especially along the Raritan, so much open space and options for recreation, for food, for fishing…just enjoying outdoor areas. I think it highlights that. Maybe people may not be aware of how important it is. There’s a need to keep the waterways clean. I hope people will understand that and engage with the Partnership.
I did not know about the Partnership before so I’m really pleased to know about it and I’d like to get more active. I spoke to Heather and I’ve offered to donate my work to get auctioned for the Partnership. I’m very pleased to have been part of this process.
Dear Joel Rosa (City of Perth Amboy) & Susan Rosenwinkel (New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection) —
On behalf of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP), I am writing regarding the Long Term CSO Control Plan (LTCP) for the City of Perth Amboy. The LRWP understands that the Perth Amboy City Council passed a resolution requesting that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) table approval of the LTCP until exploration of alternative and lower cost options. The LRWP believes that the current LTCP does not adequately present the full array of low cost options for Perth Amboy’s CSO infrastructure, nor does it advance non-consolidated sewage treatment alternatives that may provide additional benefits to the municipality and its residents. As such, the LRWP supports Perth Amboy’s decision to table LTCP approvals, and furthermore suggests that you request a value engineering session to discuss possible alternatives to reduce the costs of the LTCP borne by the residents of Perth Amboy.
If the current LTCP were to be approved by Council, the City of Perth Amboy and City residents would no doubt serve as the example of “loser” in text books on who profits and who loses in regions with consolidated sewage treatment systems. The LTCP calls for Perth Amboy to receive a binding permit from NJDEP to construct improvements to its sewer system that are estimated to cost $380 million. This $380 million would be borne entirely by Perth Amboy, a city with a median household income of $49K, far less than the national average. These improvements do not include replacement of the failing brick sewer that travels from Perth Amboy through Woodbridge to the centralized Middlesex County Utility Authority (MCUA) treatment facility. That is, the rate increases projected in Middlesex County Utility Authority’s plan without the necessary brick sewer replacement indicates that Perth Amboy’s rates will increase from $330 per year to $1,540 per year by 2050. This quadrupling or more of rates will be devastating not only for the low income residents of Perth Amboy, but also the emerging Perth Amboy business community.
When it comes to our sewage treatment and water infrastructure our low income communities like Perth Amboy are the losers time and time again. Do you recall how, in 2012, 1 billion gallons of sewage overflow discharged from a sewage treatment plant into the Raritan River? This was a result of Superstorm Sandy storm-surge flooding that inundated centralized treatment facilities. Not only was this event devastating to the health of our waters, particularly the waters near Perth Amboy, but it demonstrated the vulnerability of our very costly and ill-conceived consolidated sewage treatment system.
The City of Perth Amboy and Perth Amboy Council have an opportunity to reassess commitment to consolidated treatment facilities, their potential for failure, their tremendous drain on local community finances, and the lost potential for local benefits (cost savings and energy production) to accrue via distributed wastewater treatment options. The LRWP has seen examples from around the world of successful distributed systems that yield tremendous benefits to their localities. We encourage the City of Perth Amboy to include in any value engineering session a careful examination of how “urban metabolism” of sewage can be leveraged via a distributed processing system to generate energy, restore waterways, and possibly lead to a more inclusive, cleaner economy.
Unlike consolidated systems, distributed wastewater treatment systems don’t risk the same type of regional ripples associated with failure. Fixes can be done quickly, and more cost effectively. Furthermore, distributed wastewater treatment can provide “clean energy” by treating and recycling organic waste where it is produced, generating low cost energy for the local community. The LRWP believes that distributed systems might just advance economic structural transformation across scales for cities like Perth Amboy, and empower the community in new ways. What this might look like on the ground is a system of distributed waste processing and power generation, along the lines of what was proposed a few years ago by the Charles River Watershed Association:
Even if The City of Perth Amboy does not consider a distributed wastewater processing system, it should absolutely seek a value engineering for the LTCP as proposed so as to avoid perpetuating significant environmental justices in a community besieged by environmental injustices. We welcome the opportunity to discuss further.
With thanks to Jessica Bonamusa with the Interstate Environmental Commission (IEC), which provides equipment, laboratory equipment, and other technical support to the LRWP as part of an EPA Volunteer Pathogen Monitoring Program, the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership is pleased to share this Final Report for 2020 pathogens monitoring of the Lower Main Stem of the Raritan River.
IEC’s Volunteer Pathogen Monitoring Program is intended to facilitate interested organizations in testing their local waterways for pathogens. This program targets areas that are not routinely monitored by regulatory agencies or other established monitoring programs. IEC provides assistance to volunteer groups in project design, sampling site selection, as well as hands-on field sampling training, supplies and equipment, and QA/QC oversight for the project. Laboratory analyses for pathogens is conducted in the IEC laboratory by IEC staff. Participating organizations and volunteers sample along publicly-accessible shoreline areas and in tidal creeks. Surveys include in situ measurements of water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and pH, though these parameters can vary depending on the needs of IEC’s partners. Pathogen samples are taken to the IEC laboratory where they are analyzed for Enteroccoccus and Fecal Coliform, indicators of sewage waste, using membrane filtration (EPA 1600) and/or the newer IDEXX® Enterolert methods. All sampling and analytical procedures are outlined in an EPA-approved Quality Assurance Project Plan.
In 2020, the LRWP’s Volunteer Monitoring Program spanned 15 weeks, starting in July. Due to the pandemic, this year the Program faced unprecedented challenges. The IEC laboratory was closed for the first three weeks of sampling, so samples collected during this time period were analyzed by a contract laboratory using methods which, while EPA-certified, differed from the methodology utilized by IEC. All sampling events were scheduled in advance and occurred regardless of recent precipitation, unless conditions were dangerous. This season included four groups: Hackensack Riverkeeper, the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, Gowanus Conservancy and Freshkills Park for a total of 14 sites. Six of these sites are within the Lower Raritan Watershed.
The natural resource Trustees for the Cornell-Dubilier Electronics Superfund Site are considering a series of projects to restore and protect wildlife habitat and water quality and increase recreation opportunities in the Raritan River Watershed, as outlined in a Draft Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment found at: https://www.cerc.usgs.gov/orda_docs/DocHandler.ashx?task=get&ID=6394
The Cornell-Dubilier Electronics Superfund Site originated from a 26-acre former electronic components manufacturing facility in South Plainfield, New Jersey. PCBs and other hazardous substances released from the site contaminated soils and groundwater, as well as the surface water, soils, and sediments of adjacent creeks, including Bound Brook, a tributary to the Raritan River. Fish and wildlife that rely upon these habitats were injured due to the release of these hazardous substances. Through various court proceedings and settlements, the Trustees recovered damages for injuries to natural resources; funds will be used to implement selected ecological and recreational restoration projects in the Raritan River watershed.
Proposed restoration projects are evaluated in the Draft Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment. Proposed projects include dam removal, fish passage improvements, riparian restoration, mussel restoration, trash traps, various river access and recreational use projects, outreach / education, and “green” stormwater management. The draft plan identifies 11 Tier I projects and 9 Tier II projects. Tier I projects will take priority for funding; Tier II projects may be funded if residual funds are available, until all settlement funds are exhausted.
What follows is the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership’s comments on the Cornell Dubilier Trustees prioritized ranking of projects.
March 10, 2021
Dear Cornell Dubilier Trustees –
On behalf of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership Board of Directors, please find below our comments on the Draft Restoration Plan / Environmental Assessment to address natural resources injured or lost due to releases of hazardous substances at and from the Cornell-Dubilier Site in Bound Brook, New Jersey.
While the LRWP Board commends Trustees’ commitment to improving habitat connectivity throughout the Raritan Basin, we are concerned with the Boards’ limited attention to those areas at nexus to release of hazardous substances by Cornell-Dubilier. In fact, Trustees’ proposed Tier 1 prioritization includes only one (1) project proposal that might be considered even nominally “downstream” of the release site.
As you know, the areas downstream of the Cornell-Dubilier site are characterized by significant Environmental Justice concerns. We believe that the human population, and the environmental resources disproportionately affected in terms of adverse human health and environmental effects of the hazardous substance release, must receive remediation dollars proportionate to the harm done to them. To do otherwise would be to continue to perpetuate environmental injustices in a region where our most vulnerable peoples and landscapes are repeatedly ignored. As such, the LRWP encourages the Trustees to reconsider its prioritization and increase rankings for two projects at nexus to damages: 1) South River Tidal Marsh Restoration; and 2) Bridge Over Delaware & Raritan Canal Spillway. These projects, both downstream from the Cornell Dubilier site, hold significant potential to address both natural resources enhancement and Environmental Justice concerns.
With respect to the South River Tidal Marsh Restoration Project, Trustees have mischaracterized the nexus to injury, scale of benefit, site ownership availability, climate change benefits, and multiple benefits to natural resources of this project. Please find attached a conceptual design map of the specific project site, and note that the project site characterized in our map is significantly smaller than the full South River Ecosystem discussed in your report. To fail to prioritize this project is an opportunity missed to specifically address restoration of native plants, improve access for an Environmental Justice Overburdened Community (per N.J.S.A. 13:1D-157), and build on on-going resilience work in the South River/Washington Canal – work which is currently supported by funding secured through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundations Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program.
With respect to the Bridge Over Delaware & Raritan Canal Spillway (the “Missing Link Bridge”), Trustees have an opportunity to advance the interests of another EJ Overburdened Community (New Brunswick). It is long past time to remediate the racist effects of engineering and planning decisions made that established the spillway, thus severing the relationship between New Brunswick residents and the regional D&R Canal walking path. Existence of a spillway at this location essentially bars City of New Brunswick residents from the health benefits of the important public utility of the D&R Canal.
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the very significant natural resource enhancement and recreational access needs of the areas below the Cornell Dubilier release site with you in more detail: email@example.com or #908.349.0281.
Around the world we recognize the balance of day and night on March 20-21, and celebrate Leopold Week in honor of author Aldo Leopold and his framing of a land ethic that calls for our moral responsibility to the natural world. At its core, the idea of a land ethic is simply caring: about people, about land, and about strengthening the relationships between them.
Although abundant snow fell in New Jersey’s Lower Raritan Watershed in January and February, March is still the wettest month. Good preparation and knowing what to do in a flood will increase your safety and chances of survival if it happens in your area. It can also help minimize potential flood damage and accelerate recovery efforts.
Flood Preparedness: Before, During, After a Flood
Turn around, don’t drown!
As little as six inches of moving water can sweep an adult off their feet, and just 12 inches of it can carry a small car. A foot of swiftly moving water can also carry away an SUV or truck. Even if you think you know how deep a particular part of the road is, it is better to avoid driving or walking through it altogether. It’s not just the depth alone, either — there’s also the potential for hazardous debris or downed active power lines in or nearby the water. Especially at night after a significant rainfall or flooding event when your vision is not as strong, play it safe and find an alternate route until the water recedes.
2. Sign up for local news and community alerts
The Weather Channel provides free forecasts, radar, and severe weather alerts on their desktop site. The Emergency Email & Wireless Network and Weather Underground offer free email subscriptions of weather and other alerts. By signing up for push alerts to your cellphone, home phone, or email, you can get up-to-the-minute information about flooding. NOAA Radio also broadcasts weather alerts around the nation, and local meteorologists send out alerts when heavy rains or coastal flooding is possible.
3. Know the risks where you live
Ask neighbors about flooding risks. Visit your local library to find hyper-local topographical maps of your community, or use the USGS TopoView Viewer tool to get an idea of where nearby water bodies are so you can estimate your chance of being directly affected by flooding. Check your flood insurance policy to ensure appropriate coverage. The LRWP relies on the USGS flood gauge at Bound Brook to give us a sense for local conditions.
You can also take a page from the LRWP’s book of landscape decoding and #lookfortheriver by observing water flows, tracing land contours, and re-discover our buried streams using historic maps.
4. Prepare a “go kit” for flood season and other emergencies
Do you have an evacuation plan in place for your family and pets in cases of fire or other threats? Does it include a “go kit”? A “go kit” is a great way to always stay prepared. Some items you can keep in this waterproof kit are:
Sleeping bag and blankets for each person
A full change of clothes for each person, and an extra set of masks
Important documents sealed in a waterproof case
Cash or traveler’s checks
A 30-day supply of any necessary medications
You can find a full list of items that are good to have at the ready year-round here.
The actions listed above are just some of many actions each of us can take to prevent loss of lives, jobs and homes in the face of flooding. We also must start “thinking regionally” about preparedness, which will help us all be more resilient in a climate uncertain future.
COVID-19 showed what can happen when our states and nation is under-prepared for a pandemic. The recent storms in Texas give us insights into how we can prepare for future weather related crises. Regions that are not prepared for climate change will suffer lost lives, jobs, and homes. This is especially a concern for coastal communities, including many in our Lower Raritan Watershed.
For example, we do not yet have a true flood risk assessment for the Lower Raritan. FEMA flood maps are incomplete, and often inaccurate. And many homes in Lower Raritan communities like South River, Sayreville and Woodbridge are excluded from flood plains for political reasons. Not surprisingly, the maps and processes that communicate risks associated with flooding are often highly politicized. The risk maps often reflect the politics of property developers in flood plains, pressures to keep property values high, and fears of the overwhelming cost of adapting at-risk homes to rising seas and flooding, more than the actual risk.
As part of #ResilientNJ, the LRWP and regional partners are working to conduct an accurate regional risk assessment to understand the magnitude of flood risks and threats for our area. From there we aim to make plans to protect lives, homes and employment that may be vulnerable to flooding, and likewise seek to identify ways to adapt to and mitigate climate change impacts. In coming months the LRWP and County and municipal partners will launch a website, outreach campaign, app and more to engage the larger Middlesex/Lower Raritan community in regional resilience planning. We look forward to working with you!