MIKE SMITH / NJ ENVIRONMENT NEWS – Jet passengers flying into Newark International Airport or car drivers zipping along the New Jersey Turnpike may not think to look down and notice the wetlands on the shore of Newark Bay. These urban wetlands, though often overlooked, are crucially important in protecting Newark from coastal storms, flooding and erosion.
The City of Newark received a $1.56 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore and strengthen the Newark Bay wetlands after Hurricane Sandy revealed vulnerabilities the community has to storm surge.
“Undertaking this project is a huge step in the right direction for the City of Newark,” said Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka. “We are always looking to improve water quality and flood resistance in our community. We are grateful to NFWF for the funding and look forward to great ecological outcomes from this project once it is completed.”
Carmelo Garcia, Acting Deputy Mayor and Director of Economic and Housing Development for the City of Newark, is overseeing the project that will restore 12-acres of wetlands. “This grant provides an opportunity for us to strengthen and restore the urban coastline, enhance habitat, and remove invasive plants that have choked the native wetland species,” said Garcia.
Industrialization has claimed most of Newark’s waterfront, but there are a few undeveloped spots that if restored can provide significant benefits to the ecosystem that will in turn benefit the community. The project, located in Newark Bay, includes the restoration of 12 acres of wetlands that have been degraded by severe shoreline erosion, rising water levels, and the invasive phragmites australis—the tall tassle-topped plant that tends to overtake shoreline native plant life and contribute to erosion.
There are a wide variety of water quality stressors in the surrounding area that include: industrial sites, combined sewage overflow, stormwater runoff from the surrounding urban area, and accidental spills of petroleum products and hazardous chemicals from nearby factories. The wetland restoration work will help to filter stormwater run-off from the city and can improve overall water quality in the bay. This 12-acre wetland restoration project is a great start, but there is more work to be done.
The National Weather Service estimated a four- to six-foot inundation of flooding into Newark Bay during Hurricane Sandy. By creating a larger barrier of wetlands to absorb the flooding, this restoration project will help prevent water from spilling into the city during future storm surge events.
One of the ways the construction team will restore the wetlands is by creating a living shoreline using rock sills, new sand placement, and planting new Spartina alterniflora plants after removing the invasive phragmite australis plants. These invasive plants have overtaken about 30 percent of the area.
“The thousands of salt marsh cordgrass, salt meadow grass, spike grass, and high tide bush plants, as well as groundsel trees. will provide high quality tidal wetlands habitat that will benefit wildlife and the public who will eventually be viewing the site from planned visitation locations,” said Mark Jaworski of CH2M-JACOBS which assisted the City in identifying the project and obtaining the NFWF grant.
Robert Fiorile of Matrix New World, the engineering firm responsible for the design and implementation of the project, noted that “native plants are the best way to bring in native wildlife like the yellow and black-crowned night herons, and other bird species that are rarely seen in Newark Bay.”
Another added benefit of this project is to protect the Newark Bay Bridge (of the NJ Turnpike) from further erosion. The footings of the bridge have started to become exposed over the years, and the restored wetlands will help prevent future erosion and potential damage to the infrastructure. This is extremely important for the city of Newark and its visitors, as approximately 65,000 vehicles cross the Newark Bay Bridge every day.
“Environmental restoration projects like this one are vital for our city, and we have many more in the works, knowing that this also impacts our quality of life and economic future as well,” Nathaly Agosto Filion, the City’s Chief Sustainability Officer, said. “We want people to know that environmental sustainability, water quality, and flood protection are major goals of the city government.”
This article was reported by Mike Smith of GreenSmith PR for the NFWF’s Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Program.