From the Great Falls thundering
into the city of Paterson, the Passaic River continues north, reversing itself at
Hawthorne where it flows about 25 miles to Newark Bay. At the Paterson/Hawthorne/Fairlawn
point -- it becomes the boundary between Passaic and Bergen Counties and between Essex and
Hudson Counties. Flowing downstream from Hawthorne, the river has been dammed at Garfield
& Clifton, creating Dundee Lake. Below the dam at Garfield, the Saddle River joins the
Passaic and flows through heavily industrialized and residential areas of Bergen, Hudson
and Essex Counties.
Hundreds of jobs could be swept away, along with a key backup to New Jersey's drought-stricken water supplies, if a plan to lower the lake behind Dundee Dam goes through, critics say.
Citing safety concerns over the 143-year-old Passaic River dam, federal officials have ordered the water behind it taken down by 2½ feet this summer. Eventually, they want the stone dam to be permanently lowered.
Dundee Lake, the pool behind the 20-foot tall dam, is a water source for both Marcal Paper Mills Inc. and Garden State Paper. The mills say lowering it would cost them dearly - especially Garden State, which is struggling to reopen its Garfield plant after the bankruptcy of its infamous owner, Enron.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, say Dundee Lake could be an emergency water source this year if drought problems continue. Shrinking it makes even less sense during the state's worst water crisis in decades, they warn.
"It amazes me that no one is saying, 'Hey, we have a drought condition. What happens during this summer?" said Nick Marcalus, whose family-owned paper-products giant employs 1,000 people in Elmwood Park, upstream from the dam. "This is going to happen, and after it happens, I think a lot of people are going to be sorry that they didn't have more understanding of what the impact is."
Federal and state agencies consider the aging dam a "high hazard" that needs to be fixed soon. A 1997 federal report questioned the dam's "stability" and noted that a spillway meant to release excess water was undersized, raising the risk of flooding on Route 21 or in surrounding communities. A 2001 follow-up inspection found the problems remained, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
United Water, the Bergen County water supplier that co-owns the dam, says there's no immediate danger of the dam collapsing. But a letter last week from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that ordered the lowering, warned that the structure was "inadequate" even under normal conditions.
The order to fix the dam comes as state officials have complained about leaks, broken pumps, and other problems throughout the state's water supply infrastructure as New Jersey battles its worst water crisis in decades.
While Dundee Lake probably wouldn't be used for drinking water, in a pinch it could supply industries or firefighters, some say. The state's Water Supply Advisory Council - a panel of environmentalists, water suppliers, and other experts -added its concerns on Friday, urging that the lowering be delayed until after the current drought.
Marcal, meanwhile, says it would need to spend $400,000 to $700,000 to reconfigure a pipeline that dips into the river, if the lake is lowered. Garden State Paper says it's in more dire straits. The company closed last fall after Enron's collapse, taking 250 jobs with it. Lowering the dam would destroy its water supply and hamstring any hopes of reopening, city officials say.
"We're just trying to do everything in our power to get Garden State Paper up and running again," Mayor Frank Calandriello said. "Lowering Dundee Dam couldn't come at a worse time."
The federal energy commission had ordered the drawdown to begin by April 23. But Enron has sought a delay in bankruptcy court, arguing that the project could jeopardize the possible sale of Garden State to an as-yet-unnamed buyer.
As a result, the deadline was extended by a month. But it will be the last delay, the energy agency warned in a memo last week. It regulates Dundee Dam because the dam once generated electricity.
United Water, which proposed the lowering and manages the dam, says it's seeking a solution that harms no one. But the federal orders leave it little choice, spokesman Kevin Doell said.
"We understand the issues with regard to the economics of Marcal," Doell said last week. "Naturally, those issues of cost also apply to both water companies and their customers in terms of looking for a responsible way for taking care of the problem."
The utility owns the dam with its fellow water supplier, the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission. United Water initially hoped to finish lowering the water by Sept. 30. The dam itself would be lowered 2½ feet sometime after that.
Older than Garfield itself, the Dundee Dam curves 450 feet across the Passaic to the far shore in Clifton, near a historic spot where British forces forded the river in pursuit of retreating Colonial troops in 1776.
When New Jersey Gov. William Newell laid the dam's cornerstone in 1859, observers called it one of the state's manmade wonders.
The project had an inauspicious beginning, nonetheless. The nearby Dundee Canal, dug to improve navigation on the river, saw all of one ship before its owners declared bankruptcy two years later. Eventually, though, the dam attracted industries that drew power from water rushing through the canal.
Now, however, both federal and state regulators call the dam a safety hazard. To get the 30-day extension from FERC, the utilities proposed several interim measures, including biweekly inspections, continuous electronic monitoring of water levels, and more coordination with the National Weather Service to anticipate flooding. On Tuesday, United Water employees will gather in a conference room for a "table-top" drill that simulates everything from leaks in the dam to a terrorist plane attack.
But Doell, United Water's spokesman, insisted the dam is safe. "The dam's quite strong, but it's just not in accord with federal standards," he said.
Marcalus, the Marcal president, agreed the dam may have to be lowered permanently - just not now, during a drought.
Normally, Dundee Dam holds back an additional 14 feet of Passaic River water. But this year's drought has lowered levels on both sides of the dam already. Siphoning off another 2½ feet makes it more likely Marcal won't be able to pump all the water it needs, he said.
And while safety concerns may exist, they're not the sole reason for shaving off part of the dam, Marcalus added. That is simply the cheapest option for the utilities, if not necessarily for the paper mills, he said.
Company attorney Charles V. Bonin said Marcal was being forced to pay for the dam owners' "fiscal mismanagement." But Doell said lowering the dam was the only responsible move. Repairing it at the same height would cost twice as much, he said, declining to give exact figures.
Along with the economic worries, the Passaic River Coalition, an environmental group, has raised other concerns. Shrinking the lake could dry up habitat along the shores that supports wildlife, said the group's leader, Ella Filippone.
A spokeswoman for the energy commission said the agency has not approved permanent changes to the dam yet, just the temporary drawdown. Because the decision is still pending, the agency won't comment on the controversy, Celeste Miller said.
The final ruling will require a detailed study of environmental impacts, she said.
State environmental officials say they're concerned about the potential impacts as well and are studying the issue. But New Jersey has not taken a position on Dundee Dam, said a DEP spokeswoman.
That's little satisfaction to Marcalus, who says state, local, and federal officials have been "remiss" in letting the project go forward.
"We are hoping that cooler heads prevail and that we don't have to resort to legal resources," he said. "But I think we have a situation that's out of control."
Source: The Record
The Record, 11/30/2003.
Dam to get $3 million
Congressman Steve Rothman
Announce Plan To Clean & Restore Passaic River
Newark, NJ - In an effort to improve the environment, enhance the quality of life for local residents, and boost the region's economy, Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ9) today helped announce a major new, federal initiative to clean and restore the Passaic River. Rothman was joined by Congressmen Bob Menendez (D-NJ13), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ8), Donald Payne (D-NJ10), and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11), along with local elected officials for the official announcement of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) and the Army Corps' selection of the Lower Passaic River as one of eight pilot projects in a new initiative to cleanup urban degraded rivers, while holding polluters accountable, called the Urban River Restoration Initiative (URRI),
"This federal designation and study agreement mark a new beginning in our efforts to revitalize the historic cities and towns that lie along the lower Passaic River's edge. A cleaned-up Passaic River will bring new business to these communities, giving the region's economy a shot in the arm and improving residents' quality of life," Rothman said. "That said, as this historic initiative moves forward, the EPA and Army Corps must ensure that the parties who discharged literally tons of deadly toxins and industrial contaminants into the river are held accountable for their actions and are made to pay the costs of the river's cleanup."
The new program on the Passaic, termed the Passaic River Restoration Initiative (PRRI), is aimed at finding and implementing comprehensive solutions to the complex contamination problems facing 17 miles of the lower Passaic River between Newark Bay and the Dundee Dam in Garfield. A study of the best way to clean the Passaic River will be first conducted, followed by the actual restoration.
"As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I look forward to doing my part in the months and years ahead to ensure that the resources of the federal government are brought to bear on the effort to clean up the Passaic River and the efforts to hold the polluters responsible," Rothman said. "By bringing in these federal agencies and federal money to clean the Passaic River, we are not only cleaning up our environment and making our communities more attractive to new residents and businesses, we are sparing local property taxpayers from the cost of this study and cleanup."
The PRRI will be managed jointly by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, and New Jersey Office of Maritime Resources, working in conjunction with the Department of the Interior, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Source: Congressman Steve Rothman
, Press Release October 20, 2003
Herald News - 11/30/2003
Duch said there have never been problems with Dundee Dam - it has weathered, among other things, multiple floods and Tropical Storm Floyd.
By next April, the dam is set for upgrades that will bring it into compliance with state and federal requirements.
"Standards are more stringent than when it was built 150 years ago, when there were no standards," said Emad Sidhom, a senior project engineer at United Water, a private company that owns half the dam. The North Jersey District Water Supply Commission, a state agency, owns the other half, he said.
Among other upgrades, the dam's face will be restructured. Forty-foot steel rods will be bored into the bedrock below, anchoring the structure in place.
"We're practically tightening the dam onto the rock," Sidhom said. "We know it's a damn good dam."
Sidhom said that none of the work will require lowering the water or the dam. It will take seven to eight months to finish, and Sidhom estimated the cost at about $3 million - which would come from grants being sought.
Dundee Dam was built to create the Dundee Canal, which travels through Clifton, Passaic, and Paterson.
Source: Hearld News
Source: American Rivers
1998 List of
Nation's Most Endangered Rivers Released Today by American Rivers
(Washington, D.C.)-- The Passaic
River in New Jersey was named today one of the twenty most endangered rivers in the
country by American Rivers, the nation's leading river conservation group.
According to the EPA, dioxin and
related chemicals cause a range of negative health effects, including reproductive and
immune system disorders, impairment of fetal development, and cancer. Approximately 40,000
people live within one mile of the Diamond Alkali site; 37,000 live within three miles.