When Woodcliff Avenue residents saw bulldozers in the corner of the vast James J. Braddock Park in North Bergen last month, they were furious that county officials were building a new recreation field without consulting them.
Apparently, in April, county officials had awarded a $3.5 million contract to Tomco Construction to build a 4-acre soccer/football field with 1,500 seats.
Lori Perez, a concerned citizen who believes that too much open space has already been lost in the area, asked last month for a meeting with Hudson County Executive Thomas DeGise and other county officials. The first meeting led to other meetings in which county officials answered hours of questions.
The county argued that adequate notice of the construction had been published in local newspapers, but North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco said that he did not understand the full scope of the project until construction had begun.
But a new problem has arisen.
As the dirt and rocks were recently overturned to prepare for a surface under the artificial turf, the county realized the land was contaminated by railroad ties which once were used for a trolley through parts of Hudson County to the waterfront. There were also discarded tires dating from around the 1930s.
May thwart funding
The county had received $1.5 million in green acres funding in a matching grant for the project. According to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Spokesperson Karen Hershey, the county did receive the funding for the field, but now will have those funds frozen until the DEP receives confirmation that the site is clean.
Hudson County Spokesperson Jim Kennelly said that cleaning up the area would take around six months, which would postpone the completion until 2010.
Kennelly said that the ground had creosote in it due to the railroad ties used being waterproofed by the chemical. The Hudson County Division of Engineering will get a sample of the material and begin a remediation plan for the site. They have not yet estimated a final cost for the cleanup.
Kennelly said that it’s not clear yet who the polluters were, and that the tires could have been dumped in the park when it was more heavily wooded.
Perez said she researched the history of the park and found that there was a train system that ran through it to the waterfront.
She wasn’t worried about the contamination, but is still worried about the overall fate of the almost century-old park.
Kennelly said that because they pollutants aren’t deep into the ground or an immediate health risk, they should be able to remove the soil and replace it with the subsurface for the turf field without having to add new soil.
Perez said her organization, which is currently named Friends of James Braddock Park, would have preferred to stop the field, but know that this is no longer an option.
The county believes the pollutants can be easily cleaned up.
Kennelly said that the county understands the residents’ concerns and said that out of the 167 acres the park, only 4 will be used for the field. He said that a chain-link fence will close off the field, which will only be used by insured recreation leagues for a fee. Landscaping and “passive areas” will surround the field, he said.
At one of the meetings last month, residents questioned Sacco because of letters of support he sent to the DEP for the project last year. Sacco said that letters supporting Green Acres Funding are often done without the full scope of projects being known. He said he originally thought the fields would be where underused baseball fields are now.
Sacco said he hopes there will be more feedback between municipal and county officials on future projects.
The ‘dust bowl’
Perez also hopes the county would fix the “dust bowl,” a non-regulation soccer field along Bergenline Avenue. After constant use, Woodcliff residents claim that dust not only covers their property, but makes it impossible for them to open their windows.
“It’s an embarrassment,” said Perez.
Kennelly said that the county, after building the new field, will look into getting Green Acres Funding to turn the existing field into a “passive” recreation area by planting trees, shrubbery, and grass.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.