Lyndhurst, NJ – Department of Public Works Commissioner Peter Russo can remember a day when swimming in the Passaic River was safe and fun, and the fish inhabiting its waters were good to eat.
Instead of letting it become a thing of past, Russo would like to see recreation and the river bound together as a wave of the future. Thus he is pushing for a faster and more thorough revitalization of the Passaic.
“If they clean up the river, it would be good enough to swim in,” he said. “We have fish and crabs in there, and they’d be good enough to eat, too.”
Russo, who has been involved with the Passaic River since he was a 36th District Assemblyman in 1967, is now part of the Passaic River Clean-Up Committee, a local organization dedicated to helping restore the waterway.
“We’re doing this for the young people.” Russo said. “In the early 1900s, the river used to have boat races and such, and there’s no reason that can’t happen again. Why not let today’s young people have a good life?”
Over the past few years, Russo has pushed for the removal of 15 aging, derelict barges floating in the river from Route 3 in Passaic up through Farfield. He was able to influence the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove three of the barges over the past two years, and with the help of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC), he’s hoping the remaining dozen barges aren’t long for the water either.
The PVSC was established in 1902 and is currently on a mission to provide community and volunteer groups with the necessary tools to remove trash from the Passaic River as well as Newark Bay.
“What we do is support volunteer groups by taking care of waste disposal for them,” said PVSC representative Robert DeVita.
According to both Russo and DeVita, there is no definite timetable on the removal of the remaining barges, though as many as five may be cleared out soon. Both men said they will do what it takes to push for the removal of the rest.
He added that the PVSC cannot remove the barges themselves because they don’t have the required machinery. What they do have is a skimmer boat they received through a grant, which makes daily trips out onto the river to clear away floating debris.
Russo recently took a trip out on the skimmer, a TRASHCAT™ from United Marine International, and said he was shocked by what he saw floating around.
“We removed a number of logs, and some of them were around 40 feet long,” he said. “Those logs destroy boats.”
It’s not just the Lyndhurst area of the Passaic that Russo is bent on improving. He said his intentions are to push for a complete cleansing of the river, which borders some 45 communities, including the cities of Newark, Jersey City and Paterson. The key to such a project, he said, is a concerted effort on the part of each municipality to clean up its own section of the riverbank.
“I really believe municipalities should be responsible for cleaning up their own shores,” Russo said. “I’m in charge of Lyndhurst’s Department of Public Works, and I make my men work very hard in cleaning up. That’s what the DPW of a municipality is there for.”
Excerpted from SOUTH GERGENITE by Ed Chupak, Staff Writer