Cleaning up the Hackensack River: The Federal Superfund Option

Published On April 26, 2015 » 856 Views» By Charles Powers » Bergen County Rivers - protecting them and us
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On Monday April 13, Captain Bill Sheehan, the Hackensack Riverkeeper, led an animated Bergen Grassroots meeting. In a candid conversation he discussed his proposal for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to examine the Hackensack River from the Meadowlands to the Oradell Dam and determine its eligibility as a Superfund Site.

Watch the Riverkeeper’s presentation below


As widely reported in Bergen County media, Captain Sheehan, has very recently succeeded in getting the attention of federal officials who oversee the nation’s cleanup of contamination that creates an imminent and substantial threat to human health and the environment – the Superfund.  Does the Hackensack River system qualify; is this federal program the best way to clean the River?  That was the topic on the table for the 4/13 evening discussion led by the Riverkeeper with active discussion of it by the participants

Sheehan made clear that his  decision to seek this designation NOW was a difficult one. The factor that has prompted his latest effort is his decision that relying on other State, county and local processes  has taken – and will take – too long. Whether placing the Hackensack into the Superfund program will accelerate the process is, he acknowlrdged, unclear. Still, Sheehan’s initiative has, according to published reports in the Record, been well accepted by some local officials ( AND among the participants at BGR’sa meeting were many public officials (10 – including Bergen municipality mayors and Council people, a County Freeholder, a State Senator) former officials, activists and persons whose lives are directly affected by Hackensack contamination and flooding. Though no “vote” was taken among the participants, it was clear from participant comments that the attendees were largely convinced by the Riverkeeper’s presentation.

To be sure, many questions would remain. Were the River to be named a Superfund site, it is very unclear from where the resources to accomplish the required cleanup would come. They may well be drawn from the River’s many pollutors (i.e. those who are still viable), from the federal funding of the Superfund program itself or some combination.  It was acknowledged, however,that the Superfund program is currently not nearly as well funded federally as it has been in the past.

One related conversation at the meeting intersected the discussion of Superfund. The State, after years of being pressured to do so, has recently set specific compliance dates to address one major continuing source of Hackensack pollution, Combined Sewage Outflows (CSOs).  This action comes after years of discussion about the adverse effects on the River of the many CSOs, from which are released untreated stormwater and sewage.  These outflows typically occur  during and following storms whose precipitation overwhelms local treatment systems. The State DEP’s compliance requirements are certain to involve substantial costs to municipalities with CSOs.


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