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The Nature Conservancy and Montclair State University Partner for Area-Wide Brownfield Plan in Historic Great Falls

17 Nov 2022 2:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Stephen Merrill Smith

On the beautiful fall morning of October 19, 2022, representatives from BCONE and LSRPA met with representatives of The Nature Conservancy and Montclair State University at Great Falls Park in Paterson, NJ.  The group met to tour the Paterson sites and learn about TNC’s plans to cleanup and redevelop the Passaic River and its shoreline properties throughout the Great Falls area. 

New Jersey Nature Conservancy Director Dr. Barbara Brummer greeted the group as it is gathered in front of the historic Great Falls where two billion gallons of water flow over 77 feet every day. Dr. Brummer introduced the attendees and turned the tour over to TNC’s Cities Program Director Katie-Rose Imbriano, and TNC’s Manager of Cities Projects Dr. Johnny Quispe.  Imbriano explained that Paterson is unique as the first industrially planned city in the United States. Alexander Hamilton and Pierre L’Enfant originated the idea of using three tiers of gravity directed water raceways from the falls for industrial power. A series of raceways funneled the water from the falls to power water mills and turbines at several factories in the area of the redevelopment plan.  The factories in this neighborhood produced the first submarine, the engine for Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, Samuel Colt’s gunsmithing operation, as well as a factory that produced more than 12,000 locomotives. 

The Paterson project has a commitment to serving 100,000 people by completion of the key projects envisioned for the area. During the tour, we were able to see only a small portion of all the projects envisioned. To accomplish such an ambitious goal, TNC has  partnered with Montclair State University. One project we toured was the cleanup and redevelopment of the ATP site.  Quispe and Imbriano emphasized that it is critical for the project to ensure planning for equitable conservation in the largely disenfranchised neighborhoods near the Passaic in Paterson.  Nearby residents of the community have less economic opportunity and lower metrics in terms of poverty and public health. So the project aims to make sure that the disenfranchised have the input into plans and ultimately the ability to connect to the Passaic that they are currently disconnected from, aside from occasionally being severely impacted by flooding (recently by hurricane Irene). With regard to the flooding, the state has bought out some of those properties, but there is a lot of work remaining. One site next to the river, where the project intends to build a Green Innovation Center, will serve as an expression of the history of waterpower and industry because the three-tiered raceway power system is arguably the most significant industrial archaeological site in the United States, if not the world, especially considering that the provenance of Hamilton is what drove it forward.  Because it represents such a unique interaction between the environmental and the historical opportunities, TNC and Montclair State want to make the Green Innovation Center into a world class historical renovation and educational example of the raceways, demonstrating the rushing water and how it served as renewable power in the 19th century. Moreover, the project envisions improved access to the riverfront, examples of green urban runoff buffer zones next to rivers, as well as an extension of the river walk. Quispe noted that just north of where we were standing the construction we could hear was where the river walk work had recently broken ground; the design is to stretch out the river walk and have it connect the Northside communities of Paterson. 

Additionally, Quispe held up a picture of a green street landscape already built. Quispe emphasized that this was only a subset of a larger idea to construct green streets throughout Paterson. Quispe mentioned the Green Team (which included a local group of Paterson Flood Fighters, Christian Brothers Group, and a water resources group from Rutgers University) that had worked on the Green Street demonstration project starting with St Luke’s Church on the corner and extending to a local school. He re-emphasized that the team was hoping to use this beautiful new green street as a showcase so that local people can see how to change a typical streetscape into green spaces with multi-modal transportation and utility upgrades. 

Along the tour we passed through the Tower Arts District where there is a lot of renovation for artist housing. Resident artists in Patterson have made this a center of revival for the arts in the city. Following the upbeat renovation and construction of the Arts District was one of the largest challenges that remains for the project; the junkyards directly next to the river where a green buffer zone will someday be.

One of the big challenges that remain is working to acquire an area known as “mechanics row,” which is mainly junkyards that have blocked off access to the Passaic River in this disinvested community and contaminated land and water flowing into the Passaic River. BCONE and LSRPA could help TNC and Montclair with this challenge, as well as with other aspects of the green streets included in the project vision.

At several points during the tour, especially during the presentation by Montclair State University President Jonathan Koppell, it became clear that the TNC and Montclair State are working with the state, the National Park Service, and Habitat for Humanity, and looking to bring in more partners. There is a genuine desire to involve the community in envisioning the great possibilities for Paterson and the Passaic River. This is another area where BCONE and LSRPA could help – to become partners in the project to help with community involvement. TNC/Montclair emphasized that they seek to solicit engaged community input so that the project ideas presented during the tour represent a cumulative vision of the community that serves the entire community.

A highlight of the tour; Barbara treated us all to an exotic lunch at a Venezuelan restaurant in Paterson. 

In attendance was Kenya Travitt, TNC Trustee; Jim Wright, Conservancy Council; Barbara Brummer, Conservancy Director; Amy Greene, Conservancy Council Co-Chair; Jim Shissias, Conservancy Council; Lisa Welch, TNC-NJ Board Chair; Anne H. Jacobsen, Board Vice Chair/Conservancy Council Co-Chair; Arnold P. (Arnie) Pelnado, Trustee, Candace Baker, LSRPA, Eric Olsen, Director of Conservation Programs; Katie-Rose Imbriano, Director of Cities Programs, Dr. Johnny Quispe, Manager of Cities Projects; Stephen Merrill-Smith, BCONE; Michael Salerno, LSRPA; Carrie VanDusen, Director of Philanthropy  

Editor's Note: BCONE is in the room where it happens!  If you get the “Hamilton” reference, read the article.  If you attended the Annual Membership Meeting on November 15, 2022, you heard about BCONE’s collaboration with other like-minded organizations.  Here is an article about ways BCONE can assist The Nature Conservancy  with a wonderful greening and redevelopment  project in Paterson NJ. BCONE representative, Stephen Merrill Smith, Esq., attended and authored this extensive article for you. Recommendations for BCONE’s assistance: with an area known as “mechanics row,” which is mainly junkyards that have blocked off access to the Passaic River and with  other aspects of the green streets included in the project vision.  BCONE can also become a  partner involved with enhancing  community involvement in envisioning the great possibilities for Paterson and the Passaic River. 

Posted November 17, 2022

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