Thursday, May 1, 2014

World as Classroom: Studying the Ramapo Region

By Brianne Bishop

To satisfy my course experiential component I attended the Ramapo Watershed Conference on Friday, May 18. This all day event was held in the Pavilion at Ramapo College and run by Geoff Welch, Ramapo Township Watershed Keeper, and Ramapo’s own professor of Geography, Howard Horowitz.

This was the 19th annual watershed event held at Ramapo and covered topics ranging from land use and stream management to environmental justice issues in local areas. Topics that were discussed also included an update on the Ford Motor Company paint sludge remediation, history of nature trails in the area, suburban environmental action, the Blue Acres Program, USGS gaging station programs in the Ramapo River Watershed, and The Darlington Schoolhouse Project.

Julie Moore gave a presentation on Land Use and Stream Management Strategies for Reducing Flood Risks and Protecting Water Quality. Julie is Water Resources Group Leader for Stone Environmental Inc. in Montpelier, Vermont. Her presentation was insightful and pointed out all of the errors humans have been making when “protecting” streams.

She covered common myths of stream management, which include the beliefs that straightening streams will prevent flood damage. This thinking is false because rivers are not static systems; they are free flowing and constantly moving systems that cannot be restricted to a straight path. Ms. Moore described all of the stream management projects that have been going on in Vermont and suggested ways in which the Ramapo Watershed area can model after Vermont’s management.

The Darlington Schoolhouse Project, which will house the NJ/NY Trail Conference offices, is an ongoing project. Ed Goodell, the executive director of the trail conference, spoke on behalf of this restoration of the schoolhouse, which across Ramapo Valley Road from the college, and is considered a historical institution. I particularly liked the fact that this building will be an active part of the community. Being in such a close proximity to Ramapo, there will definitely be a lot of linked involvement.

The restoration project is projected to be finished in one year. After the completion, it is planned that Ramapo College sustainability classes will be held in a room of the building. This building is being restored with green initiative concepts in mind. The fact that this building is being restored, instead of completely rebuilt, is part of the green initiative. The building will have sufficient insulation to lower heating and cooling costs and will be heated and cooled by a geothermal system. I’m excited for this center to open! I believe it will be a great opportunity for Ramapo students to get involved in the local area.

The presentation that had the most impact on me was the Ford Motor Company Paint Sludge Remediation and Ramapough Indian Medicine Garden presented by Vincent Mann. Vincent Mann is the Chief of the Turtle Clan of the Ramapough Indians. He spoke about how the Indians have inhabited the mountains for 12,000 years, until the Europeans came and lived among the Indians.

The major concern of the paint sludge and the Ramapough Indians is that many of them live within the superfund site in Ringwood.  Because of living within a superfund site, one third of the community has been diagnosed with cancer and has died from the disease, and the effects of the dumping are increasing, he said. Mann spoke about how there have been 20 people dying a year in his clan and at one point five people died of cancer within the span of one week. The Ramapough Indians have been desperately trying to get Ford and the town to pay attention to the numbers and decontaminate the area.

After the Chief gave his speech, students from Professor Michael Edelstein’s Environmental Assessment Course, known as RISE, presented on environmental justice and the impacts of the Ringwood Superfund Remediation. These students have been studying and documenting the effects of the superfund site on the Ramapough Indians. They have come to a conclusion and are trying to raise awareness about the fact that the Ramapough Indian culture is in jeopardy.

The US Environmental Protection Agency only required the Ford Motor Company to clean up the sludge to an “acceptable” amount, not necessarily completely removing it. The EPA has also stated that there aren’t enough health studies on the area to declare it as environmental injustice against the Ramapough Indians. The Ramapoughs have been faced with tremendous obstacles and are now finally being helped thanks to Ramapo College’s involvement.

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