Essex-Hudson Greenway project expected to help sewage overflow problem

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — The Essex-Hudson Greenway project partners presented to the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions on April 26 about the project’s usefulness in solving infrastructure challenges for the region regarding sewage overflow. 

According to a press release from the greenway partners, the proposed Essex-Hudson Greenway project will help solve severe stormwater overflow issues that have long plagued communities in the greenway corridor. According to advocates for the greenway and the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, the project will help solve the dire infrastructure challenges that result in raw sewage infiltrating local streets and contaminating area homes and waterways.

The proposed Essex-Hudson Greenway project would create nearly 9 miles of linear park connecting Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Newark, Kearny, Secaucus and Jersey City. In July 2020, the Open Space Institute reached a preliminary purchase and sale agreement with Norfolk Southern Railway Company for property in Essex and Hudson counties for the purpose of the greenway. The purchase agreement has a sale deadline of January 2022. For more than a year, OSI has been working with the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition and the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance to advocate for the creation of the greenway, working with local, county and state officials.

“The opportunity to introduce green infrastructure solutions into the greenway project is a game-changer for local communities,” ANJEC Executive Director Jennifer Coffey said, voicing her organization’s support for the Essex-Hudson Greenway project. “The combined health and safety benefits along with the savings to taxpayers are enormous.”

“The Essex-Hudson Greenway will not only directly improve the daily lives of people throughout our northern New Jersey communities, it also has the potential to make this region significantly ‘greener,’” Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill said. “With smart and creative planning, this project will serve as a national blueprint for integrating recreational opportunities, green infrastructure, new transportation choices and expanded access to broadband in our suburban and urban neighborhoods. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we must get it done.”

“Much of the enthusiasm surrounding the proposed greenway is drawn from the potential for improved access to nature and expanded opportunities for recreation, but benefits such as greener options and the potential to integrate green infrastructure are critical to the long-term health of our residents and communities,” said Debra Kagan of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition.

Over the past decades, communities throughout New Jersey have had to deal with stormwater overflow events that occur when heavy rains overwhelm existing infrastructure systems, resulting in sewage backing up into streets, homes and area rivers. Throughout New Jersey, an average of 23 billion gallons of raw sewage are being released every year resulting in growing public health concerns and steep fines for localities, according to the release.

The greenway project offers the opportunity to incorporate stormwater management facilities into the design and construction of the greenway. Without any impact to the line’s use as a park and multimodal transportation corridor, numerous green infrastructure components can be incorporated into the project to help stormwater seep into the ground — including rain gardens, bioswales and high-tech cisterns. 

All communities along the greenway are serviced by the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and existing infrastructure in the adjacent municipalities includes numerous combined sewer overflows, which allow for the discharge of raw sewage into the Passaic and Hackensack rivers during heavy precipitation events. Including new stormwater management practices, with the installation of state-of-the-art “green infrastructure” in the construction of the greenway can help to alleviate existing issues with combined sewer overflows. 

In addition to addressing green infrastructure and transportation potentials, Kagan’s April 26 presentation focused on the environmental, social, economic and infrastructure benefits of a potential Essex-Hudson Greenway, as it is currently envisioned. The greenway has the opportunity to provide a resource for diverse communities that historically did not have access to public greenspace, while also providing off-road connectivity through some of the most populated communities in the region.