BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Members of the Bloomfield Township Council and Essex County Board of County Commissioners held a meeting about the proposed Essex–Hudson Greenway project on April 14, updating residents about the 9-mile park that could run through Essex and Hudson counties. The park would be built on an unused freight train rail line owned by Norfolk Southern, which runs through eight towns: Bloomfield, Montclair, Glen Ridge, Belleville, Newark, Kearny, Secaucus and Jersey City. Partnering with the counties is the Open Space Institute, the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition, and the September 11 National Memorial Trail.
“All of these towns seem to not have enough green space,” County Commissioner Carlos Pomares, a former councilman from Bloomfield, said at the meeting. “The opportunity to preserve a little bit more is always a very welcome sight. Not only will there be green space, but the ability to connect with other locations. If we don’t take the opportunity to jump on it now, it may not come around again.”
Essex and Hudson counties are among the most populated counties in New Jersey; Debra Kagan of the NJBWC said there is currently nothing like the proposed park in either county.
“It creates this kind of opportunity to create a green public space where people can not only bike and walk, but also can join their neighbors in a park space,” she said. “It would provide transportation alternatives, meaning this is a safe place to have biking and walking to commute not only within a town and between towns, but really from Montclair all the way to Jersey City. Being able to have biking when you don’t have access to a car is an issue of equity for many people.”
Other benefits include links to the East Coast Greenway, the September 11 National Memorial Trail and the Morris Canal; environmental design to capture rainwater runoff and mitigate flooding; and increased accessibility for people with disabilities. Kagan also said the greenway would give the counties the chance to preserve the wildlife along its 9 miles.
“There are a number of native plants, as well as invasive plants, along this whole corridor,” she said. “This is giving us not only the opportunity to enhance the natural habitat, but to introduce new trees and tree coverage, as well as to restore natural habitat in a place where it’s been destroyed.”
If the park is completed, its Bloomfield portion would be within a mile of four schools in town: Bloomfield High School, Fairview Elementary School, Berkeley Elementary School and Franklin Elementary School.
“There’s potential for Safe Routes to School, for recreation, for programming that the schools could use this space for,” Kagan said. “It would be very accessible.”
No decisions have been made about the design of the park yet; the counties are first making sure the property isn’t sold to a private buyer. Both counties have passed general resolutions in support of the project and discussions about funding packages are in progress with county and state officials.
The OSI signed a purchase and sale agreement with Norfolk Southern, which expires at the end of 2021. If a sale isn’t negotiated by then, the company can sell off the land in pieces. According to Dene Lee from the OSI, the organization has done several environmental and infrastructure studies in the last three years on the property.
“The purchase price is $65 million from Norfolk Southern, and we have this New Jersey budget cycle to put something together to consummate that sale,” Lee said at the meeting.
The Bloomfield Township Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of the project at its Nov. 23, 2020, meeting. The full meeting about the Essex–Hudson Greenway can be viewed at www.facebook.com/bloomfieldtwpnj.