Plans to turn a former industrial site into a public riverfront park may soon become reality for area residents. The Department of Justice today announced the opening of a 30-day public comment period on an agreement that would credit BASF Corporation (BASF) for its contributions toward the design, construction, and 30-year stewardship of a five-acre park at the intersection of Clay Street and Passaic Avenue.
The credit would be applied to BASF’s liability as one of more than 100 parties whose past activities potentially contributed to contamination and natural resource injuries related to the Diamond Alkali Superfund site and Berry’s Creek Study Area. BASF is the first of these potentially responsible parties at the sites to propose early, proactive restoration to address a portion of these alleged natural resource damage liabilities.
The Department of Justice, on behalf of the Trustees, is now seeking public comment to determine community support for the implementation of the crediting agreement with BASF.
“This innovative agreement will address injuries to natural resources from decades of industrial contamination and it will bring to life a healthy public space for generations to enjoy,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Justice Department is committed to seeking justice for communities who have borne an unjust share of pollution in America. This agreement brings lasting benefits to communities in the near term that might have taken many years of litigation to achieve.”
The park project would improve quality of life for communities and benefit wildlife by converting hardened industrial land into forest, grasslands, wetlands, and pollinator gardens connected by pathways and an elevated walkway along the Passaic River. If the agreement is approved, it is anticipated that project construction will proceed and the park would open to the public in late 2023 or spring 2024.
“This park will provide needed green space to urban communities currently facing a shortage of such spaces, and enhance recreational opportunities and access to the river, helping to connect people to nature in their neighborhoods,” said Wendi Weber, Northeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It will also create and conserve natural areas along the Passaic River that provide foraging, nesting and resting habitat for a variety of migratory birds and wildlife.”
While the crediting agreement does not address all the injuries incurred as a result of pollution, this early restoration provides significant benefits in advance of negotiated settlements or litigation that often take years to complete. The riverfront park restoration project and the natural resource damage assessment crediting is occurring separately from, but in coordination with site cleanup activities, which are overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
This would be the first restoration project associated with federal natural resource damage assessment and restoration activities related to the extensive Diamond Alkali Superfund site and the Berry’s Creek Study Area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are authorized to act on behalf of the public as Trustees when natural resource injuries have occurred. The Trustees support the crediting agreement and the project’s anticipated benefits of improving water quality, creating habitat for birds and pollinators, and increasing public access to the river — including both active and passive recreational opportunities for underserved communities disproportionately impacted by pollution.
“The industrial activities of these working waterways have a legacy of pollution that disproportionately affects underserved communities,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, NOAA National Ocean Service director. “This five-acre riverside park represents an important first step in restoring both lost ecosystem function and lost recreational use for the surrounding community. NOAA is pleased to join with industry and our local and federal partners on this effort.”
An Early Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment for the proposed park project was issued by the Trustees in July 2021 following public comment and review. Throughout this process, the Trustees have solicited and responded to public comments with respect to the proposed project. The crediting agreement, the next step in the process, is the binding and funding mechanism that implements the Final Early Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment for the proposed park.
When the project is completed, under the terms of the crediting agreement, BASF would earn $73.5 million in credit that can be used to partially offset the company’s alleged liability for natural resource damages under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act concerning the Diamond Alkali Superfund site and the nearby Berry’s Creek Study Area. The Trustees anticipate that this project will serve as a model as other potentially responsible parties consider proactively addressing natural resource damage liabilities.
The crediting agreement will be available for public comment for 30 days through July 7, 2022. Upon consideration of public input, the Justice Department will determine whether to implement the crediting agreement. The proposed agreement may be examined and downloaded at this website: www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.
Comments should be addressed to the Assistant Attorney General, Environment and Natural Resources Division, and should refer to In Re BASF and Trustees Interim Settlement Agreement, D.J. Ref. No. 90-11-3-07683/14. Comments on the proposal may be submitted through July 7, 2022 by e-mail or by mail:
(1) By e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(2) By hard copy: Assistant Attorney General
U.S. DOJ – ENRD
P.O. Box 7611
Washington, D.C. 20044-7611
A virtual public information meeting will be held on the evening of June 15, 2022, with an in-person meeting to be held on evening of June 28.
More information on the upcoming meetings, the park project, the crediting agreement, natural resource damage assessment process, and the role of the Trustees can be found at: https://darrp.noaa.gov/EastNewarkRiverfrontPark.
The Justice Department will evaluate all information received during the comment period and will announce a final decision in early August.