Shore Patrol Targets Trash – Skimmer rids river of floating flotsam


Sunday, May 6, 2001

Hidden amid a floating mat of branches and soda bottles on the Passaic River near the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark was a boater’s nightmare: a thick beam bristling with rusted spikes.

But before it could gut a rowing scull or tear propellers off a fishing boat, the 25-foot-long hazard was swept up by an ungainly looking skimmer boat.

One of North Jersey’s latest weapons in the war on pollution, the S.V. Newark Bay is a 50-foot pontoon boat that gulps all sorts of flotsam, from plastic bags to pieces of piers, on stainless-steel conveyor belts and into an open hold that can stomach six tons of trash.

The skimmer boat, operated by the regional Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners, is a welcome sight to Tom Curry, who rows a racing scull out of the Nereid Boat Club in Rutherford.

Curry will never forget the day last November when his oar hit a floating log off Lyndhurst, flipping him into the icy river and slimy bottom mud.

“It’s not a pleasant experience,” Curry said last week after a vigorous, early-morning row. The tumble into the water was bad enough, but he also noted, “If it [a log] hits your hull, it would do some damage.”

“It’s like night and day, when they’ve been out there,” he said of the skimmer boat. “These guys are doing a phenomenal job.”

Dave Smith, who operates a marina for small boats in Newark, agrees. “I think these guys are doing a hell of a job,” he said. “It’s better than it was.”

Eyeing a tree branch floating past on the outgoing tide, Smith said he’d like to see a bigger boat that could take out more debris. After rainstorms, he said, trees and logs are swept downstream, sometimes jamming into his dock.

On the skimmer boat, the crew talked about impending delivery of a second boat that will enable it to collect more trash. Designed to go under lower bridges than the 13-foot-high Newark Bay can, the second boat will allow sweeping operations as far up river as the Dundee Dam in Clifton and Garfield, said Bob DeVita, supervisor of the river restoration program.

Shakeout cruises last year collected 70 tons of trash. DeVita aims to double that amount this year. In addition, he organizes riverbank cleanups by volunteer groups that picked up more than 200 tons of shopping carts, tires, and other trash last year.

Yet, every storm and tide bring more throw-away debris.

“Lot of stuff today,” said Don Sullivan, the boat’s mechanic and a Kearny resident who grew up near the river, watching the hull fill up like a miniature landfill. “This is a time you could use five boats.”

As the beam scooped up near NJPAC tipped into the hold, crew members recalled previous memorable catches.

The day before this outing, “we snagged a 60-foot tree,” said Frank Dunschat of Kearny, who was operating the boat from the captain’s chair, using levers that enabled him to swivel the vessel like a bulldozer.

Too big to pull aboard, the tree was towed back to the boat’s dock at the sewage treatment plant at the confluence of the Passaic and Hackensack rivers.

Originally designed to help New York City clean up trash that fell off Staten Island-bound garbage barges, skimmer vessels like the S.V. Newark Bay — bought with a $500,000 grant from the New Jersey Maritime Resources agency — are now operating in harbors and rivers around the world.

“We have over 60 worldwide,” said Lou Shenman, who heads a sales office in Westwood for the unusual boats. Called TrashCats, they are built by United Marine International, based in Wisconsin.

The crew skimming the river off Newark laughed about the time they scooped up a pair of mating snapping turtles and gingerly put them back into the water.

“A whole picnic table one time,” said Dunschat, as he maneuvered the boat to sweep in bottles, soggy clothing, a soccer ball, and other jetsam. In an opportunistic bit of recycling, the boat swung toward the Harrison shore and a crew member tossed the soccer ball onto a riverside soccer field.

“We pulled a telephone pole up once. It had signs on it and everything,” DeVita said as he kept an eye on the last of the beam being cut up by a chain saw wielded by Gary Manla of Totowa, wearing orange chaps and life jacket.

“I love being outside,” said Manla, an equipment operator whose job that day was to cut large logs and planks to fit into the hull space. “I was in construction for a lot of years.”

Without warning, a jagged tree limb being pulled aboard on the conveyor belt rolled toward his head. “Watch yourself, Gary!” Sullivan called out. A split second from a nasty blow, Manla turned out of the way.

“It’s very easy to get hurt here,” said Sullivan. Even so, he added, “It’s not only a job. It’s something you enjoy doing.”

Frank D’Antonio, a Passaic resident who operates a small boat used to aid the sweeper operations, put it more poetically.

“It feels good to clean up the waterways,” said D’Antonio, an avid fisherman who trolls the river on his time off, angling for bass. “I go home feeling good at night.”


(United Marine International is a subsidiary of Liquid Waste Technology, LLC®)


TrashCat™ clearing debris on the Passaic River

TrashCat™ clearing debris on the Passaic River


SV Newark Bay's Three-Man Crew Skimming the Waters

SV Newark Bay’s Three-Man Crew Skimming the Waters


SV Newark Bay shown docked at PVSC's plant

SV Newark Bay shown docked at PVSC’s plant