Category: LRWP Blog

Seeking volunteers for Bluebird nest monitoring at historic Elmwood Cemetery

If Bluebirds are considered symbols of happiness and progress, here is some happy news about New Jersey: we are first in the nation in expanding Bluebird population!

In 2018, five Bluebird nest boxes were installed at the historic Elmwood Cemetery in North Brunswick (the LRWP’s 2019 BioBlitz partner). Part of an Eagle Scout project, the nest boxes were placed and installed under the guidance of Laura Stone, a representative from the NJ Bluebird Society. Laura explains that a box that is not monitored may do more harm to bluebirds than good. “Monitoring increases the chances of success for bluebirds using the box. When good records are kept, it is also valuable for determining population trends”. Monitoring nest boxes is a way to understand problems birds may be having with predators and competitors, and to ensure that the boxes are safe and appropriately located. Without the proper habitat in appropriate locations, Bluebirds are not able to reestablish themselves in this area.

As a result of habitat loss and fragmentation, use of pesticides, and competition from aggressive non-native birds, starting in the early 1900s, populations of many native bird species like Bluebirds dropped precariously. In recent years, with human help in installing and monitoring nest boxes, these trends have reversed. Bluebirds are well suited to nesting in man-made boxes. They are what are known as “secondary cavity nesters,” meaning they historically build their nests in holes in trees left by woodpeckers. In the absence of woodpecker holes or other natural cavities, they will readily accept boxes. They also don’t mind being close to people, so boxes placed near homes won’t scare them away.

Bluebird nest boxes must be properly maintained and monitored weekly in order to increase the Bluebird population.

In order to participate in the Bluebird program, one is required to become certified through NestWatch.org. The certification is very simple. It only takes about 15 to 20 minutes to read through the information on the website and take an online certification test. Once certified, you will work with Elmwood Cemetery to schedule times to monitor weekly and report findings to NestWatch.org. The nest boxes are monitored for 10 months from March through the beginning of October. Anyone interested should contact Elmwood Cemetery Association President Eleanor Molloy emolloy@theelmwoodcemetery.com or at #732-545-1445.

Unlike some birds which lay only one clutch of eggs each year, bluebirds are prolific breeders, laying two or even three clutches of up to five eggs. This helps compensate for the low survival rate of fledglings due to predators, disease, and deadly cold and wet spells in spring. For more information on bluebirds and how to help them nest near you, visit the New Jersey Bluebird Society website at www.njbluebirdsociety.org. You can also see photos of bluebirds and hear recordings of their songs and sounds.

Ever Given – to scale in the Raritan!

With volunteers having removed hundreds of tires from the riverbed over the years, perhaps there is now room for the “Ever Given” to displace some of the Lower Raritan? The Ever Given’s WNA (Winter North Atlantic mark) indicates she draws 48′ of water below her plimsoll (a plimsoll is the waterline reference mark located on a ship’s hull that indicates the maximum depth to which the vessel may be safely immersed). There’s just about enough flow in the deeper spots at high tide to accommodate this massive ship.

Here we see how nicely the ship’s 1/4 mile frame nestles in between the Raritan Avenue Bridge (Route 27) and the New Street exit off Route 18 in New Brunswick.

With thanks to LRWP Board Member David Tulloch for the visuals. (created using https://evergiven-everywhere.glitch.me) #lookfortheriver

Woodworking for Women: Make Your Own Paddle

This FREE six-week woodworking class for women ages 13+ will take place at the Community Boat Shop downtown New Brunswick on Saturdays from 11am-12:30pm starting Saturday April 17 and running to Saturday May 22. Participants will learn several aspects of woodworking, including: preparing and laminating wood for construction; transferring the pattern and cutting the shape; shaping the shaft, grip and blade; sanding; and applying the finish. At the end of the session, participants will have a paddle to take home! Please do not sign up if you cannot commit to attending all class sessions. Registration is limited to six (6) participants. First come, first served.

Instructors for this session are Amber Hennes and Sarah Tomasello. Amber gained skills in woodworking through her work in theater design and scenic fabrication across the US. Sarah has taken classes in woodworking, and has been part of our community boat shop boat build since project inception.

Class sessions (registration for the April 17th session will enroll you in the rest of the series):

April 17

April 24

May 1

May 8

May 15

May 22

For more on the Community Boat Build. Many thanks to US Merchant Marine Naval Academy Crew Coach Derek Hartwick for project guidance.

A letter to FERC in opposition to the NESE pipeline and compressor station

April 6, 2021

Re: Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) Project – CP17-101 – Request for Extension of Time to complete construction and make the NESE facilities available for service by May 3, 2023, instead of May 3, 2021.

Dear Federal Energy Regulatory Commission:

On behalf of the non-profit Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, I am writing to express continued opposition to the NESE Project and to submit comments after Williams/Transco’s March 19, 2021 request for a two-year extension for the Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) Project Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity which was issued on May 3, 2019, and will expire on May 3, 2021.

Simply put, there is no good cause for FERC to grant this extension. This project will have devastating environmental consequences for our Lower Raritan Watershed and the Raritan River.

Williams/Transco did not demonstrate good faith efforts to meet deadlines. Williams/Transco did not encounter “unforeseeable circumstances” to begin construction.

Williams/Transco was denied the necessary permits from both New York and New Jersey due to inherent and fundamental shortcomings in their permit applications, applications which demonstrate their inability to comply with water quality standards. Williams/Transco’s applications were given careful consideration by the relevant agencies of both New York and New Jersey before being denied for cause.

After NYSDEC and NJDEP denied permits/certificates for the NESE Project on May 15, 2020, Williams/Transco did not appeal these denials, and they did not show any good faith effort to re-apply after addressing the deficiencies cited in their permit applications.

Simply put, there is simply no justification that warrants FERC’s consideration of this request for a time extension. Williams/Transco made inaccurate assertions by blaming market disruptions from COVID-19. Further, Williams/Transco inaccurately asserted that NYSDEC focused on the lack of need for NESE gas, then dismissed the “alleged alternative” to NESE that was proposed by National Grid. Additionally, there were no legal actions pertaining to these permit denials that could have been factors in Williams/Transco’s bad faith inaction.

Claiming that the denial was based on reduced demand for natural gas due to the impact of COVID-19 and not on Williams/Transco’s inability to demonstrate the Project’s compliance with all applicable water quality standards is simply not true. On May 15, 2020, NYSDEC denied the Water Quality Certificate for the NESE Project, noting that Williams/Transco’s NESE Project would not comply with applicable water quality standards. In NYSDEC’s denial, the section of Basis for Denial, which spans from page 3 to page 13, it is noted that:

-There was no demonstration that the construction and operation of NESE would comply with applicable water quality standards, particularly without the use of a 500-foot mixing zone for mercury, copper, PCBs, and other metals.
-There would be significant water quality impacts from the resuspension of sediments and other contaminants.
-There would be impacts to habitats due to disturbance of shellfish beds and other benthic resources.
-There would be problematic impacts within a productive hard clam area in Raritan Bay between Mileposts 14 & 20 which is considered both a “sensitive habitat” and a “critical resource area”.

It is also extremely misleading to cite Winter Storm Uri (February 2021) as a reason to improve the reliability and resiliency of gas service to NYC since that storm did not have any significant impact on gas energy service to National Grid’s NYC service area.

Since Williams/Transco did not act in good faith during the past year to rectify the deficiencies in their applications for permits from New York and New Jersey; since there are circumstances that do not support granting this requested extension of time; and since there is no requirement to directly notify impacted residents or businesses of this request with a short comment period that includes many holidays, the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership requests that you:

Reject this 3/19/2021 request for an extension of time; and grant the public an additional 90 days to submit comments about this request since the public has been highly engaged in opposing the NESE Project and would be impacted by your decision.

Sincerely,

Heather Fenyk, Ph.D., AICP/PP

President, Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership

Community Boat Build – March Update

Article & Photos By Boat Build “Captain” Derek Hartwick

See our events calendar to sign up for a boat build session!!

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!

Brian Smith instructing students in the process of cutting cedar strips for matching the centerline of the hull.
Volunteers learned the proper way to use a wood plane from Eric Marshall.

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.

Volunteers attaching the stern post.
Derek Hartwick, Robert McIntosh and Brian Smith following the application of the final cedar strip.

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!

The boat released from the forms at the conclusion of the sanding process.
The hull awaiting a coat of clear epoxy and fiberglass.

Spring cleaning in Old Bridge

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.

This video highlights clever use of a grapple hook to hoist tires out of a gulley and up a steep embankment – it gives a sense for the fun we have while “giving back” through volunteering.

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.

Flowers by the Big Green Door

Article and photos by Joe Mish

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

An Interview with Windows of Understanding artist Marcia Shiffman

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.

For more about Marcia Shiffman and her work, visit her website at Marcia Shiffman Art.

Please join the LRWP’s mailing list to find out more about how you can participate in the auction for Marcia’s work!

Requesting a Value Engineering Session for City of Perth Amboy re: Long Term Control Plan

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:

https://www.climatecolab.org/contests/2016/energy-water-nexus/c/proposal/1331631

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.

Sincerely,

Heather Fenyk, Ph.D., AICP/PP

IEC District Coordinated Volunteer Pathogen Monitoring Final Report 2020

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.

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