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FACT SHEET - Hudson Raritan Estuary (HRE) – Lower Passaic River, NJ Ecosystem Restoration

Restoration Project

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District
Published Aug. 10, 2021

SUMMARY: The Hudson Raritan Estuary (HRE)- Lower Passaic River Feasibility Study was initiated in 2003 and was subsequently integrated into the Hudson Raritan Estuary (HRE) Feasibility Study in 2015. The feasibility phase has been completed and resulted in the HRE Comprehensive Restoration Plan (CRP) (Volume 1- 2016) which was adopted by the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Program serving as the blueprint and master plan for restoration with partners in the region.  The Final HRE Feasibility Report and Environmental Assessment (FR/EA) (April 2020) and Chief’s Report (May 2020) recommended the construction of 20 individual restoration projects, including two (2) projects in the Lower Passaic River basin (Essex County Branch Brook Park and Oak Island Yards). The HRE Recommended Plan will restore a mosaic of 621 acres of habitat that will reduce long-term and large-scale degradation in the HRE.  These projects were authorized for construction in the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 for a total first cost of $420,473,000 and fully funded cost (escalated to mid-point of construction) of $598,042,000 (FY21 Price Level). The Pre-Construction Engineering and Design (PED) Phase of each project will be initiated pending appropriations.  See the project placemat on the web link below for the specific restoration projects and habitats and engineering designs for each site. All documents can be found at: https://www.nan.usace.army.mil/Missions/Environmental/Environmental-Restoration/Hudson-Raritan-Estuary/

DESCRIPTION: The Hudson Raritan Estuary (HRE) is within the boundaries of the Port District of New York and New Jersey and is situated within a 25-mile radius of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. The HRE feasibility study area includes 8 Planning Regions: 1) Jamaica Bay; 2) Lower Bay; 3) Lower Raritan River; 4) Arthur Kill/Kill Van Kull; 5) Newark Bay, Hackensack River and Passaic River; 6) Lower Hudson River; 7) Harlem River, East River, and Western Long Island Sound; and 8) Upper Bay. The HRE- Lower Passaic River Feasibility Study Area is located within the Newark Bay, Hackensack River and Lower Passaic River Planning Region. 

The HRE and HRE-Lower Passaic River feasibility studies’ purpose was to identify and document water resource related problems, existing conditions and factors contributing to environmental degradation within the estuary and specifically the Lower Passaic River in order to develop potential solutions aimed at ecosystem restoration. The overall objectives of both studies were to restore ecological function and diversity that have been lost or degraded as a result of human activities. 

The USACE and multiple non-federal sponsors commenced HRE, the HRE- Lower Passaic River and four (4) other concurrent ecosystem restoration feasibility studies in the 1990s and early 2000s that focused on the restoration of different areas of the HRE.  In an effort to streamline parallel efforts, and maximize efficiencies, resources and benefits, the feasibility studies were integrated into the HRE Feasibility Study effort between 2013 and 2015.  The HRE Feasibility Report and Environmental Assessment (FR/EA) fulfills the authorizations of all six (6) feasibility studies.

Implementation of the HRE Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study’s recommendations will enable the USACE, its non-Federal cost-sharing sponsors, and other regional stakeholders to restore and protect lost or degraded aquatic, wetland and terrestrial habitats within the HRE study area. These activities will be accomplished by implementing various site-specific ecosystem restoration projects formulated within the context of an overall strategic plan.

AUTHORIZATION:

HRE- House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Resolution dated April 15, 1999, Docket Number 2596.

 

STATUS: The HRE Reconnaissance Report was completed in January 2001 and detailed a federal interest in restoring the HRE. A Feasibility Cost Share Agreement was executed with the NJ Department of Transportation (NJDOT) in June 2003. HRE-Lower Passaic River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study was a unique joint coordinated effort to comprehensively remediate and restore 17 miles of the Lower Passaic River and associated tributaries, Third River, Second River, and Saddle River. The study was initiated in 2003 through a governmental partnership with the USEPA, NOAA, USFWS, NJDOT, and NJDEP. The study was subsequently transferred in 2007 to NJDEP for technical oversight of completion of the study.

Extensive amounts of data were collected for the USEPA’s Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) and USACE restoration planning efforts and are available on www.ourpassaic.org. Much of the data collected for this multi-agency project on baseline conditions has been summarized in the USEPA Final Remedial Investigation and Focused Feasibility Study Report for the lower 8.3 miles of the Lower Passaic River in April 2014. Project sampling efforts included:

  • GIS Mapping Overview (2004);
  • Bathymetry and Geophysical Surveys (2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011);
  • Field reconnaissance of restoration opportunities (2004/2005);
  • Literature review of historic biological community data – in river (2004);
  • Hydrodynamic Surveys (2004-2005; 2008-2009);
  • Benthic Invertebrate Survey (2005; 2009-2010);
  • Low and/or High Resolution Sediment Coring (2005-2010; 2012-2013);
  • Sediment profile imaging survey of sediment and benthic habitat characteristics – in river (2005);
  • Side scan sonar (2005);
  • Municipality Surveys for Regional Visioning (2006-2007);
  • Restoration opportunities report (2006);
  • Hydrodynamic surveys (2005-2006 and 2008-2009);
  • Kingfisher investigation – along shorelines (2007);
  • Master plan review and municipality surveys regional visioning (2006-2007);
  • Reconnaissance of potential restoration sites on tributaries to Passaic River (2008);
  • Identification of Lower Passaic River restoration plant resources (2008);
  • Vegetation sampling, wetland delineation and bio-benchmarks- subset of restoration sites (2008);
  • Bioaccumulation testing- fish, crabs and bivalves- in river (2009-2010);
  • Visioning: 3-D flyover for future conditions (2011);
  • Avian community surveys (2010);
  • Combined sewer overflow (CSO) stormwater outfall chemistry (2011);
  • Surface water chemistry – in river (2012-2013);
  • Background sediments- above Dundee Dam (2012-2013);
  • Soil sampling at several upland locations for chemistry (2013); and
  • Bathymetry – in river (1989-2011).

Although significant amounts of data have been collected to characterize baseline conditions in the 17-mile stretch of the Passaic River main stem, limited data is available for the specific restoration opportunities. Fifty-three restoration opportunities were identified and were dependent upon the outcome of the USEPA’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) Superfund Program. The remedial action decisions have influenced the sequence and type of recommendations for restoration—i.e., near-term construction, near-term construction following remedial actions, or future feasibility study. The study area was also a pilot project to coordinate remediation and restoration of degraded urban rivers under the Urban River Restoration Initiative and was selected as a location in the Urban Waters Federal Partnership Initiative Program. The study was re-scoped pursuant Civil Works Transformation in February 2013 and subsequently integrated into the HRE Feasibility Study in 2015.

In parallel, the USACE identified a need for a strategic plan as a first step of the HRE Feasibility Study.  With participation of the regional stakeholders, the USACE and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey developed a Comprehensive Restoration Plan (CRP) that now serves as the master plan and blueprint for future restoration within the HRE region.  The CRP provides the framework for an estuary-wide ecological restoration program by utilizing restoration targets -Target Ecosystem Characteristics (TECs) established through a collaborative effort among the region’s stakeholders in 2005 through 2007.  The CRP Program goal was to develop a mosaic of habitats that provide society with renewed and increased benefits from the estuary environment. Each TEC is an important ecosystem property or feature that is of ecological and/or societal value including restoration of coastal wetlands, shellfish/oyster reefs, eelgrass beds, waterbird islands, public access, maritime forest, tributary connections, shorelines and shallow habitat, fish crab and lobster habitat, reduction of contaminated sediments and improvement of enclosed and confined waters.  The CRP provides a strategic plan to achieve the TEC goals, identify potential restoration opportunities and mechanisms for implementation. The Draft CRP was released in April 2009 and was adopted by the New York/New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program (HEP) as the path forward for restoration in the future. Following intensive public outreach, CRP Version 1.0 was released in June 2016.

The HRE Feasibility Study recommended specific restoration projects throughout the HRE Study Area, including Lower Passaic River, that advance the CRP goals and provide solutions for water resource problems. Feasibility activities included the evaluation of a subset of priority CRP sites including ecological functional assessments, preparation of restoration alternatives, engineering designs and cost estimates, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Environmental Assessments and Cost Effectiveness/Incremental Cost Analysis (CE/ICA) for each site.  In addition, other restoration opportunities outlined in the CRP were recommended for further feasibility study investigation which would require subsequent Congressional construction authorization.  A total of 33 sites were recommended as the Tentatively Selected Plan (TSP) in the Draft Integrated FR/EA released for public review in February 2017 following the TSP Milestone accomplished in August 2016.

The District had coordinated with the Vertical Team to address policy comments and completed additional tasks to confirm the TSP and ensure policy compliance (tasks included update of costs, ecological benefits, relative sea level change analysis and Planning Region CE/ICA evaluations).  Following completion of these tasks, the Agency Decision Milestone (ADM) was held on September 5, 2018 and 13 sites, including Dundee Island Park, Clifton Dundee Canal and Kearny Point on the Lower Passaic were removed from further consideration.  

Final feasibility level activities were completed for the remaining sites and the Final Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Assessment was submitted to HQUSACE on 11 February 2020 for review and approval. The State and Agency review occurred March 16, 2020 through April 15, 2020. The Chief’s Report was signed by LT General Todd Semonite on 26 May 2020 and was authorized for construction by Congress in the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 in December.

The Recommended Plan includes restoration at 20 individual project locations including two (2) projects in the Lower Passaic River (Essex County Branch Brook Park and Oak Island Yards). The HRE Recommended Plan will restore a mosaic of 621 acres of habitat that will reduce long-term and large-scale degradation in the Hudson Raritan Estuary for a total first cost of $420,473,000 and fully funded cost (escalated to mid-point of construction) of $598,042,000 (FY21 Price Level).

The Recommended Plan includes:

•    Restoration of approximately 381 acres of estuarine wetland habitat (including six miles of tidal channels), 50 acres of freshwater riverine wetland habitat, 27 acres of coastal and maritime forest habitat, 39 acres of shallow water habitat and 52 acres of oyster habitat.
•    Two fish ladders would be installed and three weirs would be modified to re-introduce or expand fish passage (24 miles) and control flow rate and water volume along the Bronx River.
•    A total of 1.6 miles of stream bank and 72 acres of stream bed and channel would be restored.

COSTS:

Feasibility Study

Study Sponsor

Study Cost

HRE-Lower Passaic River

NJDOT

Total: $9,000,000

Federal: $4,500,000

Non-Federal: $4,500,000

HRE

PANYNJ

Total: $19,702,802

Federal: $9,851,401

Non-Federal: $9,851,401

 

CONTACT:

Ms. Lisa Baron
Project Manager
P: (917) 790-8306 and 646-385-1429 (cell)
Email: lisa.a.baron@usace.army.mil
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District
Programs and Project Management Division, Civil Works Programs Branch

 

CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS:

 

NJ U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez

NJ U.S. Sen. Corey Booker

NJ-08 Rep. Albio Sires

NJ-09 Rep. William Pascrell, Jr.

NJ-10 Rep. Donald Payne, Jr.