The East Newark Riverfront Park that broke ground at the end of last week drew a who’s who of attendees to celebrate the effort along the banks of the Passaic River, which marks the first retributive action at the Diamond Alkali Superfund site, which was added to the National Priorities List in the 1980s.
Global chemical company BASF, which maintains its U.S. headquarters in Florham Park, broke ground on the 5-acre project Aug. 12. It’s the result of a first-of-its-kind restoration settlement with federal natural resources trustees to mitigate obligations associated with damages resulting from legacy contamination.
The work will convert a former industrial property into a park with green space and recreation options – including those that allow visitors to walk or bike along the riverfront – and wildlife habitats. The latter is a rarity, BASF pointed out, in dense, urban settings.
BASF said it expects the park to be completed in two years.
The project is a result of coordination and support from the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Borough of East Newark. In June, the U.S. Department of Justice finalized an Interim Settlement and Crediting Agreement for the creation of the park, allowing for the start of construction.
The Crediting Agreement will apply to BASF’s liability as one of more than 100 parties whose past activities potentially contributed to contamination and natural resource damage related to the the Diamond Alkali site and, to a lesser degree, the Berry’s Creek Study Area. BASF is the first potentially responsible party to propose early, proactive restoration to address a portion of these alleged natural resource damage liabilities. Under terms of the agreement, the company would earn $73.5 million in credit to offset its alleged liability once the project is completed, and if terms of the Crediting Agreement are met.
Under the agreement, BASF is funding the design and construction of the East Newark Riverside Park and arranging for its long-term maintenance.
“We’re pleased this property will be restored and returned to the community as a multi-use ecological space,” BASF North American President Tobias Dratt said in a statement. “Converting the vacant property to a park will benefit the environment and allows the public to connect with the waterfront by opening many new possibilities for recreation, learning and community engagement.”
The park is being designed to support biodiversity and will house pollinator gardens, a meadow, wooded areas and native grasslands. The setting will offer a habit to migratory birds, bats, butterflies and small mammals.
Among those in attendance to celebrate was First Lady Tammy Murphy.
“I am honored to join the residents of East Newark as we celebrate today’s BASF groundbreaking. The East Newark Riverfront Park is a welcome addition to the many beautiful parks and attractions that the Garden State has to offer,” Murphy said. “This park will serve as a gathering place for the community of East Newark and all those who visit this historic city. This project has been years in the making and I look forward to enjoying it upon completion.”
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez also cited the benefits the project will bring to the area.
“This new park will enhance the community and improve quality of life for residents and wildlife,” he said. “The park will bring residents together and allow families to reconnect and enjoy recreation and nature. I thank Mayor Dina Grilo for her leadership and ensuring this project gets off the ground.”