In Secaucus, Pascrell, Gottheimer, & LaTourette announce intent to restore lower Hackensack River

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U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-9) and Josh Gottheimer (D-5) joined NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) Commissioner Shawn LaTourette in Secaucus to announce plans to make the lower Hackensack River into a “superfund site” to restore it.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

On behalf of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), the NJ DEP is formally nominating the lower Hackensack River to be listed on the national priorities list to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

LaTourette said the clean up of the Hackensack River is a historically significant asset of New Jersey and an incredible national resource that “has been left polluted for far too long.”

He also noted the work to clean up will be long and hard.

LaTourette said the river has mercury, PCBs, and other toxins and hazardous substances. Therefore, it needs to be studied before a clean-up begins.

“New Jersey is fortunate to have been the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. But that important and worthwhile industrial legacy also leaves behind environmental impacts that we must still reckon with today.”

LaTourette continued that he sent a letter to the EPA requesting it become a superfund site today, which will likely take  year or so to process, with the hope being that the polluting companies or companies that inherited their liability to pay for the clean-up.

“Let’s not waste time and money and more time while our natural resources are unavailable to the public,” he said.

Normally, it would take a costly lawsuit to get companies to pay for a cleanup.

Additionally, Pascrell noted that former Regional Director of EPA Judith Enck requested New Jersey’s input on the request to move.

“The answer on the other side was nothing. And that’s a shame. When the legacy of industry leaves its mark, it is up those same industries to clean up the mess they made.”

He also said communities have suffered while little was done to address the river’s pollution.

“We hope that once approved by the EPA, a federal, state partnership can commence the work of cleaning up this river. I know it’s a frustrating job watching the cleanup of the Passaic, but it’s gotta get done.”

He noted you could see fish lit up from mercury in the Passaic River, noting it was a joke in the past.

“Sometimes people lit up, and that’s how we find people in the river,” he said, noting that cleaning up the Passaic River met a lot of opposition.

“We will remain vigilant and will not allow any more inaction. This is going to be in the billions, no question about it, as any worthwhile project would be.”

Additionally, Gottheimer asserted that this project needs to be viewed as an investment.

“Sadly, the sight of dead fish and wildlife, not to mention cans and everything ashore in Newark bay along the banks of this river, have become far too common. It gives new meaning to, as Bill will appreciate, to the Jersey phrase ‘swimming with the fishes.'” Gottheimer stated, also indicating it should not be a partisan issue.

LaTourette said jobs would be creating cleaning it up and from tourism of the area once cleaned up, comparing it to the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, which has been revitalized as it is cleaned up.

“Through the super fund designation, this will bring critical more resources to boost our community effort,” Gottheimer said.

LaTourette also commended Hackensack Riverkeeper Captain Bill Sheehan for his advocacy of the river.

Sheehan noted they have been working on the issue for several years and that he was part of the effort during the Obama administration when the Christie administration was uncooperative.

“The boating public needs it. The fishing public needs it, and just ppl that enjoy the env and the outdoors, they need it. And I promise I will do everything in my power as your riverkeeper to make sure that we keep everybody on track and move forward with this clean-up,” he said.

Former Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, who represented Secaucus, was in attendance, along with other local officials.

The Lower Hackensack Rivers runs 23 miles from Oradell Reservoir Dam in Bergen County to Newark Bay across from Jersey City and Bayonne in Hudson County.

There are nine different superfund sites along the river, with New Jersey having the most superfund sites in the country.

As early as the 1920s, swimming in the river was banned due to health concerns.