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

13 Dec 2022 1:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Stephen Merrill Smith 

On the beautiful fall morning of October 19, 2022, representatives from BCONE (Stephen Merrill Smith, Esq.) and LSRPA (Candace Baker, LSRPA VP and Mike Salerno) met with representatives of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) at Great Falls Park in Paterson, NJ. The group met to tour the Paterson sites and learn about TNC’s plans to work with local partners to restore and create opportunities for public access along the Passaic River and its shorelines. 

Nature Conservancy, New Jersey Director, Dr. Barbara Brummer greeted the group as it 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. 

TNC’s Cities Program has a goal of benefiting at least 100,000 people through greening projects and supporting policy development in its two focal cities, Newark and Paterson. During the tour, participants were able to see a small portion of all the projects envisioned. To accomplish such an ambitious goal, TNC is working to support and partner with MSU, the City of Paterson, local leaders, and anchor institutions. One project we toured was the cleanup and redevelopment of the (Allied Textile Printing) ATP site. Dr. Quispe and Imbriano emphasized that it is critical for the project to ensure planning for equitable conservation in the largely overburdened neighborhoods along the Passaic River. Historically, communities along the river are prone to flooding, increasing their overall vulnerability. The project aims to ensure that community members have opportunities to provide input into plans and realize the benefits they wish to see within their community. Ultimately, one of the key goals is to connect communities to the Passaic River by creating public access and use nature-based solutions to reduce flooding impacts (recently by Hurricane Irene). Regarding 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, will serve as an expression of the history of waterpower and industry because the three-tiered raceway power system is a significant industrial archaeological site in the United States, 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, the proposed Green Innovation Center at the ATP site provide an opportunity to showcase 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. Dr. Quispe noted that just north of where we were standing the construction we could hear was where the riverwalk work had recently broken ground; the design is to stretch out the riverwalk and connect it to the Northside communities of Paterson. 

Additionally, Dr. Quispe held up a rendering of a green street landscape already that is currently being designed and slated for construction in 2024. Dr. Quispe emphasized that this was only a subset of a larger vision to construct green streets throughout Paterson that connect schools, parks, and the Passaic River. Dr. Quispe mentioned the Green Team (which included a local group of Paterson Flood Fighters, Waterspirit, New Jersey Future, and Rutgers’ Water Resources Group) had worked on initial design of the Green Street project on Fair Street. He re-emphasized that the team is planning to use this beautiful new green street to demonstrate to the community how practices such as green streets can alter a typical streetscape into connected green spaces that provide opportunities for integrating multi-modal transportation and utility upgrades. Along the tour we passed through the Power 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. 

At several points during the tour, especially during the presentation by Montclair State University President, Jonathan Koppell, it became clear that collaborating and communicating with all partners, including the State, the City of Paterson, the National Park Service, and Habitat for Humanity is key to the project’s success. 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 and MSU 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 lunch at a Peruvian restaurant in Paterson. 
In attendance were TNC Trustees and Conservancy Council members Barbara Brummer, Conservancy Director; Eric Olsen, Director of Conservation Programs; Katie-Rose Imbriano, Director of Cities Programs, Dr. Johnny Quispe, Manager of Cities Projects; Carrie VanDusen, Director of Philanthropy 

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