The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) held a public virtual hearing on sewer overflow improvements affecting North Bergen and Guttenberg this morning.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
NJ DEP Bureau of Surface Water and Pretreatment Permitting Chief Susan Rosenwinkel explained the hearing was regarding the renewal of sewer approvals for North Bergen, North Guttenberg, and Woodcliff since they have a combined sewer system.
The NJDEP is working with North Bergen to improve its infrastructure to handle flooding better and maintain water quality since they have issued permits for the construction of green infrastructure to address the issue.
“This is a non-adversarial meeting. The department is here to listen to testimony, we want to hear from everybody,” she said.
NJDEP Division of Water Quality Bureau of Surface Water and Pretreatment Permitting Chief Joe Mannick said the public comment period ends on February 13th.
He explained they have a combined sewer system designed decades ago for pollution and water control. The current system captures 85 percent of the sewage, despite the fact that 89 percent is required.
Mannick further stated that they’re working on improvements to get to 92 percent capture. To do so, several green infrastructure projects are in the works, including plans to decrease flooding that will be implemented over the next five years.
Mannick noted the permits were issued in December and then posted online.
“I’m excited to get started with the process. We ask that the permits be as specific and prescriptive as possible. In the past, when the guidance was released… there had been some confusion,” Nicole Miller, the co-chair of Newark Doing Infrastructure Green, said.
She also said it took a year to get guidance on past projects after permits were issued in the past and therefore didn’t like the current timeline.
“There was a 10-year timeline to be completed, and the green infrastructure was relegated to the last five years,” she noted.
Johan Andrade, of Bike North Bergen, noted flooding is a significant issue and also lamented a lack of transparency about the process.
“The only way I knew about this meeting was someone reached out to me,” Andrade said.
“How would the NJDEP ensure members of overburdened communities are represented in this process? Can we have the DEP have a requirement that the amount of raw sewerage released be publicly available?” he added.
While others were also opposed, some also spoke in favor.
“NJ Future is largely in support of this project,” Patricia Dunkak, of NJ Future, stated.
She wanted to ensure the infrastructure is well-maintained once complete, which would also help against climate change.
On another note, North Bergen Earth Talks volunteer Stephanie Martinez said the meeting link was inaccessible.
“Hopefully, there are specific and prescriptive guidance as soon as possible because … flooding is getting worse,” she said.
“We’ve had points in the past when North Bergen wasn’t receptive to green infrastructure projects,” noted Hailey Benson, also of North Bergen Earth Talks, who said her basement has flooded on several occasions.
Michele Langa, speaking on behalf of the Hackensack Riverkeeper and the New York/New Jersey Hudson Baykeeper, thanked the DEP for getting the permits out.
Suzanne Aptman, of Sewerage Free Streets and Rivers and NJ Future, wanted to strengthen language and not leave it open to interpretation.
“Will DEP be providing such a guidance?” she asked, adding that she also wanted more meetings to coordinate and increase public engagement and participation.
“Will the permittee be required to do water quality sampling … during wet weather events that generate overflow? How are you going to ensure the permittee is complying with all maintenance projects?” she continued.
Rachel Davis, of Water Spirits, said she has spoken to many people with repetitive trauma caused by flooding.
She exclaimed that this is an example of “environmental racism repetition through purposefully slipshod infrastructure.”
“We must meet the urgency of flooding,” Davis added, indicating that the implementation should go quicker than the outlined timeline.
“We really don’t have the time. The data is clear, the state is suing Exxon,” Davis noted.
Utility and Transportation Contractors Association Senior Director Dan Kennedy was another attendee who spoke in favor of the effort.
“We stand to support this permit. We’re encouraged to see a detailed schedule, we have got a tremendous asset in the State of New Jersey in the infrastructure bank,” he said.
He also pointed out that his organization is aiming to ensure projects going through the Infrastructure Bank are completed quickly.