New YorkReport

News from the MWA Somewhere in the Swamps of Jersey

By Ann Quigley 
Published: May, 2002

By Carter Craft and Ethan Yankowitz
Edited by John Bollinger

New Jersey’s Meadowlands, like most open space so close to a metropolis, have long been the subject of land-use debates. Behind-the—scenes battles between protectors and would-be wetlands developers continue today, with each closely watching the other’s moves.
Take the February appointment of two Meadowlands Mills mega-mall supporters ­ North Arlington Mayor Leonard Kaiser and South Hackensack Township Committeeman James Anzevino ­ to the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. If approved, the mega-mall could swallow up nearly six hundred Meadowlands acres in Carlstadt. If the state senate approves the nominations, “we will just be more vigilant,” says Hugh Carola, program director for Hackensack Riverkeeper.

“One of us will be in attendance at every commission meeting,” Carola says. “We won’t let them run roughshod over the commission.”

Environmentalists were cheered earlier this year when the NJ Meadowlands Commission voted to withdraw from SAMP (Special Area Management Plan), a local, state, and federal effort to balance development and protection of nearly 8,000 wetland acres. “The SAMP wars raged for over 10 years,” Carola says.

With holdings of over 1,900 acres protected as open space, the commission is the largest owner of wetlands in the Meadowlands. The commission recently added to its bounty by agreeing to buy 94 acres of wetlands from Bloomberg Radio for $1 million.
“Mills will probably get to build somewhere in region,” says Carola, of the Arlington, VA corporation proposing to build the mega-mall. “But there’s no way they are going to get a wetland. Despite the stumblings of the current governor, his word is good,” he adds. “He is sticking to his campaign promise” to protect the Meadowlands.

On another wetlands note, while Dr. Kirk R. Barrett doesn’t give a clean bill of health to the Meadowlands, he says its water quality is improving. Barrett, the Research Director of the Meadowlands Environmental Research Institute (MERI), the research arm of the Meadowlands Commission, is in the midst of a 2-year fish and sediment inventory of the Meadowlands.
Barrett and colleagues have been taking monthly fish samples from 21 Meadowlands locations, and 28 species have turned up so far. White Perch, Gizzard Shad, Striped Bass, Striped Killifish, Mummyichog, and Atlantic Silverside make up the majority. “The Meadowland fish community is abundant,” Barrett says.

The Whole Bay’s Slipping Away

A year after a blue ribbon panel of scientists convened to investigate the mystery, Jamaica Bay marshlands are still disappearing fast.

“They’re going at a rate of 5,000 square feet a day,” says Dan Mundy, a member of Jamaica Bay EcoWatchers and founder of the Jamaica Bay Task Force (JBTF), “I’m looking out my window and can see changes weekly and monthly.” Mundy first noticed marsh shrinkage about five years ago, and his observations were later confirmed by a NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) study.

Jamaica Bay’s whimsically named marshes, like Little Egg, Silver Hole Marsh, Duck Point, and Pumpkin Patch Marshes, provide food and shelter for hundreds of bird and fish species, as well as buffer Queens and Brooklyn shorelines from crashing waves.

But most of these marsh islands will be gone by 2024 unless we act quickly, says Mundy, who is frustrated by the slow pace of change. “There’s nothing in place stop the damage,” he says. “We need to add sediment to areas that have died off. We need to do some plantings.”
Planting Spartina grass, a type of marsh grass, may not be a miracle cure, but it’s something. “Something is better than nothing,” says Mundy. “If a patient is dying you try to do anything you can to save them, right?”

Everything possible is being done to stem the marsh loss, says Billy Garrett, the National Park Service superintendent for the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. “This is just the beginning of what will be a big project,” he says, involving understanding the causes of the losses, preserving existing wetlands, and restoring wetlands.

“There’s not a single point source to blame for this,” Garrett says. “That’s why we need to be looking at this as a whole system, and trying to understand it as a system.²

MWA Waterfront 2002 Conference: May 15

*The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance is a growing network of organizations and concerned individuals dedicated to helping this region reclaim and reconnect to our greatest natural resource—the harbor, rivers and estuaries of the New York and New Jersey waterfront.

The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance works through education, grassroots organizing and media advocacy to include the public’s voice and values in the decision-making that will determine the future of our region’s waterfront and waterways.

 Draft Agenda

MORNING SESSION: Hoboken Terminal, Hoboken, NJ

Continental Breakfast/ 8:30am
Welcome and Host City Briefing/ 9:00-9:30am

I. THE WATER/ 9:45am
Lower Hudson/ Harbor Lunch Cruise 12N-1:30pm

AFTERNOON SESSIONS: World Financial Center
SESSION 1/ 2:15PM­3:30PM
Break/ Harbor Expo* Opens/ 3:30pm -3:45pm
SESSION 2/ 3:45 PM - 5:00 PM
Reception/ Harbor Expo Continues/ 5:00pm
Awards and Closing Remarks/ 6:00 pm

Please note, this schedule may be modified without notice. For the most current information please call the MWA office at 800-364-9943. If you have ideas for topics that should be discussed please email us For more info: