Friday, February 25, 2011

Preventing Damage, Creating Assurance

By Jessica Vasquez

In 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers built floodgates at the Pompton Lake Dam on the Ramapo River in order to ease flooding into Oakland upstream. Such a reversal of the water flow is due to water backing up from the dam when there is an overabundance of rain or snow. With this winter’s record breaking snowfalls, the floodgates have become a concern once again with residents near the Ramapo River, which is part of the Passaic River Basin.

After floods in the region caused more than $33million in damages in March 2010, Governor Christie heard these citizens and assigned a special flood advisory commission to plan short- and long-term solutions to flood waters. The purpose of the Passaic River Basin Flood Advisory Commission is to prevent damage to about 20,000 homes and businesses; it does not aim to prevent flooding altogether. Bob Martin, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, has said “the purpose of the plan is to minimize the impact (of flooding).” It is crucial that citizens recognize that flooding cannot be stopped completely. A panel of this commission met in early February to collect ideas on easing the problem.

The commission agreed that building in flood zones should be discouraged and developers educated about other places there are to build homes and businesses. They also felt that natural flood areas must be preserved and current homes in the path of destruction must be elevated. This has recently become a goal of United States Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democrat of Paterson, NJ. Meanwhile, Assemblyman Scott T. Rumana, a Republican of Wayne, NJ, said he believes structural work must begin immediately. This includes the building of levies and floodwalls to protect properties that are inside or border the flood zones.

Another option that was agreed upon by a majority of the panel is buy-outs. Ella Filippone, an advocate of Passaic River Coalition, supports buying flood prone buildings because this would “get people out of harm’s way... permanently.” Although this is an expensive route, she argues that it is the best approach for the people who occupy such buildings whether for residence or work.

There is speculation that the panel’s report that will become just another in a series of reports about flooding in New Jersey. Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Sierra Club Director, is skeptical about the report turning into productive action in favor of the people and the river. Yet, Mayor Michael DeFrancisci of Little Falls believes that the report will jump start several short-term projects that are manageable. The report prompts local, state, and federal actions that will have the greatest impact on the Passaic River Basin and the Ramapo River floodgates situation.

Pollution still a growing problem for Ramapo River

By Courtney Leiva
At a glance, the Ramapo River is a scenic tranquil part of nature. However, watershed pollution still remains a growing problem for the Ramapo River.

The Ramapo River, a natural landmark in the Mahwah community, is approximately 30 miles long and is a known part of the Passaic River Basin. The river flows through the New York counties such as Rockland and Orange, as well as New Jersey counties as Bergen and Passaic.

Despite the river’s pristine surface appearance, water quality is continuously threatened by growing urbanization, pollutants and pesticides, as well as lead from the remains of the Ford Mahwah plant.

The Ramapo River plays an integral part of everyday life, as citizens living in these counties get drinking water from this source.

However, pollution isn’t just caused by blown over garbage and litter as there are many factors contributing to this growing problem.

According to a published report conducted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, urbanization, suburban, and commercial development are among the biggest contributors to pollution as it increases storm water runoff. Runoff is the water which is discharged in surface streams from roads and parking lots.

Another concern noted by the study is a municipal and residential water discharges in the heavily populated areas.

For Jeff Meyers at the Water Quality Assessment Section of the New York State Bureau of Water Assessment and Management, these factors are unseen problems.

“Due to the fairly dense population and overall development, the waters in the area are under stress. The focus of DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) efforts-along with local municipalities –is on storm water controls to reduce these impacts,” Meyers says.

What's in the Water?

In the “Ramapo/Hackensack River Basin Water Body Inventory and Priority Water Bodies List”, a report published by the New York Bureau of Watershed Assessment and Management, the main pollutants in the river water are from sources like nutrients, pathogens, siltation, and other contamination coming from upstream waste water discharges and urban storm water runoff .

Hydrologist Paul M. Heisig cites pollution such as pesticides and road salt caused by urban development as a main contributor to this problem.

“Water quality is affected by storm runoff from developed areas, including road salt, fertilizers and pesticides. Increased population and industry also means increased wastewater generation and treatment, with subsequent discharge to local streams and rivers. Pollution caused by road salt is a difficult issue because a major change in people's thinking would have to happen,” Heisig says in an email.

Toxic wastes have been found in the water. In a 2005 article in The Record of Bergen County, environmental writing professor Jan Barry reported that the river was a major dumping spot during the days of the Ford Mahwah plant. The article also noted that some of these toxins found in the Ramapo River have been linked to hazardous chemicals such as lead and other cancer causing chemicals.

How this issue affects you

Many Mahwah residents rely on the Ramapo River for a source of drinking water. It also augments groundwater wells providing drinking water for about one-third of the population of Rockland County, according to the New York Bureau of Watershed’s study. The study also concluded that ground water coming from the Ramapo/Hackensack River Basin is consumed by other residents of both New Jersey and New York.

Toxins found in the Ramapo River would pose an overall threat to human health, as people not only consume the water, but the river is also a fishing hotspot and fish could be contaminated with the chemicals and heavy metals such as lead and mercury found in the river water.

What you can do to help

However, residents can make a difference to alleviate this problem by being both aware of the issue and becoming involved. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website offers three major ways to help.
First, investigating watersheds is an integral part of helping out. Researching potential pollution problems and issues existing within a watershed as well as environmental groups will determine what kind of action to take.

Taking action is an important step to helping this problem. One of these ways would be organizing groups to adopt a section of the waterway and work to pick up pollution.

One simpler form of action is to simply help prevent pollution whenever possible. Some solutions are as easy as recycling yard wastes, disposing hazardous materials such as oil, paints, and solvents as well purchasing greener products.

The Ringling Bros. Circus: The Cruelest Show on Earth

By Amanda Nesheiwat

The Ringling Bros. have come to town once again to give the “Greatest Show On Earth,” but people don’t know the behind the scenes look on what actually goes on during the training and transportation of elephants, tigers, and bears. According to PETA, constant travel means that these majestic animals are cramped up for long hours in a box where they eat, sleep, and defecate, in the heat or cold, often times without access to food and water.

Elephants are among the most intelligent animals, and to see them doing handstands and jump on command actually pales in comparison to what these animals are capable of doing. The Ringling Bros train these elephants in Florida at their Center for Elephant Conservation. No one is allowed to enter these training areas, and have even gone as far as putting up solid fencing so no one can see.

The types of training methods have been caught on video, it is clear that they train these elephants through fear and violence. Some of the methods they use to train involves tying the elephants to a rope where they stand for hours and sometimes even days on concrete floors. They use electric prods, whips and even bullhooks, which resemble a fireplace poker. Ringling Bros. claims that they use these positively.

This is a tool called a bullhook.
Perhaps the most heart-wrenching method of training abuse is called “breaking the elephant.” This involves “breaking” the elephant’s spirit by taking the elephant away from their mother after only 2 years. Elephants are not independent from their mothers until 5 years. Then they rope the elephants on three of their legs and leave them to stand for sometimes as long as 6 months. This is to get them to stop crying to see their mothers and to prevent them from moving around. This is a method that takes a lot of man power, often times up to 6 people. Circuses are able to get away with this kind of abuse because there are no government agencies that monitor training.

There have been protests popping up all over New Jersey by ticket booths selling Ringling Bros. tickets. At a booth by the Prudential Center in Newark where the circus is going to be performing, Nirva Singh, a protester and student activist from Montclair State University, noted “Some people saw the pictures and footage we had and actually left the line at the ticket booths.” While others, he said, tried to shield their children from the footage. He added “I think the children were definitely a lot more curious and willing to learn than their parents.” Fortunately, a lot of communities have banned the use of animals in circuses. “They’ve outlawed circus animals in China and Brazil and it’s only a matter of time before they do it here,” says Singh.

Something you can do to help stop animal cruelty during circus training is to inform the public and your community when an animal-using circus comes to your town. Many circus goers are unaware of the types of training methods used.

To see a video of how trainers use bullhooks on elephants before each show, watch this video:

River Pollution: How Does it Happen?

By Graig Mihok

The ecosystem of a river can be very complex. When a river is polluted the delicate balance of its ecosystem is thrown into disorder. The oxygen in water is often affected by pollution and this can be a large problem for the animals that help regulate the habitat.

Sewage and fertilizers often contain nutrients like nitrates and phosphates that can over stimulate the growth of algae and plants. This growth can clog waterways, block light in deeper waters, and consume dissolved oxygen as it decomposes. This can affect the respiratory ability of fish and other animals that live in the polluted waters.

Organic pollution can also have the same effect. Runoff from livestock, leaves, and grass clippings causes the natural bacteria and protozoans to break down these materials, and in turn begin to use the oxygen dissolved in the water. If the oxygen gets too low, many fish and organisms cannot survive, particularly when levels of dissolved oxygen drop below two to five parts per million. Once the level of pollution is high enough to cause this much of a disruption, organisms die at a rate that begins to affect the food chain.

Pathogens from sewage, septic tanks, farm runoff, and storm drains are another form of pollution that can wreck havoc on a river's ecosystem. Despite the fact that they are microscopic, the danger of disrupting an ecosystem through bacteria, viruses, and protozoans is still very real.

One of the most familiar forms of pollution is petroleum. Oil from spills can cause catastrophic damage to a body of water. The Exxon Valdez spill along the coast of Alaska and the more recent BP spill in the Gulf Mexico should be sufficient in showing the effects of oil in a water body. While rivers mostly only see the petroleum from boats or cars or nearby manufacturing plants, rivers also tend connect to larger bodies of water. A study about the transportation of oil from supertankers and off shore drilling found that for every million tons of oil that is transported roughly one ton is spilled.

Heat is an often less considered form of pollution that seems to stay under the radar in terms of clean up priority. Power plants and factories often use natural bodies of water for cooling, in turn changing the temperature of the water enough to kill organisms and change the ecosystem.

Many of the actions that cause these forms of pollution can be altered to significantly lower the amount of pollution that directly affects rivers and other water bodies. The largest obstacle for clean up is convincing major polluters like industrial factories that the methods they use to obtain their capital are hazardous to the environment. As humans we are part of the environment, thus it would be in every living thing's best interest to find safer, less hazardous ways to run their operations.

Drumming up awareness

To the Editor:

Oil, next to water, is our most precious natural resource. It is the life blood that powers our world. Without oil, we could never have achieved half of what we as humans know we are capable of. This being said, it is fundamentally imperative to understand oil for what it is, a finite natural resource. There will come a day when we wake up and all the oil will have simply vanished. There is a title for this doomsday scenario; peak-oil.
Peak-oil is defined as the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline. Simply put, it means that as the demand for petroleum increase with population overtime, oil deposits will eventually drop off, causing the demand to sky rocket. A shortage such as this could cause widespread panic throughout the United States, possibly leading to massive food shortages in urbanized areas.
Personally, this isn’t quite the America I had imagined growing old in. I had hoped I might walk down a road amidst my amber years and have it not look just like Mel Gibson’s “The Road Warrior.” Unfortunately, some would rather have us leave it to chance then look to a solution. Michael Lynch, in an opinion piece for the New York Times, is one of these people.

In his article “Drilling for an Oil Crisis,” Lynch bashes defenders of the peak-oil theory over their response regarding a recent Wiki Leaks release. The story regarded a Saudi oil executive who had disclosed to an American diplomat that official estimates of Saudi oil reserves had been grossly exaggerated. While I admit that Lynch makes valid points regarding the credibility of the claims, he also wastes no effort in gleefully disregarding any possibility of peak-oil from ever occurring.
The opinion of Mr. Lynch is like that of a lazy squirrel. He would rather us sweep all this messy business under the rug than look towards reasonable solutions. He cites an eight billion dollar budget proposed by the Obama administration as going towards “…all sorts of unproven, unrealistic and inefficient energy technologies like wind farms and electric cars.”
I for one believe that research into these new technologies is essentially what needs to be done. Only through the development of our infrastructure and alternative energies can we hope to stand independently in a growing global economy. To remain dependent on petroleum is to condemn us to death, this much is fact.

John Clancey

What Will the Future of the Ramapo River Hold?

By Lindsey de Stefan

Did you know there is a beautiful, bountiful river filled with a variety of plant and animal life that sits practically in your backyard?

The Ramapo River is approximately 30 miles in length and flows through Orange and Rockland Counties in New York and into Bergen County in New Jersey. The river, whose path comes quite close to Ramapo College, provides drinking water to 200,000 people in many areas of Rockland County and some northern New Jersey towns, including Mahwah.

As Ramapo River Watershed Keeper Geoff Welch explains, the river and its surrounding area was painted frequently by local artists of the 19th century and has a host of beautiful plant life. It is also home to many species of animal and aquatic life, including the blue heron.

But keeping the river clean, for the benefit of animals and humans alike, has been an issue in recent years. Because the river flows so close to many major highways, including the New York Thruway and Route 17, contamination from cars and gas stations can be a problem. Many drains go directly to the river or its tributaries, so it can become polluted easily and, in some cases, without anyone realizing it. This can also be said of contamination from private homes. For example, if someone pours antifreeze or other harmful chemicals down their drain. This, too, can contaminate our drinking water and our wildlife.

Additionally, many are eager to develop the land near the river. Putting a large number of homes that can contribute to contamination close to the river is detrimental. These homes, while some claim to be environmentally friendly, typically are not. They actually make the situation worse.

What will happen to the Ramapo River in the future is so far unclear. As environmentalists like Welch note, if we do not take precautions to keep it clean, we stand to lose a lot. We will not only endanger the wild life that inhabits it and lose a beautiful, scenic recreational area, but we put ourselves at risk, too.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Can The Ramapo River and Tuxedo, NY Live In Harmony?

By Virginia DiBianca

As of the 2010 census, the 46-square-mile town of Tuxedo in New York State has a population of 3,683 people residing in approximately 1,450 homes. The town, nestled in Orange County, was originally the exclusive mountain home of New York City socialites and millionaires who were known to buy land around their estates in Tuxedo Park to prevent development. Since 1989, a development plan by a New York-based real estate conglomerate has been hotly debated amongst town residents, planning board members and environmentalists struggling to maintain the integrity of the Ramapo River watershed basin and the surrounding Highlands area.

The real estate firm has proposed to build a suburban village called Tuxedo Reserve, which would nearly double the town’s population. The plan includes a traditional bandstand area and asserts it would help improve the downtown section of the town, which is bordered by the Tuxedo ski area, Sterling Forest State Park and Harriman State Park. In an effort to gain approval for the construction, the current proposed development calls for 1,195 homes in a variety of formats and 276,100 sq. ft. of non-residential development. This number has been downsized from the original proposal and includes a master plan for the gated community of Tuxedo. The real estate firm has also agreed to donate land and money towards walking trails and a new high school and library for the town.

There is severe opposition to the plan from the environmental groups in the Ramapo River Watershed Alliance. At a November 23, 2010 public meeting of the Rockland County Sewer District, the environmental impact was discussed regarding the developer’s plan to tie the proposed new housing to the Rockland county sewer system. Janet Burnet, Executive Director of the Ramapo River Inter-municipal Watershed Committee, presented a map showing how the watershed supplies drinking water to communities outside of Tuxedo, including towns in the northwest sections of Rockland County and bordering towns in New Jersey. Burnet argued that the proposed development would result in the disruption to the Ramapo River’s watershed. The addition of more homes, adding to the population, would put increased demands for water on the Ramapo watershed that cannot be satisfied, she said.

Since 2009, the monthly planning board meetings of Tuxedo included Tuxedo Reserve on their agenda. The Town Board ask the Related Companies, how to minimize drainage into Tuxedo Lake and to provide water quality testing and monitoring of Tuxedo Lake and Mountain Lake. In an email to the Trustees of the Village of Tuxedo Park dated December 15th, 2010, Dr. Alexander Gates, Executive Director from the Highlands Environmental Research Institute, wrote; “The bedrock geology of the Highlands plays a strong role in the quality and quantity of groundwater. With the combination of removing the humus (pollutant filter) layer of the soil which would occur during development and the unknown orientation and extensiveness of the fracture system of the underlying bedrock, there is a possibility that the groundwater supply in the Tuxedo Lake area could be compromised.”

At the town planning board meeting on November 9, 2010, the developer requested a six-month extension on making a presentation to the board on the resolution of the issues.

For further information:
Tuxedo Park FYI

Tuxedo Land Trust

New York Apartments, Pre-Construction Real Estate, Presale NY Condos

Bergen Community College Welcomes Robert Kennedy Jr. To "Focus On The Environment" Event

By Amanda Nesheiwat

The Bergen Community College Institute for Public Policy held an event recently called “Focus on the Environment: Case Studies From Around the Nation Informing the N.J Discussion,” featuring a keynote address by Robert Kennedy Jr. The opening remarks at the Paramus campus to a large audience of students and community members from the Bergen County, N.J area were made by Captain Bill Sheehan, the Hackensack Riverkeeper, who spoke of the need for public policy on environmental protection to be better formed and enforced. “We don’t need internet and electric lights, but we do need clean water and clean air,” said Sheehan. He strongly argued that the environment is “not separate from the economy” and to give an example, he noted that places like Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama have the worst environmental policies and also the worst economies.

Before the keynotes speech, there was a panel discussion by a number of environmental educators and experts, including Professor Rachel Wieland of Bergen Community College; and Darren Molnar-Port, who is a Green Building Administrator; Kim Gaddy, Chair of the Newark Environmental Commission, as well as representatives from Montclair State and Rutgers University The panelists each had something to bring to the table but all agreed that change must start at the local level.

Gaddy, who heads the Newark Environmental Commission, introduced herself and the town where she works by saying, “Newark, NJ, home to the largest incinerator in the North East.” She went on to say that, “1 in 4 people in Newark have asthma as opposed to the 1 in 10 in the rest of New Jersey.” Gray Russell, Environmental Affairs Coordinator for the Township of Montclair, noted that New Jersey has the most superfund sites in America. The panelists kept a livelyl discussion going by taking questions from the audience.

After the panelists’ discussion, there was a short break, during which I got to sneak into the room where Robert Kennedy Jr. was awaiting his introduction. He actually said he was nervous and I thanked him for coming to speak and for being a great activist. After speaking with me for a short while, he made his way onto the podium and gave a strong presentation.
Kennedy began by saying “We need to start by protecting the environmental infrastructure” and “good environmental policy is identical to good economical policy.” He criticized unsustainable companies in America, saying that they are “converting the environment into cash” and that “our children are paying for this.” He added, “it’s like we are living in a Science Fiction nightmare” and that “Biostitutes” are to blame. The audience broke out in a fit of laughter. “Biostitutes is what I call them,” he emphasized. For example, he pointed out the dirty and unsustainable ways of the coal mining industry.“ My father said they are not only destroying the earth, but they are also impoverishing the communities,” he said of the late Senator Bobby Kennedy.

“It’s not just about environmental policy, it’s about safeguarding our democracy,” he added, noting that wind energy can power North America, creating more jobs than in coal plants, while also securing family farms. He spoke of how New Jersey is making great leaps in wind and solar energy, being the number one solar state in America and the sixth largest solar market in the world. “Free-market Capitalism is the most important thing we can do for the environment,” he said, arguing for more investment in clean energy, before he left the podium. When he concluded, I thought: What a great speech!

For more Information:
Here is a link to see me interviewed after Robert Kennedy Jr’s address:

Climate Change: We Must Reduce Carbon Use

To the editor:

Climate change may be one of the biggest problems to threaten humanity. It is a very controversial topic, but respected scientists agree that climate change exists and is currently affecting our society. With the planet’s change in weather patterns due to climate change, we are going to see some more important species at risk of extinction. Climate change is happening now, and it is affecting everyone on the planet. The most important thing to realize is that this is everyone’s problem. We all can do small things to raise awareness or reduce our energy consumption.

Increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 can affect the earth’s climatic system known as the greenhouse effect. This phenomenon is what helps our planet sustain life. Before we started using fossil fuels, our planets’ amount of CO2 was a comfortable 280 parts per million (ppm). Today, we have increased CO2 to about 387 ppm. An anthropogenic change in our atmosphere to this magnitude will affect weather patterns and cause temperatures to steadily rise and in some cases drop. Climate change is making rainfall heavier, droughts more severe, and hurricanes stronger. People in poorer countries will be affected the most, especially countries located on and near the equator. The United Nations is currently formulating a plan of action to protect Africa for when climate change begins to hit them hard. This is unfair and an injustice to the people living in these poor nations.

Climate change can also contribute to the depletion of important resources and habitats such as tropical forests. As much as 80 percent of the world population depends on medicinal plants that grow in rainforests. Forests of all kinds help to minimize the effects of climate change, but are declining dangerously more and more every day. Economically speaking, the major decline of our rainforests will have a negative response in more than one way. The United Nations Development Programme estimates that the value of medicinal plants in developing countries is more than $30 billion per year.

We need to be investing more in alternative energy. There are lots of ways we can reduce our carbon footprint as a country, and we just need to get people to look at the facts and make small changes in their homes and life-styles. Our country is trying to find new ways to adopt clean energy. Transitioning from a fossil fuel economy to a clean energy economy will not only help end the war on natural resources, but will also create jobs in today’s bad economy. Globally we have seen many changes. Sweden has reduced their carbon emissions by 40% in the past 30 years by adopting renewable energy. That is a great feat! There are many ideas we must put into effect, and to do that we need compliance from the very sources who are contributing to the problem. We must reassign, redesign, and respond, quickly, to ensure a healthy future for us all.

Amanda Nesheiwat

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cleanup Updates Not Always Up to Date

By Deanna Dunsmuir

Little news coverage has updated citizens on the condition of the Ramapo River, one of the most vital water supplies to New Jersey. Following the Toxic Legacy report in 2005 clamor began to arise for quicker cleanups of industrial contamination. However, today concerned citizens would be hard pressed to find an update on the status of its water quality.

Following the Toxic Legacy report, the paint sludge was claimed to be removed from the area next to Ford’s former manufacturing plant along the Ramapo River, and from an old iron mining area in neighboring Ringwood near the Wanaque Reservoir, and water tests came back safe to drink. However, in Jan. 2011 an article surfaced of a $50,000 grant for a complete removal of all of the paint sludge at the Ringwood dump site.

The mixed messages of a cleanup, and then a ‘complete cleanup,’ can be confusing to those trying to stay updated on the condition of the water supply. Even further, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has continuously reported that the water from the reservoir is safe to drink, yet in the Jan. 2011 article the US Environmental Protection Agency concluded that, “Decades after the dumping, benzene readings are elevated in water samples in the ground and in a mine airshaft, where it's 30 times safety standards,” which leaves room for concern.

Aside from pollution issues, another status of the Ramapo River, flooding, is a great concern to residents of the Pompton Lakes and Wayne areas. As of March 2011, a Flood Damage Reduction Project will go underway with a $21.6 million price tag, according to the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers. The project will aim to reduce flooding along the Ramapo River from Oakland downstream into Pompton Lakes and Wayne.

“The principal problem along the Ramapo River is flooding caused by the backwater effect produced by the Pompton Lake Dam,” they said. “Mitigation for the environmental impacts of the plan includes the creation of an eight-acre wetland in Potash Lake.”

The most recent flood was last March, where about 200 homes were evacuated, reported The Record.

The highly populated areas surrounding the Ramapo River are being affected by flooding; however, the river is also being affected by the population. News sources and state agencies conclude that the main cause of the stressed and threatened water supply is due to high population adding to sediment from construction and runoff, as well as pollution from chemicals and fertilizers.

In the spring of 2010, 1750 brown and rainbow trout were stocked into the Ramapo River in the town of Sloatsburg alone, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.
The stocking of trout can be a crucial sign that adding artificial or natural substances into the river has caused pollution harmful to native trout.

The water conditions of the Ramapo River can be found in the DEC’s latest report, which clearly outlines the conditions. The report concludes that within the Ramapo River,

• Aquatic Life KNOWN to be STRESSED
• Recreation KNOWN to be STRESSED
• Water Supply KNOWN to be THREATENED
• Causes: Nutrients, Pathogens, Silt/Sediment
• Sources: Urban/Storm Runoff

Keeping up with the status of the Ramapo River is a must, as was proved six years ago by the Ringwood residents fighting to clean-up the left over paint sludge near their homes and by the old Ford plant. Current and updated information about the river can be found at the following links.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Is It Real or Is It Christie?

To the editor:

In 2007, the then Governor of New Jersey Jon Corzine signed a legislative act called the Global Warming Response Act. The act called for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that would bring them to levels documented in the year 1990. This was to be done by the year 2020 by tasking the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to work with various government agencies and public utilities to develop a strategy within the state’s Energy Master Plan to meet these targets, keeping economic benefits and cost in mind. Unfortunately, the current executive in office, Governor Christie does not share the belief that global warming is real.

In a statement made by Governor Christie in November 2010, he claimed that he needed scientific proof that humans are responsible for global warming. It is hard to believe that anyone can doubt it. The excessive use of fossil fuel by humans is the number one culprit to the cause of global climate change. Carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere when burning fossil fuel. If everyone looked, they would find ways they personally waste resources that has helped to cause the global climate change. Additionally, the destruction of undeveloped land and property is another main cause of this problem as plant life stores carbon and when it is destroyed, the carbon escapes to the atmosphere.

If there was ever proof that global climate change has come to New Jersey, it is in the winter of 2011. From late December, 2010 to date, (February 13,2011), we have had to endure consistent temperatures of 20 degrees or lower, record snow falls and ice storms that have caused damage to our properties and homes. The explanation for the change in the average temperatures is reported in many science blogs and articles. It is global warming or, more accurately, global climate change.

It is dangerous that the Governor of New Jersey does not find it important enough to believe that human’s could be responsible for global climate change. He has already reduced funding for several programs that promote renewable energy. His actions could be discouraging businesses from adapting green technology. Even past Republican governors such as Christine Whitman and Tom Kean have understood and supported efforts to contain climate change. It is not in Governor Christie’s best interest to diminish the importance of reducing greenhouse gases by claiming ignorance. There is more than enough evidence available to prove the human involvement and, in fact, a group of Rutger’ scientists offered to educate him on the truth. The Governor was not available for this meeting. He did not respond . His ignorance will be remembered when the Jersey shoreline starts to erode and the citizens are asked to support him in the next election.

Virginia DiBianca

As Snows Melt, Stormwater Pollution is Rising

To the Editor:

This Winter in northern New Jersey we received a rather large amount of snow. In a short time Spring will be upon us and then the rain will come down. If Spring's precipitation is anything like this Winter's than we're going to be in for a lot of water going back into our water bodies. But with all the salts and melting agents that are carelessly thrown around in haste to clear roads, parking lots, drive ways and sidewalks, do we actually understand what we're letting get washed away? There is a term for this type of runoff. It's called stormwater pollution, and it can be a serious problem.

This type of pollution is a problem because it tends to pick things up on its way down the drain, gutter, pipe or basin it flows into. Literally any trash on the streets can be swept away: cigarette butts, plastic, Styrofoam, rubber, glass, and anything else you can find on the sides of roads can contribute to stormwater pollution. I have seen beds of cigarette butts on street corners that dip out into the road. The idea of water taking in the properties of the tars, Acetone, and Formaldehyde, among many other hazardous chemicals in cigarettes, can make a person question if the water coming out of his faucet is being filtered to the fullest extent.

This of course does not even include the salts and melting agents that are spread around when snowfall hits. Nor does it include any fertilizers or pesticides used for landscaping, or oil, gasoline, antifreeze, or any miscellaneous auto fluids that soak into roads and driveways. Combine all of these ingredients and shake up it well, then pour it down the drain and let it flow into rivers or soak into areas around waterbeds and you have the makings of a serious problem. A problem that will visit you in the middle of the night when you wake up to get a quick glass of water from the tap. Or when you get up in the morning and take that eye opening shower to start the day.

Now, what can we do about stormwater pollution? It really seems the most effective way to deal with it is to limit the use of chemicals and implore people to clean up their trash. Obviously the latter part of that is much harder to do and involves confrontation on a level that some people might not be comfortable with. Calling a town or neighborhood meeting would be helpful to illustrate the potential danger of this type of pollution. Getting the word out in any way would be helpful, be it word of mouth or by distributing friendly neighborhood fliers to put a spotlight on the issue.

There are other solutions for the chemical side also. If a hard rain is predicted to fall it would be wise to not disperse any fertilizer or pesticides. Also, there are alternative forms of pesticides available that do not pose as much of a threat to the environment. Being careful with salt and melting agents is another good way to avoid further pollution.

Most of the pollution problems done to the environment are initiated by careless behavior that undermines and disregards nature. We have to remember that we, too, are a part of nature and it is in our own best interest to keep the environment in its natural state if we want to live safer, healthier lives.

Graig Mihok

New Jersey, the Garden State?

By John Clancey

Not many people think wildlife when they think New Jersey. If they do, then odds are they’re really thinking about of the average driver cruising up and down the Garden State Parkway. However, contrary to popular belief, New Jersey is actually home to one of the most extraordinarily diverse and beautiful environments the world over.

In recent centuries, New Jersey has undergone an industrial expansion seldom seen in the quainter regions of the world. From Cape May to the Delaware Water Gap, New Jersey has grown into a suburban powerhouse that shows little sign of stopping. During expansions of this type, it’s seldom wondered what adverse effects this “cultural terraforming” can have on an already established environment. Fortunately, this was not the case for the Great Swamp.

When Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced they were to build a fourth major airport roughly twenty miles outside Newark, they were met with some the most resourceful and dedicated citizens to ever organize a grassroots campaign. For five years, these eco-defenders raised over four million dollars and enlisted the help of more than four hundred other civic organizations across the country. All of it to protect a major marshland that had historically defined the region they called home.

Behind this landmark civil campaign was a group of determined citizens who took it upon themselves to inform their towns and rally their neighbors. Together, they fought back and after five years, the marshlands had been declared a National Wildlife Refuge. U.S. Secretary of the interior Stewart L. Udall attended the dedication and commended the efforts of the local residents. “We applaud not the action by the federal government, but disciplined, tough-minded action by many voluntary citizen groups,” noted Udall. Soon after, citizens convinced nearby Morris and Somerset counties to set up parks along the wetlands border, further cementing the refuge into itself.

One of the major players behind this civil campaign was local housewife Helen Fenske. Having turned her kitchen into a campaign center, she organized mall exhibits, newsletters, and campaign funds with little more than a mailing list and a parade of volunteers. She notes the volunteers as the key to a successful grassroots campaign. “Too often in this field you have people who want all the credit. One of the things that emerged from the Great Swamp was not to let any one person take the credit. Because there are so many” said Fenske.

The grassroots campaign that emerged from the Great Swamp is more than just a special interest group. They are an organized, determined, and capable shinning inspiration to anyone looking to make a difference. They saw something wrong happening to their environment and took action. In this, they are a picturesque example for every citizen looking to make their world better. Because of their actions, generations to come will be able to experience the beauty of the Great Swamp first hand, forever having proof that New Jersey really is the garden state.

From Rubbish to Organic Clothes: Sustainable Fashions

By Courtney Leiva

From appliances to makeup, going green is ‘in’. And fashionistas have taken up the cause.

By incorporating environmentally friendly fashion into top designs, retailers are giving recycle, reuse, and reduce a whole new look.

What is Sustainable Fashion?

But being in vogue can impact the environment. FutureFashion, a division of the Earth pledge organization which aims to promote environmental awareness, reports that about 8,000 chemicals are used for the production of raw materials, textiles, and non organic cottons.

But there is a way that everyday consumers can help to reverse fashion’s negative impact. At White Apricot Online Magazine, a magazine developed on eco-friendly clothes and fashion editor, Carrie Pollare, argues that the solution is sustainable fashion.

“Sustainable fashion is anything that benefits the planet. That means recycling materials from other products into new products. We have one handbag designer who literally buys old auto upholstery and makes it into handbags,” Pollare said in an email.

“There are all kinds of interesting recycled clothes and accessorizes. Gold and silver are often recycled to make new jewelry. Even plastic bottles are being recycled into t-shirt materials. Other fabrics used in sustainable clothing are things like organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and soy. It’s sustainable because it is grown without pesticides and other chemicals so it’s healthier for us and for the earth,” Pollare added.

NJ’s Green Fashion

Even in New Jersey, retailers are even taking the greener approach. In Sparta, N.J., Wendi Lawlor called this approach, Rubbish.

“Rubbish started a year and a half ago with jewelry. Since I worked with old recycled parts, I came up with the name Rubbish. At the store, we try to incorporate green ideas by carrying fair trade and organic products including fair trade scarves,” said Lawlor owner of Rubbish Boutique in Sparta N.J. At Rubbish boutique, Lawlor tries to incorporate the green message whenever she can.

“For starters, we make sure the companies we buy from are eco-friendly and recycle. We use antiques, fair trade, and mostly green products. The bags we have in the store are made from plastic pill bottles as well as shampoo bottles. Recycled bags are great because they are a reusable staple, because it helps alleviate the environmental impact. We even use recycled paper products such as newspaper to stuff our gift bags. My jewelry actually comes from recycled skateboards,” Lawlor explained

Since Rubbish’s closure last year, the store has moved to California where Lawlor hopes to find more business.

Why Green?

From recycled jewelry to tire-made handbags are there truly any benefits to green fashion?

By switching to more sustainable clothing made from organic cotton, consumers can stop the overuse of water as well as stop human and environmental exposure to human pesticides.

Pesticides and insecticides used in cotton production have greatly destroyed ecosystems and wildlife.

Although the transition won’t be an easy one, Lawlor argues that a greener future is a more fashionable one. “For some, the green message of recycling comes across as preaching and people don’t want to be lectured. People also tend to think of eco-friendly fashion with Hippie style too. At Rubbish, we tried to change that by making cool trendy clothes so you are not being preached to and you can still look cool,” Lawlor said.

Legacies of the Great Swamp Campaign

By Lorraine Metz

While you hear about citizens groups forming campaigns and making strides to protect their cause, it’s often hard to imagine how the group got started and became so capable. The people involved in such campaigns as The Great Swamp Campaign showed how one person can actually make a difference. Living in America, the land of the free, we’re often told that we can achieve whatever we set out to do; but going through life it seems farfetched to consider that you are capable of such a task.

It’s always great to know people in high places, but it’s even better to learn the story of a typical person who reaches and grabs at the stars. In 1961 Helen Fenske, a housewife, helped lead the Great Swamp Campaign and was named secretary. Not a wealthy woman, Fenske was still determined. The controversy of the Port Authority plan for building an airport on the swamp forced her and her neighbors to take action on the beautiful land surrounding their homes.

With great determination they set up meetings, not in an office, but in Fenske’s kitchen. I think this is one of the greatest aspects of the story. Despite a lack of funds they were able to draw attention from other groups and form a large audience with a shared concern. They worked hard and were able to get noticed by New Jersey lawmakers and eventually the DEP and EPA. While Fenske’s involvement started because of the threat to her neighborhood, she stepped up and later took part in jobs for both the DEP and EPA, concerned for the well being of the environment everywhere.

From her experience, she was able to realize that she could help others. With a gain in credentials she was able to help others with their organizations and campaigns to save and salvage the environment.

The Farny Highlands project was also helped greatly by a woman who resided in the area. As a Morris County Park Commissioner she took her time researching and mapping the area so that the public could see the area including the wetlands and underground aquifers. Fenske discussed this saying, “Diane Nelson pulled together the most wonderful loose-leaf booklet and maps. No one had ever pulled it all together. She gave it to everyone in DEP who might have anything to do with Farny. What the state saw was that this was 30 percent of the state’s water supply” in North Jersey. “The state saw its interest was to protect the water supply.”

These victories achieved by citizens is both encouraging and phenomenal. For those who doubt their abilities and doubt that one person can make a difference, these stories can change their attitudes. It’s inspiring to hear and watch such campaigns evolve and achieve. Without groups and people with strong opinions New Jersey could have lost land that we now cherish. Small steps and big ideas can help more than you’d think.

Substitute Oil...Seriously

To the Editor:

As a college student I have taken my fair share of classes and have studied a wide variety of subjects, from science, art, sociology, political science, journalism to mathematics. I am a political science minor and have a major in journalism and also am the president of a political group on campus at Ramapo College of New Jersey. In my nearingly four years of college I have found that although I have taken a wide range of classes, one topic seems to surface in each course--the environment.

A subject that seems to be largely ignored by many is the underlying issue for much of my undergraduate studies. I admit I had never thought much about the environment until recently. As Ramapo Against the War, the organization I am a part of on campus, was trying to come up with a new topic for an event, an environmental studies professor, Ashwani Vasishth, stopped by our meeting . It was then that our group decided to put together an Oil Spills and Resource Wars event on campus.

I was well aware of the connection that the U.S. and Middle Eastern war has to oil, yet I was blissfully unaware of oil’s impact more broadly. Ashwani went into detail about the gulf oil spill and oil as a finite resource. According to Ashwani’s projections, the known oil reserves have little time before they are tapped out.

My love for reporting and politics, as I quickly came to understand from his comments, are both very much tied to environmental issues and policies. Listening to Ashwani speak, it seemed foolish that there are no serious policies put into effect for a switch to alternative energy.

This past winter had one of the most extreme cold temperatures and snowfalls in years. This past summer was one of the warmest in a long time. Projected for this year is an early spring with a heat wave of a summer. Watching the once moderate climate of New Jersey fall to extreme weather patterns puts a reality to the claims of global climate change.

On the one hand I have seen reports of solar panel houses increasing and electric car sales increasing. Beyond fossil reported that, “Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Ruler of Dubai hopes by 2014 Dubai will source its energy consumption from renewables to around 14%,” spreading the initiative to the Middle East.

However, while small efforts are being made, it seems that oil is a hard addiction to break, as large investments and economies have become reliant on its perseverance. Talk of a serious shift in energy sources is yet to be seen and there is no policy yet that offers a timeline of when we will be completely off our reliance on oil.

According to Ashwani, the global production of oil is set to peak in the next four years. After that, oil reserves will begin to rapidly decline.The Independent reports, “BP's Statistical Review of World Energy, published yesterday, appears to show that the world still has enough "proven" reserves to provide 40 years of consumption at current rates.” Given this information, I can only hope ordinary people as well as governments start to think seriously about global climate change and alternative energy sources.

Deanna Dunsmuir

Climate Change: Help Us Find Answers

To the editor:

Climate change, or “global warming,” as it is oftentimes referred to, has been a prominent environmental issue in recent years. However, I believe there are quite a few misconceptions about climate change that have disseminated amongst the general public. For example, the level of seriousness of climate change, its causes, and what effects it will have on us, our posterity, and our planet.

I, for one, do not feel that I am educated enough on the matter. With so much information available, and so many conflicting ideas competing for recognition, the issue seems almost impossible to wrap one’s head around. When I type “climate change” into my Google search bar, so many possible references emerge that I don't know where to begin. Yet I would certainly like to be able to better understand climate change and what it truly means. Perhaps your publication could put forth a series of articles that would explain very simply to the general public all the things that we need to know on the matter. You could answer burning and pertinent questions, such as: “Is the human race responsible for climate change?” And, if so, “How can we help?” “How will climate change affect me?”

These are all things that many people want to know, but perhaps they are unsure of where or how to find the answers. It is the job of journalists to shed light on matters such as these, and bring answers to the public.

Lindsey de Stefan

Sustainability and Faith

By Jessica Vasquez

I recently came across the article “Temple Puts Its Faith in Sustainability” published in The Bergen Record on July 29, 2009. Although it’s nearly two years old, this story is still relevent today as we continue to learn how we can be eco-friendly. The piece describes the actions of T’Green Olam, a team of activists at Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, New Jersey. Taking steps to reduce the group’s carbon footstep has led to recognition by GreenFaith, a New Brunswick-based sustainability coalition that has been supporting religious institutions since 1992.

GreenFaith extended an invitation to T’Green Olam to participate in the two-year certification program to become GreenFaith certified sanctuaries. Among other things, certified sanctuaries contribute to sustainability by doing such things as using ceramic coffee mugs instead of disposable cups to reduce trash going to landfills, and by adjusting thermostats to lower settings in winter and setting air conditioners to higher levels in summer. GreenFaith and the houses of worship that they recognize encourage their followers to do the same in both small and big ways throughout their daily lives.

When I started reading the article, I wondered what the connection was between religion and sustainability. Upon further investigation of GreenFaith, I learned that this activist group believes that places of worship are always spreading and therefore a great outlet for such a positive message that will hopefully spread to the general public. I don’t follow any religion, but I do have some belief in spirituality and doing what makes you feel good, and if that can help something or someone in the process, then all the better. For this reason, the article about Temple Beth Rishon and GreenFaith really caught my attention.

GreenFaith acknowledges religious groups in New Jersey for their sustainability efforts and encourages environmental work that is not a fad, but a real passion. Also, GreenFaith is not for one religious group. The group supports multiple faiths such as Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhism, and Judaism. Although I don’t commit to a house of worship, I am thrilled to see that GreenFaith encourages these many groups.

Being recognized by a state group is a strong motivator, but I hope individuals can get motivated to do their part even if they are not part of a faith that may be recognized by GreenFaith. These days, it’s easier to reduce one’s carbon footprint because information is everywhere. Unplugging electronics while they are not in use or turning off a surge protector is a simple step that homeowners and corporations can take in the right direction. Reducing the use of disposable objects such as plates, cutlery, and cups is another way the public can make a difference. Turning off the lights in an empty room is something that should be automatic.

To get involved and do your part for the Earth, ask your house of worship if they know about GreenFaith, talk to your school about starting an environmental awareness group if one does not already exist, and get the community involved with an educational workshop at a common place in town. Whether you’re taking a lot of small steps or contributing to a few big ways of sustainability, the most important part is being educated and getting involved so you can spread the word!

Unfair Reporting on Proposed Environmental Budget Cuts

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to your article on February 14th, “Republicans Gut EPA Climate Rules, Slash Deeply Into Climate Research, Aid and Technology Programs”, that discusses the Republicans’ plans to cut spending for various environmental programs and agencies.  There are various concerns I have with this article.

First, the article was poorly laid out.  All it did was simply list the cuts that the Republicans wanted to make and to which programs and/or agencies.  It became repetitive and purposeless aside from the intent to defame the Republicans’ agendas.  There was no substance to much of what was written and it only gave numbers and figures, rather than reason and explanation.

This leads me to my next point.  While Republicans are widely known for not supporting environmental agendas, this article should have still provided reasons and logic behind the Republicans’ proposed legislation.  The cuts are astronomical and perhaps those behind them have legitimate reasons for what they want to do.  There were hardly any quotes from Republicans and they were much underrepresented in this discussion.  Perhaps if the writers of this story included a balance between the two sides, the credibility would increase, making the article more appealing to a wider variety of people.  All the readers gather from this article is that what the Republicans intend to do will have no positive outcome. While it might ultimately be true (and it might not), it would be more journalistic to include the perspective of both sides.  Every day, we are inundated with stories on the poor state of the economy while the Obama administration keeps proposing more spending; perhaps the Republicans’ intentions is to lighten the spending burden.  Regardless of what winds up happening, the article should have still included proper reasons why the GOP is seeking such huge budget cuts.

The article seemingly has no direction.  A better approach to it would include proper coverage of both sides (as I’ve mentioned), a clear analysis of the spending, and maybe a prediction of what will actually happen.  The article mentions that Obama has claimed he will veto any legislation that limits the power of the EPA, which could very easily shut down any of the Republicans’ proposals.  If that could be the case, then the authors should discuss that more in depth.  I would’ve liked to have seen more of the full story and less of the numbers.

Brittany Shann

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Discovering the Importance of Farny Highlands, the Great Swamp, and Sterling Forest

By Lindsey de Stefan

I have been a New Jersey resident all my life. But I had no idea that there were so many environmental landmarks in such close proximity to my home. More importantly, I never realized that, at one point, these sites required the hard work and dedication of a number of people in order to save them from industrialization.

Many of these events took place before my time - some before I was even born. They are not something that the local public schools tend to teach students about, though perhaps they should. The Great Swamp, Sterling Forest, and the Farny Highlands are all places within driving distance of where we live. They are not far off places that we hear about on television or read about in the news that we cannot possibly relate to. They, quite literally, hit close to home.

Today, people take advantage of many things. Perhaps the conservation of these beautiful places is one of them. Some years ago, some very motivated and relentless individuals worked tirelessly to protect these sites so that we today can enjoy them. Many of the younger generations are not even aware of all of the effort that was put forth, and so they take these places for granted. This may be true, too, of some who lived through the struggle. They are safe now, so why continue to think about it anymore? This, I believe, is a poor attitude to have.

People like Helen Fenske and Pieter Prall deserve recognition for what they did for New Jersey. They were not paid or compensated for their diligent efforts. In fact, most people have never even heard of them. But what I think is most important, regardless of whether you can name the exact individuals who played key roles in saving Farny Highlands, Sterling Forest, and the Great Swamp, is simply that you remember what they did. What they have done for us should serve as an inspiration to many. They were not political leaders or millionaires who had the money to fund such grand projects. They were simply common people, like you and I, who believed in a cause. And instead of sitting around hoping someone else would do something, they did it themselves.

As long as a person can find others who have the same beliefs and motivation, he or she can create and effective campaign, much like the ones that saved these three New Jersey locales. You do not need money or vast political influence. You just need to think carefully about what you need to do and organize yourselves accordingly. As these examples in New Jersey and at Sterling Forest in New York show, people are capable of great things.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Voices of Nature

By Virginia DiBianca

Helen Fenske, Pieter Prall, Lorraine Caruso, Kip Koehler, Joan Lisi and Diane Nelson are not well-known names overall. They didn’t make history books, discover a cure to a disease or entertain to great applause. In New Jersey, however they were the heroes who saved sections of a habitat with wildlife, vegetation and landscape from becoming just another piece of developed land.

Somewhere, there may be a park or a building or a tree with their name on it. Those unfamiliar with their campaign or are too young probably do not know why they received such an honor. Yet, if not for their unwavering efforts, the landscape of New Jersey would be deeply affected in both appearance and natural resources. If the forest, wildlife and waters could talk, they would say that if not for these individuals, the developer’s bulldozers would have taken their life and replaced them with traffic, pollution and noise. These individuals are citizens of New Jersey who represented nature and its surrounding community by challenging the corporations whose intent it was to build structures from concrete and steel. It started with them, but joined by others who helped save a part of New Jersey’s natural environment.

In the early 1960s, years before the first Earth Day brought environmental recognition to the nation, a New Jersey housewife named Helen Fenske ran a campaign from her kitchen table against a major government transportation agency. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Goliath to Fenske’s David, intended to build an airport on wetlands in Morris County. According to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge website, the swampland houses 244 species of birds and a wide variety of wildflowers and plants. Fenske’s passion and determination managed to successfully rally communities and political allies against the development. Her actions were inspirational to those that followed.

In another case study, as documented in the book, A Citizen's Guide to Grassroots Campaigns by Jan Barry, Farny Highlands a 35,000 acre area in northern/central NJ is a primitive region that according to their website, has the largest continuous forest needed to preserve populations of endangered hawks, owls and rare songbirds. The streams of the region provide drinking water to one-third of New Jersey residents. In the 1980’s when the development craze was at a peak, real estate moguls wanted to see the Farny Highlands become a money-making, traffic infested, suburban development. Local residents such as Pieter Prall, a wildlife artist and author; Lorraine Caruso, biology professor and key member of several environmental organizations; Joan Lisi, credited with naming the project “Farny Highlands” (after the state’s first planner); and Diane Nelson banded together to stop the construction. According to David Epstein, executive director of the Morris Parks and Land Conservation agency, it was Nelson’s detailed booklet and map of how the undeveloped tracts intertwined with the watershed streams that fed the reservoirs that led to the state rejecting the project, protecting the water supply from pollution.

The beauty of these natural wonders would have all been lost if not for the passion and foresight of the people willing to stand up for the marshlands, swamps and waterways that sit quietly offering nature’s beauty. We are their voices. We must help them exist by defying the Goliaths, by making the public aware that the actions of developers and corporations have consequences that affected surrounding communities and endanger the existence of the animals, birds and the habitats that house them. These natural wonders are not easily replaced. Nature is a developer too. When nature is destroyed, it does not come back as easily as with putting up another building. The cost to replace nature is simply too high and takes too long.

For more information:
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference,,
Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge,,
A Citizen's Guide to Grassroots Campaigns by Jan Barry

The Power of the People

By Courtney Leiva

For as long as I can remember I have always rooted for the underdog, so when reading the chapter about the Great Swamp campaign in A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns I was pulling for the efforts of housewife Helen Fenske and the North American Wildlife Organization in protecting a 75,000-acre Great Swamp in Morris County from becoming a site of an airport. For far too long, environmental legislation and decisions have been made without the consent of the people, especially the people living in areas where corporations and companies plan to develop and industrialize. In the cases outlined in the reading, it was more than exhilarating to learn that the efforts of civic organizations and the power of the people triumphed and made a difference in environmental legislation and got some form of environmental justice.

But with great success also comes hard work. Despite the organization’s lack of funds or meeting space (many meetings were held in the corner of Fenske’s kitchen), she spent countless amount of time juggling telephone calls and attending meetings to spark other conservation campaigns.

Fenske was also the founder and executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, as well being hired by the Ford Foundation to research environmental activism in other states. Fenske’s often said the key to the campaign’s success was publicizing the cause, the involvement of politicians, and power brokers, protest in the media, as well as getting the support of like minded people and organizations. But most importantly, campaigns should really look into the talent and imagination of a community as these aspects will often draw about new and good ideas.

50 years later, Fenske and her efforts are now being honored by the creation of the Helen C. Fenske Visitor Center at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, N.J., which opened in 2009.

In the wake of the Great Swamp campaign, activists like Pieter Prall campaigned against development plans in Morris County to save the Farny Highlands. But like Fenske’s efforts, this campaign succeeded without lots of money or big news coverage. Instead, they relied on reaching out to neighbors, which led to reaching out to regional conservation groups, to local officials, the county and finally federal officials. The campaign also sought out environmentalist Helen Fenske to help further their cause.

Like the other two cases in the chapter, saving the Sterling Forest campaign- whose ultimate goals were to preserve terrain along the New York-New Jersey border, was met with some struggles. However, by bringing together environmental groups, this strengthened the movement.

With hard work and determination, it is great to see that the efforts of these civic groups have paid off in the long run and have made a difference. The lessons that cases like these prove is that there is still hope for some environmental justice in this world where everything is becoming industrialized.

Save a Cow, Save Mother Earth, Save Yourself

By Jessica Vasquez

Most often, the words “grassroots campaign” and “the environment” bring to mind saving the rainforest and preventing chemical spills. Some people are discouraged by the thought of how much the word “environment” really encompasses. Others think “I don’t have time to save the world.” Few of these people are the ones who donate a dollar here or there to people standing outside the grocery store every once in awhile. Want to do your part, but fall into these categories? Fear no more! Even you, the average Joe or Jane, can do your part to save the environment today!

Something as simple as a small alteration in carnivorous eating habits can make a positive difference in your carbon footprint. Now, hold on, I know you may be thinking “I’ve been eating meat since I’ve split from the womb, I can’t just go cold-turkey!” Take a deep breath and read on before running away.

According to, during World War I the U.S. Food Administration campaigned on the slogan “Food Will Win the War!” The government proclaimed Meatless Mondays and Wheatless Wednesdays to reduce consumption of food that could be sent to soldiers in battle. The results were overwhelming. The website quotes a 1929 issue of Saturday Evening Post: “In November 1917, New York City hotels saved some 116 tons of meat over the course of just one week.”

In 2003, in order to help Americans reduce preventable diseases, more and more institutions began encouraging people to follow a meat-free diet for one day of the week. This simple act (that may prove a bit of a struggle for some at first) can drastically reduce the food and energy used to raise and slaughter cattle and other animals that provide families with hearty meals seven days a week. As well as reducing fossil fuels, such a change can also save your body.

Take a moment to think about where your meat comes from. Take cows, for example, since the “all- American meal” is a hamburger and fries. Cattle must be raised on farms where they can grow big and strong; this means tons of water and feed. Think of it this way, says the Meatless Mondays website, “the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change.” Compared to the estimated “1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water that go into a single pound of beef,” soy tofu only uses 220 gallons of water per pound.

Americans have been told time and time again that too much red meat increases one’s risk of preventable diseases such as colon cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Maybe learning that one day of vegetarian eating can help the earth as well as your body is what will change your mind. By taking part in Meatless Monday, you can say “I helped the earth today.”

For recipes and information on spreading the word about this healthy and environmental trend, visit

Defending the Fens

By Deanna Dunsmuir

Jan Barry’s rendition of the “Great Swamp Campaign” in A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns describes the citizen-fueled effort to save the marshland from becoming bulldozed by Port Authority to create a new airport. As the author illustrates, the campaign was a collective effort that was made possible through persistence and trial and error. Yet, despite the activists’ unfamiliarity with the campaigning process, learning along the way, as well as making connections, proved to be a winning feat that provides lessons for others.

One of the interesting elements of the Great Swamp campaign was the story of Helen Fenske, who resided on the outskirts of the marshland. As a housewife, Fenske provided her kitchen as a headquarters for the Great Swamp Committee of the North American Wildlife Foundation, a committee formed by hundreds of volunteers. As Fenske’s knowledge of grassroots campaigning grew, so did her value as an environmental representative. The once-housewife has since served as a special assistant to New Jersey’s first environmental commissioner and as acting DEP commissioner herself, Barry stated.

The tale of such a surprising victory of the citizens over the big Port Authority sets an example to the public, but it also does something more. After the Great Swamp was saved, parks were constructed in the area by surrounding towns, municipal environmental committees were formed, and public awareness of the destruction of environmentally valuable land was raised. Finally, the expertise that the citizen’s gained, such as how to organize and effectively achieve a goal, can now be passed on to someone who wants to make a difference.

Another surprising factor of the 1960’s grassroots victory was that it was achieved before the public paid much attention to environmental issues. As Barry points out, the campaign was before the first Earth Day. Reading stories such as these remind me that shaping the public agenda begins with citizens, not government. It is the people that vote and therefore the people that must decide what issues a candidate should support. As jobs, family life, school work and other responsibilities take the center stage in most people’s lives, it becomes clear how dangerous it is to not stop and notice surroundings.

After reading about the Great Swamp, I decided to educate myself on environmental issues in my own town of Jefferson, New Jersey. It took little research to find that a current debate is the removal of trapa natans (water chestnuts) from Lake Hopatcong. The plant spreads quickly as “One acre of water chestnut can produce enough seeds to cover 100 acres the following year,” the Lake Hopatcong Commission website says. The commission states that the plant will soon engulf the lake and therefore prohibit swimming, boating and fishing.

The information forced me to wonder: is the plant naturally growing along the shoreline or is it happening as an effect of increasing development? How do they plan to remove the plant and its seeds? Will they use chemicals? Am I the only one wondering these questions? The Great Swamp indeed left me with a greater sense of responsibility.

Thick as a Brick

By Graig Mihok

For those who do not know about the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in central New Jersey, there is a story to be told. Many years ago the New York and New Jersey Port Authority wanted to build an airport in the area where the Great Swamp now lies. It seems they had no problem bulldozing or paving other areas to place airports, seaports, and tunnels so they were not concerned with any opposition to the building of these structures.

Then came Port Authority’s headache with the Great Swamp. It has served as an important migratory bird sanctuary in the northeast for quite some time now. In human years, let’s just say a lot. In bird years, let’s say a whole lot more. A grassroots campaign sprang up among the swamp's locals and escalated into a state-wide effort that turned the Great Swamp into a national wildlife refuge.

It is considered to be one of the greatest grassroots success stories out of the state of New Jersey. But you have to wonder what would have happened to the migratory patterns of the northeast's birds if that swamp was cleared, paved, and an airport was actually laid down. New Jersey is already a crowded little state that forces a great deal of its wildlife to scatter into the shrinking woodlands between its sprawling suburbs, massive highway systems, and endless smoking industrial plants. Is it not within the comprehension of Port Authority, as well as some state and government officials, to consider the consequence of destroying a vital habitat for an animal species that has a direct impact on the ecosystem that we live in?

You would have to be pretty thick to not consider the danger of altering an ecosystem of such a large area. As thick as, say, a brick. At the Friends of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge website there is a fundraiser going on that allows for you to have a personalized engraving in a brick at the Helen C. Fenske Visitor Center. Your brick could be engraved with a favorite quote, a tribute to a loved one, or something in your own words.

There are three different types to choose from: a 4x8 inch brick with three lines of text for $150; an 8x8 inch brick with up to six lines of text for $300; and an 8x8 inch brick with an engraved blue goose with up to four lines of text for $350. The engravings are done with a laser to burn the brick with your desired message and blue goose if you're willing to shell out the extra money. Seems pricey, but it's for a good purpose.

I think there are a few Port Authority officials, if they're still around, who would probably pass on this kind and generous offer to help preserve the Great Swamp. Ironically, it would appear they hit a brick a long time ago when this all started.

You can visit the website here: Friends of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Electric Cars Have Yet Another Burden: Taxes!

By Brittany Shann

It seems as though the existence of the electric car has done nothing but provide innumerous amounts of benefits and the main ones involve saving money.  Since the cars are electric, the gasoline consumption is theoretically less, which implies less money spent on gas for travel.  Not only will the consumer save money, but they will simultaneously be participating in the preservation of the environment by driving a car that has fewer emissions.  By participating in the electric car trend, the consumer has given up the luxuries of a regular car by taking on the responsibilities of charging the car once it runs out.  Let’s face it – the conveniences aren’t too prominent.  The consumer of the electric car should be commended for their sacrifices being made for the world they live in.  but now, it’s being said they’re going to have to pay even more money.

In Washington state, potential new legislation will require electric car owners to pay an additional $100 when registering their cars and at the time of renewal.  The reasoning for this is that the state will be losing out on the gasoline taxes that wouldn’t be paid by electric car owners.  They must get the money somehow, so why not penalize those who sacrificed a certain lifestyle in order to help their environment?  It makes perfect sense.  “Electric cars will be driving on the highways right along with all the other cars.  One of our biggest    issues is preservation and maintenance of our existing highways.  We believe they should be paying their fair share,” said Senate Transportation Committee Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen.

However, the others who are paying the tax for which the government is trying to compensate are not making the lifestyle changes that the electric car owners are making.  Secondly, the number of people that drive electric cars is far less than those who drive gasoline-powered cars.  The Washington government predicts they’ll be able to make $400,000 by 2013 and about $1.9 million by the 2015-17 budget cycles from the tax revenue.  That’s about $2 million in…six years.  Relatively speaking, it’s not much money.  And who’s to say the money will actually go to road maintenance like they’ve claimed?  It’s absurd that they’re doing this and that the Washington state government should give a break to those who are giving the environment a break.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ford's Toxic Dumping May Have Caused Health Risks For Community

By Amanda Nesheiwat

For over 25 years, Ford Motor Company used areas in North Jersey, such as Ringwood and Mahwah, as dumping sites for toxic chemicals. Chemicals such as lead, benzene, arsenic, chromium, and antimony were found in the soil, rivers, lakes, and even the backyards of helpless town people who had to suffer the consequences of living near an irresponsible automotive assemblage plant. These large contaminated areas are not only detrimental to the plant and animal life, but also pose health threats to humans.

Lead, was found at 100 times the state safety level. Exposure to such high concentrations in to this dangerous element can lead to brain, kidney, and reproductive problems. Lead can cause developmental problems in children and can cause birth defects to humans and animals alike. Arsenic, found at 9 times the state safety level, can cause lung cancer and skin disorders. Other chemicals such as chromium, antimony, and benzene are also harmful to humans. This, for the people in and around Ringwood, means dangerous health risks. Many of the townspeople reported having trouble breathing and many children have been diagnosed with asthma and other upper respiratory illnesses. There have been reports of tumors, various types of cancer, and skin disorders. Most of these contaminants can be directly linked to these cancers and illnesses.

These chemicals are also harmful to animals and insects, especially to amphibians since they breathe through their skin. The entire ecosystem within a contaminated river nearby has been ruined and animals such as deer and bears will not have clean water to drink. The chemicals have been sitting on the soil for so long that they have probably even contaminated local groundwater which the community might need in the future. The fact that these truckers would dump piles of the sludge in such a remote area at night shows that they knew they were doing something wrong. The community knew what was happening but didn’t say anything because they were scared, and if they weren’t scared they were bribed with money to keep silent. These facts should have been major factors in determining whether or not Ford Motor Company is responsible for completely cleaning up the sludge.

The area of the so called "government supervised cleanup" still has plenty of the paint sludge in clear sight. Most of the people in Ringwood use the land daily and hunted and fished for their food. Doing these simple things made it very easy for the people to consume the toxic chemicals dumped onto their environment. There is no way that these chemicals could have not been a culprit in the illnesses and even deaths of the Ringwood community. Maybe Ford didn’t know that these chemicals would harm an entire community and habitat, but they should have at least showed some respect and cleaned up their mess.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Misunderstood Ramapoughs

By Virginia DiBianca

I have lived in New Jersey all my life and, in the last 30 years, in Wayne a town about 15 miles from Mahwah. When I first moved there, somebody mentioned that I should be careful of a group known as “The Jackson Whites”. They explained that they were an inbred tribe of mountain people who were mentally retarded and would attack people that tried to infiltrate their land. I believed them and never ventured towards Ringwood or Mahwah if I could help it. It wasn’t until I read an article entitled “Strangers on the Mountain” in the March 1, 2010 issue of The New Yorker magazine I discovered the truth about these so called clansmen. Officially, they were a tribe of Indians called the Ramapoughs that settled in areas of Ringwood and Mahwah, raising their children and living off the land to sustain their lifestyle. Living off the land turned out to be their biggest danger.

I learned in the expose’ “Toxic Legacy," that Ford contaminated the Ringwood area the Ramapough Indians lived by disposing of toxic paint sludge. The site was the ideal location for dumping as it met the standard set by Ford - the property was inhabited by low-class people. Ford bought the former iron mining community and turned it into a hazardous waste dump. Attempts by a Ford engineer to convince the company’s executives to invest on a system that would effectively dispose of the paint residue through a safe method was rejected. They claimed that the expense involved in removing the paint was determined to be more than the cost of the paint itself. While this were true, Ford spent over $2 million dollars on the initial clean up, plus attorney expenses that are still ongoing. It has since paid much more in additional cleanup work and because of lawsuits by residents.

The Ramapoughs are struggling with health issues that include various cancers that have claimed the lives of children and adults. There are learning disabilities amongst its children that are credited to high levels of lead found in the ground. 23% of the Ramapough teenagers do not finish high school. While the drop out rate may not be related directly to the toxins, it is a side affect that coincides with how they are treated. They are teased in school for being who they are. They suffer from ailments such as asthma and skin rashes that lead to low attendance. The dumping of lead in their backyard did not help.

Whatever the Ramapoughs are, they were a community that was mistreated and misunderstood. This Indian tribe lived their life within their boundaries, working to support their simple lifestyle. Along came the Ford Motor Company, which decided these people were not worthy of that. The tribe is being broken up as the children are abandoning their heritage and looking to escape their fate by relocating to other areas. In an old movie, Casablanca, there is a line that goes, “human life is cheap." It is never truer than the way Ford mistreated their neighbors and the state of New Jersey.

Hidden Hazard at a Kid's Playground

By Graig Mihok

After viewing the five part series entitled "Toxic Legacy" I made a frightening discovery. It did not take me very long to notice my familiar stomping grounds in the woods behind the Sheraton Hotel and Sharp headquarters building in Mahwah, New Jersey. I had been told in my adolescence that it was at one time the site of a massive Ford plant. My cousins and I would go on short adventures in the woodlands behind the plant. For a kid, it’s a playground. There are lots of overgrown trails, deteriorating structures like bridges and rail tracks, and of course a multitude of bike ramps. Another vivid memory that stuck with me about that place was the color and texture of the dirt in particular areas. Only now, since reading "Toxic Legacy," I have realized that what puzzled me years ago was actually not dirt. It was paint sludge. And if I recall correctly, it was all over the area.

Being too young to understand the implications of it all, the place remained a playground for my brothers, cousins, friends, and me until high school ended. Now that I can comprehend the history of the zone, I wish I could forget everything I had just learned and remain ignorant of it. "Toxic Legacy" showcases the effects the chemicals in the sludge, lacquer, and thinners that were dumped so carelessly around communities in northern New Jersey. Many who have been exposed to the dumping have been diagnoses with serious illnesses. Cancer, Lymphoma, skin and lung conditions, nosebleeds, are just a few of the know side effects of having a close proximity to the toxic material. The pictures and videos are heartbreaking; people who unknowingly accepted the sludge into their community as a way of life are now poisoned by their surroundings until a serious cleanup is made. And the report claims that there had been several clean ups yet locals still find dump sites.

I wonder about my playground. Has that spot already been labeled as cleaned up? As stated earlier, I was not even aware of the history of the dumping nor did I have any reason to look for anything peculiar in that area, yet I did notice the discoloration of paint sludge and dirt enough that it stayed with me. So now I am faced with another dilemma, one that is getting the better of my curiosity. When all this snow melts I think I am going to take a leisurely stroll down the road, through the trails, over the busted bridges and into my old playground. I do not know what I expect to find. An overgrown and broken down bike circuit with no signs of pain sludge perhaps. Or maybe there will be pockets of it all over. It’s hard to say. I just hope the snow melts very slowly this year.

Thumbprint of an Industry

By John Clancey

It’s an unfortunate truth, but our society has been marked by environmental pollution. Between the crude oil choking our ocean, and the apocalyptic levels of plastics building up worldwide, pollution on a massive environmental level is no longer a line in the sand waiting to be crossed. Fords “Toxic legacy”, as shocking as it is, is merely a speck of sand in a beach covered with used syringes.

It’s a story that sounds all too familiar. A powerful industrial company creates an unwanted byproduct and disposes of it by questionable means. Sometimes they’ll dump it in the waterways, God forbid you go swimming in the Passaic River; other times they will just buried it. In this case, the Ford Motor Company chose the latter. They buried untold amounts of highly toxic paint sludge deep down in the Ramapo Mountains. This sludge has since worked its way back up to the topsoil, providing residents with more than their fair share of illness and heartbreak.

The residents of the area, The Ramapoughs, are the descendents of Dutch settlers, freed slaves, and the Leni-Lenape Indians. They have a long history in the area, dating back before the founding of New Jersey. The group is as much a part of the environment as is the majestic red tailed hawk that patrols the region’s rocky skylines. In truth, it is the Ramapoughs that make this story so endearing.

However, the Ramapoughs aren’t the only ones at risk. In truth it’s all of Bergen County that has cause to worry. The pollution that chokes the veins of the mountain has more than likely seeped into the countless underground waterways that litter the region and its surroundings areas. These waterways feed directly into the major watersheds that quench the thirst of Northern New Jersey. Not only do these pollutants seep in threw the groundwater, but many local flood zones are covered in the highly toxic Ford sludge. Run off water from storms and melting snow wash over these pollutants, carrying the toxins wherever the currents may take it.

Cleaning up pollution of this magnitude is no easy task. The Ringwood site in which the most dumping was done was declared a superfund site by the EPA and has yet to see the comprehensive cleanup residents are hoping for. In fact, the site has seen many cleanups since 1980, none of which met the standards that any self-respecting populace would be happy with.

The sad truth of the matter is that despite any effort officials take to improve the sites’ condition nothing can be done to compensate the Ramapoughs’ tremendous loses. For them, the mountain is more than home; it is their way of life. The fish they catch, the playgrounds they populate, all of it poisoned by indifference of industrial America. They have lost more than their legacy. They have lost family, friends, children, and now that the sustainability of their ancestral home has come under attack, they may lose their heritage.

Toxic Footprints: A Walk of Shame

By Daniel Savino

As individuals, one of the greatest achievements we can strive for is to contribute to society in ways that will echo posthumously. As reported by The Record, “Toxic Legacy” is a stark reminder that leaving a mark is not always a good thing. In 1980, a particular plant operated by Ford was shut down after 25 years of producing cars. They continue to leave destructive footprints all over an otherwise beautiful, forest landscape in northern New Jersey.

The paint that was dumped over the area by Ford serves as much more than an eye sore. The polluting waste is full of cancer-causing heavy metals and hazardous chemicals that threaten water supplies and the health of locals in the surrounding area. According to The Record, millions of gallons of paint sludge were dumped in a remote section of Ringwood where a group of people called the Ramapoughs were living. Tests found hazardous chemicals such as arsenic and lead in the sludge, some at 100 times the level the government considers safe. Kelly Degroat, a longtime resident of the area, watched her son die at 10 years old of a rare bone cancer. Cases such as this suggest that the pollution may very well be to blame.

The Record even found evidence that organized crime played a part in the dumping of Ford’s hazardous waste. The newspaper claims that the mob “bribed, threatened, even murdered to maintain control of Ford’s trash.” In 1979, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took its first tour of the damage. However, to this day, a full clean up has yet to be undertaken. Corruption and corporate greed have played a significant role in this injustice. Recently, a fifth clean up has been orchestrated by Ford and the EPA, promising to be the most comprehensive effort to date.

There are iron mines in the polluted area that Ford used to dump “thousands of tons of industrial waste” that have yet to be cleaned up. Ford finally agreed to investigate the caves. However, the agreement made with the EPA has no stipulation for Ford to clean any material they find. Ford has repeatedly dodged as much responsibility as possible and the EPA has done little in the way of forcing Ford’s hand.

Perhaps most daunting is the fact that the sludge in Ringwood may very well impact all of North Jersey. The dumping ground is uphill from the rest of the state and threatens a very important source of drinking water called the Wanaque Reservoir. The longer the pollution goes without being tended to, the greater the risk to peoples’ drinking water. In 1980, a federal Superfund law was enacted to hold companies responsible for “eliminating or abating industrial waste that endangers public health or the environment.” However, this has only done so much. In 1994, it was reported that Ford was removed from the Superfund list because the area was clean. However, residents continued to find more paint sludge in years following and this “toxic legacy” drags on to this day.

Without government involvement, accountability and stricter environmental regulations, there will never be justice. Simply put, if nothing changes, nothing changes. It is an undeniable fact that the ultimate concern and goal of any corporation is profit. Corporate success is gauged strictly on the basis of how much money they make. As long as stocks are up and investors are happy, corporations like Ford are willing to destroy anything and anyone in their path. If we continue to allow these massive entities to have free reign there is no guarantee that our planet will survive. The individual who loses their job is of no concern to a corporation, nor are our natural resources. “Toxic Legacy” is an eye-opening, sobering reinforcement of this fact.