Author: Heather Fenyk

March in the Lower Raritan & “Green Fire” Screening

March in the Lower Raritan heralds the hatching of eagle chicks at Duke Farms, calls of spring peepers and wood frogs in vernal pools, and the emergence of skunk cabbage in freshwater wetlands and near streams.

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.

This year, in honor of Aldo Leopold, the LRWP will host a virtual screening of Green Fire, a documentary film about Leopold, his Sand County Almanac, and the enduring importance of a book written in the 1940s. Please join us virtually on Sunday March 7, from 4-6pm – registrations required. Following screening of this 56-minute film, we will have a chance to discuss the documentary, the impact of Aldo Leopold and his work, and a land ethic for our Lower Raritan Watershed.

Be Prepared: March is Flood Safety Month

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

  1. 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:

  • Non-perishable food
  • Water bottles
  • 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
  • Pet food
  • Baby formula
  • 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!

March Re-gifted

Article and photos by Joe Mish

The messenger of spring magically appears out of the gray face of a late winter blizzard, wearing ragged white robes, shedding skiffs of pure white snow and shards of blue tinted ice.   

The visage of spring’s early march forward from the bowels of deep winter, presents a menacing image whose heart will soon melt to reveal the bright colors of spring.  

March is a character of ill repute whose final dying act redeems its ice-cold legacy of unpredictable weather. A child of contradictory parentage, whose annual re-birth brings forth a new genetic balance favoring one or the other parent is the rule. 

Each March conducts its business of shepherding in the promise of spring from winter pastures in its own unique style. Warm sunny days with blue sky, endless gray days threatening snow squalls and subfreezing temperatures are the ingredients each iteration of March combines in varying amounts and serves cold. 

The third month is thus difficult to characterize, however, it is a month which hosts a cosmic time piece to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring, down to the millisecond.  

When winter turned on its light, to give hope on the darkest day, daylength began to steadily increase. Two months later, at the time of the vernal equinox, daylength and night reach perfect balance, but just for an instant.  

The ever-increasing time between sunrise and sunset is a welcome gift that is rewrapped, regifted and accepted with enthusiasm and anticipation.

Once the white wrapping is removed and the gift box opened, the colors of early spring emerge. At a distance, the wash of maroon, orange and red appear as broad-brush strokes across the dull gray and light brown canvas of wooded hillsides. A closer look reveals the bright colors to be pixilated, each dot an individual tree bud.  

In the absence of foliage, colorful migratory warblers fluoresce against the bare branches and leafless thickets along the river corridors. Their movements like intermittent flashes of a strobe light, reveal their presence. Gold and ruby crowned kinglets, yellow throat, parula and magnolia warblers are a sampling of transient feathered jewels strung across the treetops at peak migration. Redstart, indigo bunting and scarlet tanagers are a portion of the natural treasure of exquisite rare feathered gems whose beauty makes their identities irrelevant. 

A less colorful migratory bird is the woodcock, an odd collection of parts that specialize in probing the soil for earthworms. Mating flights of the males in the fading light of day are a spectacle of sight and sound to behold in this month.    

Now is the time to scan the rivers, ponds and flooded fields for waterfowl not usually seen locally seen except during spring migration. Blue and green winged teal, ring neck ducks, widgeon, brandt, grebes and coot have been known to briefly grace us with their presence. 

Though the arrival of March each year and the gift of light it brings, is a foregone conclusion, the content of its character is always a question.  

What is not in question is the measurable instant daylength outpaces the night. This cosmic event serves to provide the predictability which allows all life to adapt and evolve and thereby exist.

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 jjmish57@msn.com. See more articles and photos at winterbearrising.wordpress.com.

“Today in the Boat Shop”

Boat build prep notes from Derek Hartwick

We set the router table up and I will be in a little early to get the set up ‘just right’. I am hoping that we can start laying up strips on Saturday.

Take a look if you have a chance to view the videos for the work that we will be doing in the Boat Shop today.

Meet LRWP Intern Stacey Nunda!

Hello! My name is Stacey Nunda and I am a fourth-year student at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I’m majoring in Environmental Planning with a minor in Environmental Policy, Institutions, and Behavior. My hope is to continue my learning at Rutgers and pursue a Masters in City and Regional Planning next spring at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

Outside of school, I am currently a commissioner on both the New Brunswick Parks and Gardens and Environmental Commission. When I am not engaged in school-related or community-based activities, I enjoy hiking, axe throwing, and archery. Any opportunity to get into the outdoors is what generally peaks my interest!

Through my internship with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, I am hoping to further my education and understanding of the existing ecosystems in the surrounding area, as well as take opportunities to engage with the community in a safe way during these trying times.

The LRWP is hiring!

Are you interested in launching a career in environmental stewardship, including community resilience, community engagement, and regional land management? The LRWP is hiring for a Community Resilience Fellow to help us shepherd the high profile NJDEP-funded #ResilientNJ Project for the Lower Raritan and Middlesex County Communities. The LRWP Community Resilience Fellow will work with us in our communities to advance environmental restoration, create a clear vision and roadmap for flood risk reduction and resilience approaches, and help affected Lower Raritan communities survive and thrive given current conditions and climate-related changes to come.

ABOUT THE LRWP COMMUNITY RESILIENCE FELLOWSHIP: Through this part time (20 hours/week) position, the LRWP Community Resilience Fellow will work closely with the LRWP board, state and local partners, and municipalities to advance resilience and reduce flooding impacts in areas that face increasing threats related to sea level rise, coastal inundation and stormwater runoff.

The Fellowship is partially supported with funding from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for the high profile “Resilient Raritan River and Bay for Middlesex County Communities” #ResilientNJ Project. #ResilientNJ will lead to environmental restoration, create a clear vision and roadmap for flood risk reduction and resilience approaches developed through collaboration with numerous stakeholders, and will help affected Lower Raritan communities survive and thrive given current conditions and climate-related changes to come. The LRWP Community Resilience Fellow will coordinate significant aspects of #ResilientNJ for the Lower Raritan, building knowledge and collaborative relationships among state, County, and local officials and staff, practitioners, scientists, NGOs and outreach specialists to reduce flooding impacts in the Lower Raritan Watershed. The LRWP Community Resilience Fellow will also help conceive, develop and deliver technical assistance to Lower Raritan communities working to implement federally-mandated stormwater management plans.

This competitive one-year part time fellowship is open to highly motivated individuals with, at a minimum, a Bachelor’s from a degree program in environmental science or related subjects. Individuals with advanced degrees will be prioritized in hiring processes. This fellowship will provide a well-rounded learning experience and help prepare the Fellow for careers in resilience, community engagement, and regional land management. The LRWP especially welcomes applications from individuals who would consider possible full time employment with us at the end of their fellowship year.

The expected hourly compensation for this role is $25/hour. Given current conditions we expect much of the work to be conducted remotely. However, the Fellow will be expected to be able to travel throughout the Lower Raritan Watershed, connecting most specifically with the Sayreville, South River, Woodbridge, Perth Amboy and Old Bridge communities. We are looking to fill this position immediately.

ESSENTIAL FUNCTIONS: The Lower Raritan Watershed Resilience Fellow will work closely with the LRWP Board, Middlesex County Planning Office, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Resilience Team, partner municipalities, and natural resources professionals.

Tasks will include, but are not limited to: 

  • Frequently meet and work with #ResilientNJ partners.
  • Support development of a Community of Practice for the Lower Raritan Watershed to share knowledge and build collaborative relationships to develop watershed-based solutions collectively with a resiliency focus.
  • Assist with needs assessment with partners to help identify the primary resilience issues that local communities are facing and their desired goals.
  • Work with municipal partners and others to complete assessments to help identify hazards and opportunities to increase community resilience.
  • Aid in articulating the vision, goals, and near-term actions for building community capacity and resilience to address flooding and water quality issues within the Lower Raritan Watershed.
  • Support partners and communities as they develop scientific tools necessary to inform decision-making around climate change, flooding and resilience issues.

ABOUT THE LRWP COMMUNITY RESILIENCE FELLOW: The LRWP seeks a Fellow who shares our commitment to inclusive and equitable engagement to create social, environmental, and economic benefits and bring value to all who will share in the region’s future. We seek a Fellow who brings big picture “watershed” thinking to advance solutions created in the context of the entire Raritan River watershed. We expect the LRWP Community Resilience Fellow to be:

  • A motivated self-starter able to work independently and exercise independent judgment to guide program development, communicating as needed with the LRWP Board President.
  • Able to make day-to-day decisions within the scope of work assignments.
  • A good record keeper, able to keep meeting records, including records of stakeholder involvement, in an organized manner.
  • A team player, willing to engage in a wide variety of additional programs or tasks related to the LRWP’s mission, possibly including general environmental education and community outreach.

MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS

  • Bachelor’s Degree in environmental policy or an environmental science-related field and 1-year experience or equivalent combination of education and experience
  • Experience building relationships utilizing interpersonal and communication skills
  • Experience working with common software applications (e.g. Microsoft Word, Excel, web browsers)
  • Ability to work independently and exercise independent judgment
  • Excellent verbal and communication skills
  • Excellent time management skills
  • Valid driver’s license

DESIRED QUALIFICATIONS

  • Master’s degree in public or environmental policy and or environmental and sustainability studies, water resources management, coastal and marine science, social sciences, or a related discipline.
  • Experience working in group settings with colleagues, stakeholders, and partners.
  • Experience coordinating a diverse group of stakeholders.
  • Experience with GIS software and data to create maps.
  • Ability to work independently and exercise independent judgment.
  • Knowledge of various ecosystem services.

Please submit cover letter and resume addressed to the LRWP Board and email to: hfenyk@lowerraritanwatershed.org

ABOUT THE LOWER RARITAN WATERSHED PARTNERSHIP: Founded in 2015, the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP) is a central New Jersey based watershed management non-profit dedicated to conserving, protecting, and restoring the lands and waters of the Lower Raritan Watershed. Guided by science, and in active partnership with residents of our watershed community, we create on-the-ground solutions to local environmental challenges. Current challenges include restoring significantly degraded lands and waters, protecting lands and waters at risk of degradation, addressing climate change impacts to our communities, ensuring equitable access to our natural spaces, and improving the health and resilience of our watershed while reducing energy and natural resource consumption.  Core values include: social equity and building an equal and inclusive movement for our environmental policies; a commitment to collaboration and the connections, creativity and contributions of our entire community; and a belief that all social-ecological systems are interconnected, requiring a “big picture” view of relationships and interactions to address environmental problems. We strive for a diverse and culturally competent team of board, staff, volunteers, and interns. The LRWP offers competitive compensation, flexible work policies, and a collaborative work environment.

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Our commitment to diversity includes the recognition that our conservation mission is best advanced by the leadership and contributions of people of diverse backgrounds, beliefs and culture. We encourage applicants from all cultures, races, colors, religions, sexes, national or regional origins, ages, disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity, military, protected veteran status or other status protected by law.

Eastern Potash: A Chimney in the Woods

Article by Walter Stochel, President Edison Greenways

As you travel on the New Jersey Turnpike and cross the Raritan river on the Basilone Bridge, look to the south along the Edison riverfront. You will see a large masonry chimney sticking up out of a forest. How that chimney got there is the story of an ambitious industrial project that started during World War I and was never completed as planned. Then World War II took the plant in a new direction.

In 1917 the lower Raritan River in Edison (then Raritan Township) had not changed much since the first settlers arrived in the 1660s. It was still mostly salt hay marshes that flooded twice a day with the tides and a few docks, for clay and sand mines to ship their excavations to brick plants in Sayreville, Woodbridge, and elsewhere.

World War I changed the riverfront in Edison forever. In the winter of 1917/18, the US Army acquired thousands of acres along the Raritan, and built the Raritan Arsenal. The Arsenal property was diked and ditched. A huge dock was built so that munitions could be loaded on barges and ships and sent to France for the American Expeditionary Forces. Upriver, a proposal to build a large industrial complex was announced in 1918 to great fanfare by the New Brunswick Board of Trade. The Eastern Potash plant was to be located off of Meadow Rd on former Callard farm, a 55-acre tract of land in the Piscatawaytown section of Edison.

The Eastern Potash plant was huge. A barge canal 100’ wide and 1600’ long was dug on the north bank of the Raritan to access the site. A $150,000 traveling crane was built over the canal so barge loads of greensand could be scooped out and moved to the plant for processing. The main building was 2 stories tall, 300’ wide, and 600’ long. A powerhouse was built along with 12 digesters. The biggest kilns in America would be in the plant. A brick plant was built on the site to produce bricks for the plant’s other buildings and for sale. Waste sand and clay from potash production would be used to make bricks.

The plan was to produce 1,000 tons of potash daily, using 2,000 tons of lime per day. In October the company expected operations to start by the first of the year in 1919. To access the plant, the Lehigh Valley Railroad laid two miles of track. The freight station at the plant was named “Greensand”. Greensand is a natural soil amendment also known as glauconite and is a great source of potassium that helps plants grow. The greensand that they were going to mine in the Matawan area contained 7-9% potash. Why build this plant at all? Prior to WWI, Germany shipped large amounts of potash to the US. With this supply cut off, American potash sources needed to be developed. In March 1919 ground was broken for the $2,000,000 plant. A man named C.R. Blood was placed in charge of plant construction. Excavators began digging out the canal on the north shore of the Raritan River.

Due to the war and shortages of materials work was slow on the plant. It was not until July 1919 that building supplies started to arrive, and in November 1919 Bethlehem Fabricators were hiring laborers to build the plant at .60 per hour. Little did they know, that the plant was doomed from the start. World War I ended in November 1918, much earlier than American military planners anticipated. When the conflict ended, trade between the warring nations resumed. By 1921 Germany had started shipping potash to the United States at a much lower cost than it took to produce it here.

Potash production at the Eastern Potash plant along the Raritan River required a massive effort of transporting tons of greensand by barge from downriver and tons of limestone by rail from North Jersey, then unloading and processing all of it. When the process was complete, bricks would be made from the tons of waste from the potash production process. A powerhouse with a large chimney was built in order to power potash production. The original plan was to bring in tons of coal, but the new rail line lacked the capacity to move the coal to the site, in addition to the limestone, and ship back out the finished potash. So, the developers of the plant came up with the idea of using oil to power the plant. An oil tank farm was built further up Meadow Road behind the plant, and tankers full of oil from Mexico would dock at the plant and unload. This operation became known as the Raritan Refining Company, a subsidiary of Eastern Potash. However, the Raritan River was not deep enough for the tankers. So, they had to dock at Bayway on the Arthur Kill, and oil was to be barged to the plant.

Billed as the “largest potash plant in the world,” the plant was highly touted in the New Brunswick newspapers with 58 articles mentioning the plant in 1920 alone, including large advertisements asking New Brunswick residents to invest, and promising their investment would yield heavy returns on stock. Artistic renderings of the plant were shown. Shortages of housing for workers were projected. Construction of the plant was progressing, with opening promised in mid-year, then late year.

1921 began with continued positive news about Eastern Potash. In February there were prospects for early operation of the plant, and work on the refining plant continued. In July the refining plant was ready for operation. The powerhouse generated electricity which was sold to Granton Chemical next door. By August there were complaints about oil pollution from the plant at the Tea Pot Inn beach just up the river. By the end of 1921, the lime kilns were completed and the plant cost $4,000,000. It had been three years since the plant was proposed, and not one ounce of potash had ever been produced.

The end of the Eastern Potash Plant began in 1922, with the appeal and non- payment of property taxes to Raritan Township. Contractors began to sue to get paid, and finally large stockholders sued, calling Eastern Potash a “stock swindling operation.” In 1923 Eastern Potash went bankrupt. One lawsuit by a stockholder said that the plant never “turned a wheel” and the president of the company was making over $100,000 per year. C.R. Blood, the construction superintendent of the plant, resigned and moved to Florida. Eastern Potash went into receivership, and a successor company called Building Materials Corporation acquired the plant with the plan to make bricks.

Bricks Will Save the Plant
Brick making operations started on August 17, 1925 at a rate of 100,000 bricks per day, with the bricks being used for buildings on the plant site. The Home News reported that the plant produced 150,000 bricks per day in 1927. The Aero Corporation announced in 1928 that they would be making airplane engines in the old potash plant, but this did not happen. Aerial photographs from 1931 show a barge in the canal, a pile of materials on the dock, and a loop railroad track around the plant. The powerhouse and chimney are also visible.

Thomas Edison Company Steps In

In 1932 the plant was bought by Metropolitan Concrete Co., a subsidiary of Edison Portland Cement. Plans were to use the plant to make 1,000,000 barrels of Portland Cement per year. In 1933, Edison estimated it would cost $500,000 to adapt the buildings for the manufacture of cement. In April 1935 it was anticipated that the plant would open in 3 months, but it never did. Despite nine years of planning work, the company did not produce any cement at the plant. In 1941, it was announced that the plant would be sold to the Chilean Trading Company for $134,000, who had plans to dismantle the plant and ship it to Chile.

Sailing away to Cuba

America entered World War II on December 7, Suddenly, there was a great need for steel and nickel for the war. The main source of nickel for US war industries was in Canada, but it was not enough. In 1942 a new source was developed in Cuba, but there was no plant to process the nickel. The Defense Plant Corporation financed Nicaro Nickel Corporation to build a processing plant in Cuba, but there was no steel available.

Along the Raritan there was the abandoned potash plant with over 1400 tons of structural steel in it and a large gantry crane. So, the Defense Plant
Corporation bought the old potash plant for $71,000, dismantled it, transported it by rail to Florida, and then shipped it to Cuba where it was used in the nickel processing plant. Even the giant gantry crane was moved to Cuba.

The new plant produced nickel, a material vital in armor plating in ships, tanks, and airplanes for the US war effort, and remained in operation until 2012. While back in Raritan the only thing they did not take was the chimney, which is still visible today sticking out of the woods along the Raritan River, a silent memorial to an industrial dream of the early 20th
century. To view a movie of the construction and operation of the plant, including the gantry crane in Cuba, go to:

https://archive.org/details/nicaro_nickel_company

Copyright 2020 Metuchen-Edison Historical Society go to www.mtuchen-edisonhistsoc.org for more information

The Eagle Has Landed

Article and photos by Joe Mish

It was a fine day on the river, blue sky, light breeze, air temperature in the 60s, and a perfect water level.

Having paddled several times a week throughout the winter in preparation for a canoe race in Maine, this mid spring post-race trip down the South Branch was a soothing balm to mind and body.

After the trout season opener, the South Branch was closed to fishing on Tuesdays during in-season trout stocking. So, Tuesdays were my choice to paddle and be assured no human company would spoil the sense of wilderness the river trip provided.

Though not in race mode, the smooth rhythm of my paddle stroke and resultant speed was mesmerizing as well as a distraction. I would zone out as if each stroke was a repetitive chant in a litany. So, for short periods, my attention would drift away from observing the world around me. Who knows how many deer or mink watched from the woody bank as I passed within yards of their position?

On a long straightaway, as I transitioned from hypnotic state to consciousness, I was shocked to see a very large raptor sunning on an overhanging dead branch under which I would pass. The sun silhouetted the bird as I traded paddle for camera and a chance at a very close photo op. I set the course with one hand on the paddle and the other holding the camera. Keeping movement to a minimum was critical as the canoe drifted perfectly into position. The bird seemed huge as the distance closed. I figured the ‘hawk’ would soon fly off, but to my surprise it tolerated my presence. I turned the canoe to face upstream and take more images. The ‘hawk’ spread its wings to sun itself but gave no intention of flying away.

For the rest of the trip, I kept wondering about the size of the bird and extra large beak, never thinking it was an eagle. Eagles were not a possibility, at least on the course of the river from Clinton to South Branch. Eagles frequented the upper Delaware and weren’t that commonly seen and never on the South Branch. Aside from no known local eagle sightings, this bird was primarily brown, and everyone knows bald eagles have white heads and tail feathers.

The closer I looked at the images later that day; it became clear the ‘hawk’ was a year-old bald eagle!

Even the celebrated nest at Duke Farms, discovered in 2004, was thought at first to be an osprey nest.

Bald eagle fledglings start out covered with brown feathers. Each year more mottled white appears on their body and not until their third year does the head and tail begin to turn white, though still marked with brown streaks. To see an illustration of plumage changes by year, check out avianreport.com.

My eagle 2011 encounter was a prelude to the construction of a nest on the lower South Branch of the Raritan in 2014. That nest has fledged eleven more eagles to cast a shadow over the wilds of New Jersey and states far beyond. Last year an eagle banded in 2017 on the South Branch, was seen paired with another eagle in Connecticut on the Connecticut River

Today eagles are a common sight along many of our major waterways. Given that the bald eagles’ characteristic pure white head and tail do not emerge until they are three and a half years old, juvenile eagles are easily mistaken for hawks.

Consider, you may have been given the privilege to see an eagle and not known it. If able to get a close look, see that its beak in comparison to any other hawk is huge. Keep an open mind to unexpected possibilities and know, for that reason, many self professed birders have missed the thrill of seeing their first eagle.

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 jjmish57@msn.com. See more articles and photos at winterbearrising.wordpress.com.

Weston Mill Dam Removal

Article and photos by John W. Jengo

The Weston Mill Dam and the former Weston Mill gristmill and sawmill site are located approximately 1.5 miles upstream of the Millstone River’s confluence with the Raritan River, and immediately downstream of the Weston Causeway (Wilhousky Street) Bridge in the Borough of Manville and the Township of Franklin, Somerset County, New Jersey. The dam crest length was approximately 112.5 feet long and there was a concrete approach apron that ranged in thickness from 5 to 6.75-inches that extended 17.5 to 18.5 feet upriver of the dam spillway. The location of the mill was depicted on early Colonial-era and Revolutionary War military field maps, and the mill and dam were picturesque landmarks that were often photographed by local residents, including images included in the book Franklin Township [NJ] – Images of America, published in 1997.

Through an intensive deed search, I determined that a gristmill and dam were established on the east bank of the Millstone River at the project area circa 1747, most probably built by Abraham Brokaw, and the mill was subsequently involved in a Revolutionary “Forage War” skirmish between British and American forces on January 20, 1777 while under the ownership of Abraham Van Nest.  Recovery of two cornerstones during 1983 salvage operations suggest major mill building and rebuilding efforts occurred in 1803 and 1844 by John M. Bayard and Isaac R. Cornell, respectively.  Though the mill remained active at this site into the early twentieth century (it was the most productive mill in the Millstone River/Stony Brook drainage), under various private owners and incorporations (Weston Mill Company, Inc.; Community Flour Mill and Grain Company; Union Mills Company, Inc.), and the dam underwent significant structural repairs between circa 1922 and circa 1948 by its last owner (Wilbur Smith), it ultimately fell into disuse and disrepair. On May 31, 1982, the mill building partially collapsed into the Millstone River. Mill artifact salvage operations were initiated on June 25, 1983 but were abandoned when arson claimed the collapsed structure on July 7, 1983.

When I first began assessing this dam in 2009 as a candidate for removal, the Weston Mill site included the brownstone and concrete foundation remains of a gristmill that had enclosed a turbine room (formerly the water wheel pit) and a tailrace room, and there were associated powertrain components scattered throughout the site, including multiple bevel gears, possible mortise and pin gears, sprocket gears, drive shafts, counter shafts, flat belt pulleys, and other mill-related power-train apparatuses. A concrete coring project conducted in August 2015 at five representative locations on the dam approach apron (the same effort that determined the thickness of the apron) revealed two concrete approach aprons, which suggested that the dam was reinforced or rebuilt with concrete in two different periods in the early- to mid-twentieth century and that this run-of-the-river dam may have been built on top of a timber crib dam of unknown age.

Routine visits to the dam site over the next eight years would indicate that beginning in 2015, the eastern 78 feet of the dam crest (i.e., the top of the spillway) and spillway began to noticeably subside and detach from the concrete approach apron, placing undue stress on the riverward mill foundation wall to the east.  By mid-2017, the collapsing dam crest and spillway had subsided almost to the level of the downstream pool elevation, had deflected outward some five feet downriver, and in doing so, the flow of the river was redirected toward the mill ruins on the east bank, potentially causing adverse effects to the mill foundation and complicating the dam removal.

The dam removal and the engineering plans were re-designed to include emplacing scour protection around the Weston Mill foundation walls to arrest the damage to the ruins and preserve the remaining fabric of the site for future study.  The first step in the dam removal process, which commenced on August 14, 2017, was to initially breach a portion of the dam to reduce the differential head between the upstream and downstream pools. The initial breach width of 35 feet, located near the center point of the dam, produced the desired upstream pool drawdown and a relatively low current velocity through the breach. Once the upstream impoundment had drained, the contact between the concrete approach apron and the riverward mill foundation wall was accessible to be saw cut to isolate the apron from the mill wall prior to further demolition. This was done to ensure that neither the weight of the demolition excavator or the vibration of the hydraulic hammer would destabilize the riverward foundation wall.

After the saw cut was completed, the concrete approach apron, an underlying concrete sub-apron, and dam spillway were carefully detached and removed.  Imported rip rap was then emplaced around the mill foundation walls. My experience working on the rivers of this watershed indicated that natural sedimentation from storm events would eventually blanket and in-fill the rip rap, enhancing the stability of the scour protection armament. Finally, a restored river channel thalweg were excavated and contoured appropriately.  It was during these excavations that segments of a timber crib dam, secured to the river bed by using 17.5-inch to 20.5-inch long, 1.125-inch square iron spikes, were extracted that clearly indicated that the pre-concrete dam structure was a timber crib construction.  Three primary types of roughly square timbers believed to be part of the timber crib dam were identified: 13-foot long lap jointed foundation logs with iron spikes, 9.25- to 9.75-foot timbers with two mortise joints (some with intact dowels), and 3.8-foot timbers with tenons at one end.  Several timbers of this historical structure were saved and donated to the Borough of Manville, Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park, and NJDEP, who had purchased the dam site in 2013 from a private owner, an acquisition that allowed the dam removal to proceed.

Monitoring of the river reach above the former Weston Mill Dam in spring 2018 following the August 2017 dam removal found definitive evidence of successful American shad spawning, an astonishing and long-awaited result given this river reach had effectively been blocked to migratory fish for over 270 years.  Five juvenile shad averaging 4.3 inches in length were found 4.5 miles upstream of the dam at the base of Blackwells Mills Dam during a monitoring visit, highlighting yet again the dam removals can yield near-instantaneous positive results even after centuries of impeding fish migration and spawning.

Video of the Weston Mill Dam removal can be viewed here:

Endnote: Because of the archaeological discoveries made before and during the dam removal, and the rich cultural history of Weston Mill, a standalone video on the History of Weston Mill was developed and can be viewed here:

John W. Jengo, PG, LSRP is a licensed Professional Geologist in several Northeastern and Southeastern states and a Licensed Site Remediation Professional in New Jersey. John works as a Principal Hydrogeologist in an environmental consulting firm in southeastern Pennsylvania. He has degrees in geology from Rutgers University (1980) and the University of Delaware (1982). Over the last 30 years, he has conducted the characterization and remediation of large, complex contaminated industrial sites throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. He played a key role in Natural Resource Damage (NRD) assessments that led to groundbreaking legal settlements to remove numerous low head dams on the Raritan and Millstone Rivers to restore historically significant migratory fish spawning runs. As technical project manager, he planned, permitted, and successfully managed the removal of the Calco Dam, the Robert Street Dam, and the Nevius Street Dam between 2008-2013, and the removal of the Weston Mill Dam on the Millstone River in 2017, along with leading the archaeological investigation of the former Weston Mill in the Borough of Manville and Franklin Township.

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