Tag: Daniel Cohen

Meet Mill Brook Streamkeeper Susan Edmunds!

Article by LRWP Raritan Scholar Intern Daniel Cohen

Highland Park resident Susan Edmunds is the first “Streamkeeper” for the Mill Brook, a tributary of the Lower Raritan Watershed.

LRWP Streamkeeper Susan Edmunds, a 30 year resident of Highland Park, lives adjacent to a tributary of the Raritan River called Mill Brook. During the time Susan has lived alongside the Mill Brook, she has become committed to the environmental sustainability of this stream. As part of a Rutgers Environmental Stewards program internship, conducted with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, Susan documented the condition of the Mill Brook through historical research and photography, synthesizing this information in an online “storymap” titled Mill Brook: Portrait of an Urban Stream.

Susan Edmunds will give a public presentation on “Mill Brook, a Tributary of the Raritan River Running through Edison and Highland Park” March 24, 2019, 2-4 PM at the Highland Park Public Library

Susan is a strong advocate for what she terms “a new understanding” by all stakeholders in order to remedy the serious threats which endanger the environmental viability of the stream. I walked along the waterway with her as she highlighted several major environmental challenges facing Mill Brook. These include illegal dumping of commercial and residential trash, and wash off of chemical herbicides and fertilizers from nearby lawns into the stream. This wash off is part of what is called “non-point source pollution,” and includes not just herbicides and fertilizers, but also animal waste, motor vehicle oil and other chemicals.

As we continued walking downstream, Susan told me that in recent years Mill Brook has experienced intensified erosion and flooding events. She pointed out the proliferation of driveways, parking lots, and walls — what is known as impervious surfaces — that prevent the natural absorption of rainwater into the soil and results in “stormwater runoff.” She then explained how excessive amounts of stormwater runoff exacerbates erosion of lawns and damage to residential structures, and also carries downstream pollution in the form of silt and gravel and non-point pollution.

Even before becoming part of the LRWP’s inaugural team of Streamkeepers, Susan has long been committed to restoring the natural beauty of Mill Brook. She regularly removes debris from its banks, and replaces invasive plants with native flora. In her role as Streamkeeper she has added regular monitoring and reporting on stream health. She understands that while her isolated efforts are important, care of Mill Brook requires a long-term commitment by Edison and Highland Park residents as well as municipal authorities.

Susan sees that inspiring a collective commitment to the health of Mill Brook is a crucial part of her role as Streamkeeper. Her goal is to encourage others to appreciate the Mill Brook as much as she does. She strongly believes that when residents learn about and visit the stream they will be motivated to care for it. In this sense she says she hopes her tenure as Mill Brook’s formal Streamkeeper will be short – and that her work will inspire someone else to become a steward and “Streamkeeper” of the stream.

Susan gave me examples of other stewardship she would like to see. For example, schools in the vicinity of the Mill Brook should encourage students to participate in restoring the waterway. And homeowners and business owners who live and work in proximity to the Mill Brook should treat the waterway as the living system it is, and give it room to serve as flood control and to allow for native riparian habitat (not lawns!) to become established. Susan believes that small steps like these will not only help ensure the environmental sustainability Mill Brook, but of all of our endangered watersheds.

Thank you, Susan!

Protecting the Rutgers Ecological Preserve

Article and photos by Daniel Cohen, Rutgers University junior

As a lifelong resident of Highland Park, and currently a student at Rutgers I have greatly enjoyed hiking throughout the university’s Ecological Preserve, a relatively pristine area located on the Livingston Campus. The Rutgers Preserve was established in 1976 as an ecological resource. Its purpose is to serve as an aesthetic, educational, and recreational area for the Rutgers community as well as for the residents of New Jersey. This 360-acre Eco-Preserve is the habitat of numerous creatures including migrant songbirds (warblers and towhees). It is also the home of the white-tailed deer. The Preserve is the site of native plants such as Spring Ephemerals and Jack-in-the-Pulpit, as well as Ash, Beech, Hickory, and Red Oak trees.

Anyone concerned with environmental matters in the Lower Raritan Watershed should be aware of the proposed Rutgers “Innovation Park” (IP) plan – an infrastructure project to be constructed adjacent to the Rutgers Eco-Preserve site. Rutgers has requested that the New Jersey Commission of Budgeting and Planning allocate $4.75 billion for infrastructure projects on its campuses as part of a Master Plan. Included in this proposal is funding for IP, a major project to be built on the edge of the Preserve. According to the Rutgers publication Business Plan and Implementation Strategy (2016), its purpose is to “promote research collaborations, technology transfer and commercialization, job creation, and public-private partnerships.” IP, an inter-disciplinary learning site with a goal of furthering environmentalism is well-intentioned.

However, a project whose mission is environmental may nevertheless be harmful to the Preserve’s ecosystem. A major building project occurring just outside the Eco Preserve’s borders may well threaten fauna and flora within the Preserve itself. The project will result in pollutants from trucks and construction machinery as well as in greater noise levels. Fossil fuel emissions, the primary cause of climate change, have already caused the destruction of species of animals and plants worldwide. Excessive construction noise is harmful to the well-being of animals and plants as fossil fuel emissions and increased decibel levels will not stop at the Preserve’s periphery. The essential question is to what degree, the site will be impacted.

If it has not yet done so, Rutgers must conduct a thorough environmental review of the effects of this infrastructure project. Although in the Rutgers publication there is an environmental assessment of the IP site itself, there is no reference to its impact on the adjacent Eco-Preserve. There should be a comprehensive environmental assessment regarding how the IP project will impact this area. Residents of Central New Jersey and beyond, including members of the Rutgers community who care about protecting this vital habitat, must be given the opportunity to interact with those involved with this project.