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.
Heather Fenyk, Ph.D., AICP/PP
Article by Billy Kurzenberger, Program Coordinator at City of Perth Amboy, Office of Economic and Community Development
The City of Perth Amboy, in partnership with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program and with funding provided by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), has launched several new projects in its community-based green infrastructure initiative, Perth Amboy SWIM (Stormwater Infrastructure Management).
Washington Park is the site of a new rain garden designed to redirect and absorb rainwater while beautifying the park. The park’s parking lot is now resurfaced in porous pavement designed to allow rain water to pass through the surface and seep into the ground instead of running off into our stormwater sewers.
Perth Amboy SWIM rain garden installation, Sept 7/2017. Photo credit: Perth Amboy Mayor Diaz
In addition to the projects at Washington Park, the same partnership is responsible for the installation of two other porous pavement parking lots at municipal parking lot C on Jefferson Street and municipal parking lot RDH on Madison Street. All of these efforts will help us protect our local waterways from nonpoint source pollution, reduce flooding around the City and serve as excellent educational tools for the community.
A Perth Amboy SWIM porous/pervious pavement Green Infrastructure project at Washington Park. October 9/2017 was the first rain. Rain water is allowed to pass through the asphalt & soak into the soil rather than flood the neighborhood. Photo Credit: Raritan Riverkeeper.
Perth Amboy SWIM meets on the third Thursday of every month at 10am and always welcomes new members! Meetings are held in the Brighton Avenue Community Center (56 Brighton Avenue, Perth Amboy, NJ). For more information, please contact Billy Kurzenberger at email@example.com
Article and photos by Joe Mish
If shadows and footprints were indelible and double exposures across time possible, you might be able to see Henry David Thoreau standing next to Joe on the shore of the Raritan River in New Jersey and the rocky streamside of the Kenduskeag in Maine. Each contemplating the wonder of nature where others might not see anything of value or beauty.
I always lived within sight of where the Raritan flows, the river being a reference point in my life. So embodied in my psyche is the river, that when at the recent 8th Sustainable Raritan River Conference at Rutgers, mention of the words, ‘Raritan River’ by one of the academic speakers felt as if it was me he was talking about. In reality the cumulative agenda was revealing the natural treasures hidden in plain view that I had discovered as a wayward youth and fondled as an adult through a newspaper column and photos.
The Raritan River basin drains about 1,100 square miles of New Jersey. The main Raritan River and bay is the summation of the North and South branches and their tributaries. I hunted ducks and trapped muskrats on the tidal creeks in season and for the rest of the year roamed the area exploring its history, geology, flora and fauna.
My interest in local nature only grew, as the gravitational pull of curiosity generated by this region’s unique natural diversity, drew me deeper into science and fostered an appreciation of its inherent beauty.
Years later I moved up river along the South Branch, fascinated by the thought of the river system as a watery highway. I paddled throughout the year and twice to Raritan Bay.
Eventually the South Branch became a training venue for the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race in Bangor Maine. Starting in January each year I would paddle an 11 mile stretch of river several times a week to get in shape for the 16.5 mile canoe race in Maine, which is held in mid April. I ran that race for 20 years, 18 straight years without interruption. Who knew this connection held a significant piece of a puzzle I didn’t know I was putting together.
At some point along the way, when doing research on the Raritan, I came across a history of Perth Amboy, a town located at the mouth of the Raritan River. Its list of astounding historic firsts also included a who’s who of famous visitors; Henry David Thoreau’s name was casually noted. That was very interesting, though just an isolated bit of information.
It was when I began to participate in the Maine canoe race that a coincidence hit me like a lightning bolt. Thoreau’s name came up again, this time linked to the Kenduskeag Stream and Bangor. The lights started to flash, Perth Amboy and Bangor, two river towns prominent in my life.
For those who don’t know, David Henry Thoreau, better known as Henry David Thoreau, or HDT, by his followers, is relevant today for his writings, diaries and environmental awareness. Among his best known works are ‘Walden’, ‘Civil Disobedience’, ‘Walking’ and ‘The Maine Woods’. An abolitionist and anarchist closely associated with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott and a lesser known association with Marcus Spring and Eagleswood.
Eagleswood was a utopian society established in Perth Amboy and the focus of Thoreau’s month long visit to New Jersey in October through November 1856. The visit was facilitated by Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson Alcott. Thoreau was hired to lecture the Eagleswood society and do a land survey.
I began to research Thoreau, Eagleswood and the Bangor Connection as I seemed to be a kindred spirit of Thoreau, as assessed by some that know me.
If footprints and shadows were indelible, HDT and I would have been physically bumping into each other. I wasn’t following in Henry’s footsteps as much as I was crossing them.
There is a great article by, Wayne Dilts, a New Jersey resident and member of the Thoreau Society who describes Thoreau’s NJ visit. Wayne’s article is found in the Thoreau Reader and titled, “Thoreau’s New Jersey Connection”; http://thoreau.eserver.org/jersey.html
Reviewing other sources for Henry’s actual diary entries for October 25th through mid November 1856 I discovered Thoreau had wandered about 2 miles west of Eagleswood, which placed him directly in the wilds I once roamed.
“Nov 2nd – Took a walk 2 miles W of Eagleswood – the quercus palustris or pin oak, very common there…”
Thoreau goes on to describe the plants, soil and topography he observed. One entry that really hits home are his words; “I see apparently the sea side goldenrod lingering still by the Raritan River”
This entry stunned me.
Here was a revered philosopher and man of nature, who transcended Walden Pond and Massachusetts to be embraced by the world and relevant for more than a century and a half to the environmental movement, said the magic word, “Raritan River”. This was the first time I experienced what I described earlier at the Sustainable River Conference, an independent discovery of our natural treasures hidden in plain view. My secret world exposed a century and half ago and still viable today.
A further look into the Thoreau, Bangor and Kenduskeag connection, bought more surprises and mingling of footsteps and shadows.
Bangor was at the edge of civilization in Maine and served at the trailhead for Thoreau’s Maine Journey to Mount Katadin via the Penobscot River with his Indian guide, Joe. Thoreau was later to say Joe was one of just a couple of people he most admired.
Thoreau also had cousins in Maine who were friends of the Pratt family. One document I read, and cannot now find as a reference, mentioned Henry and his cousin being invited to dinner at the Pratts.
As it turns out, it was the Pratt family in Bangor who hosted me each April during the Kenduskeag stream canoe race. The connection between the Pratt families in Bangor, then and now, seems to have been lost, but the parallel experiences of two out of state visitors in Bangor are wild coincidence.
“…….the impetus for Thoreau’s interest in Bangor and the northern Maine woods were his cousins Rebecca Jane Billings and Mary Ann Thoreau Billings, and aunt Nancy (Thoreau) Billings, who lived in the Queen City.”
The shore along the lower Kenduskeag, where it empties into the Penobscot River in Bangor, also marks the finish line of the canoe race. Coincidentally there are two mandatory portages around the old flour mill dam and a natural ledge which forces racers to carry their boats along the same path Henry walked.
“During his travails to Bangor, Thoreau often hiked along the Kenduskeag Stream and noted the plant and flower life along its shores.”
Henry’s last word as he died on May 6th 1862 was ‘moose’. Coincidentally my last word as I left Maine, after an unsuccessful month long archery moose hunt, was ‘moose!’, followed closely by the guttural inflection, ‘grr’. I waited more than thirty years to get drawn in the Maine moose lottery and went home with a consolation prize of 15 pounds of moose meat from a sympathetic donor, knowing full well that was my last breath of a chance at a Maine moose.
As I was finally completing this article, which had been simmering for more than two years, a hummingbird, the first one I had seen this season, flew up to the window, where I sat and stared at me for several seconds before flying off. I took that as a sign Henry was nearby and impressed by the coincidence of our footsteps and shadows.
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.
The LRWP is excited to be a part of “Citizen Science Monitoring for Pathogen Indicators in the NY-NJ Harbor” – a grant secured by NY-NJ Baykeeper to monitor local waters for pathogens in Raritan Bay. Funding for training and sample analysis is provided by the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Program. Volunteers are needed for summer monitoring, with training to start in May.
Volunteer civic scientists from the LRWP and Bayshore Regional Watershed Council will help the NY-NJ Baykeeper collect water samples this summer at sites along the shores of Raritan Bay & Sandy Hook Bay. The LRWP and Raritan Riverkeeper will coordinate sampling at the three sites in Perth Amboy identified in this map. Bayshore Regional will cover the remaining sites. Training will start in May and will involve field, lab and data management procedures. We will follow strict quality assurance and quality control procedures approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Our goals with this project are to generate high quality, credible data on the health of our waterways, suitable for a wide variety of users. This information can help government agencies and the public make decisions about water quality improvements, habitat restoration, and recreational use. Volunteer monitors will gain important science skills and experiences while strengthening their connection with, and care of, local resources.
We need volunteers (YOU!!!) to help. Do you have time this summer to collect water samples so we can learn about our River? Do you want to gain a new perspective on the Raritan and have a lot of fun? Do you want to take your environmental stewardship to a new level?
To volunteer please e-mail Heather hfenyk AT lowerraritanwatershed DOT org
(This opportunity is an especially good resume builder – perfect for college students!)