July 21, 2010
NBC New York
Just What Jersey Needs, Another Swamp -- Well, Yes, Actually
By Brian Thompson
Fewer than five miles from Manhattan as the heron flies, a new swamp is being built in the North Jersey bogland that years ago was renamed the Meadowlands.
In recent years, TV commentators at Giants and Jets games would still call Giants Stadium "The Swamp." But environmentalists knew better.
Much of the marsh surrounding the stadium had been drained and developed over the years, or allowed to silt up so that the new land was pretty much good only for muskrats.
But a project -- described as the largest such one ever in the tri-state area -- is turning some 234 acres of silted-over wasteland into a brand new swamp that is expected to give a big boost to marine life in the Hackensack River and New York Harbor.
Recreating the Swamps of the Jersey Meadowlands
"It's the old story of the bigger fish eating the smaller fish and the smaller fish eating the biota (small marine life) on the bottom," said Gil Hawkins, 65, a lifelong fisherman and member of the Hudson River Fisherman's Association.
And with more room for the marine life that grows in the marshy, swamp-like canals that are being carved out of what is now called the "Kane site," there will be more food for the bigger fish popular with fishermen, such as striped bass and bluefish.
Crabs are also expected to thrive along the six-and-a-quarter miles of waterway that are being dug up and replanted with spartina, a marsh grass that's popular with the little critters looking for a place to live.
"We're bringing back all the natural functions, all the fish that used to flow through here and the eggs ... will all now start coming back," said Michael Rosen, Chairman of the EarthMark Companies which is the lead contractor for the 20-plus million dollar project.
"I believe it is the largest single restoration project to ever happen here in the Meadowlands," said Hackensack Riverkeeper Cap't. Bill Sheehan. And Greg Remaud of the NY/NJ Baykeeper said it is likely the largest ever in the tri-state area.
Sheehan noted this 234-acre project is actually a mitigation bank for transportation projects in the area, such as the new commuter rail tunnel being built under the Hudson River by NJ Transit.
"When this project is done, they're going to provide all the credits that are needed" for several transportation projects, Sheehan said.
The way it works is that when a contractor has to use an acre of wetlands, say for a new bridge or widened road, the responsible agency has to buy credits that help pay for two or even three acres of new wetlands somewhere else. In this case, that would be the new swamp being carved out of the Meadowlands.
But there are plans for more than just fish and birds, as important as that will be to the long degraded Meadowlands.
"It's going to be a very unique chance for people to get out here and enjoy things via canoe, cycling, bird watching," said Tina Schvejda, Executive Director of the Meadowlands Conservation Trust.
New habitat for birds -- 30,000 trees are being planted such as Sycamore and Swamp White Oak -- did cause a momentary problem for the FAA and the nearby Teterboro Airport.
"We had to be very careful about what we did because the FAA was worried about bird strikes," said the Baykeeper's Remaud. In this case, that meant changes to keep Resident Canada Geese off the site (they actually prefer open areas to trees).
Now, there are only the unknown hazards of what may have been dumped over the years.
Small amounts of mercury have been identified and removed from a handful of locations, according to Richard Mogenson, EarthMark's Director of Product Development.
Otherwise, "Nothing more than your usual car, shopping cart, tires and unidentified iron scraps," Mogenson said.
As to the urban and swamp myth that Jimmy Hoffa's body may have been dumped somewhere in the Meadowlands, Mogenson could only chuckle and say "We're looking."
Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY