Weehawken officials break ground on new $9 million additions to waterfront park

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Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, the city council, and others broke ground on a three-and-half acre plot this afternoon that will consist of swimming pools, basketball courts and even an ice skating rink as park of $9 million in additions to the local waterfront park.

Before the ground breaking, two heavy duty dump trucks were being loaded with dirt by a Komatsu-built excavator and then dumping it on the another end of the lot so that a bull dozer could push the soil across the lot.

“Today we broke ground on our addition to our major waterfront complex. It’s going to be a pool and additional recreation complex, and will eventually have a recreational ice skating rink and multi-use pavilion,” began Turner.

“Right now we broke ground on four pools, a children’s spray park and all the attending facilities you need: bathrooms and locker rooms.”

Turner credited the Hudson County executive’s office for making open space trust monies available, as well as funds from New Jersey’s Green Acres program.

The program was also made possible with funding from developers, who paid for recreational programs and activities in exchange for building along the waterfront, as part of the overall $9 million cost.

Turner noted that it’s taken almost 30 years to get to this point, and 20 years to break ground today for the new pools.

He hopes that taxpayers will not have to foot any dollars towards the new complex, particularly since after it officially opens, the space is slated to be a self-funding complex.

Once open, residents and non-residents will have to pay for a membership, which the mayor said he couldn’t provide an exact figure for at this point.

When all the work of the different phases is complete (the town hopes that the construction of the new pools will be open by next summer after construction work officially begins on Monday), Turner said that the new complex, along with some of the waterfront parks and fields that have opened over the past 15 years, will consist of 17 acres of contiguous waterfront park space, making it the largest park in Hudson County – next to Liberty State Park in Jersey City.

“Yes, we have 10 acres to the south of us that we’ve had for the past 12 years, our soccer, softball, lacrosse fields and track, and across the lagoon heading south we have a two-acre concert space, so when it’s all done it’ll be 17 acres of passive and active recreation, which we believe is the largest on the river other than Liberty State Park,” Turner said.

Turner questioned where else Weehawken could build 17 acres worth of parks beyond the waterfront, reflecting on times when it sat dormant without development for nearly 40 years.

“Everybody forgets that the waterfront was a major railroad and shipping hub, there was thousands of workers here and everybody forgets because for 40 years it was vacant,” he began.

“To begin the work that’s been happening here, we had to build up the soil here because it was six to eight feet below the rest of the parks, so we had to truck $2 million worth of soil in just to level it off, so it’s very expensive and takes a lot of time and energy, but if  everything goes well, we hope we can open it by next summer.”

With so many railroad and maritime companies operating along the Weehawken waterfront decades ago, surely remnants from the past had to be discovered as excavators and bulldozers cleared the land.

“We came across railroad tracks, oil tanks, gas lines and water lines. When the waterfront was built, it was built on fill over the last 100 years. The river used to go right up to the cliff. People just built without construction permits and there’s no plans to show you what’s there. But we pretty well checked it out and we think we’re in good shape, and work will start August 12,” Turner added.

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