Monday, February 29, 2016

The Proposed Oil Pipeline along the River

Ramapo River in Hillburn  (photo: Geoff Welch)

By Tara Glickman

Although we are supposed to write a paper about the Ramapo River,
I hope it will be not be opposed that I attempt a poem.
The poems you share to the class allow me to open my eyes
And get a feeling that I was with you on your travels.
I am sitting in the library, researching for an article about current events
At the Ramapo River. I came across an article from December 2015
About a fuel transfer company that proposes to construct underground oil pipelines
So that there is a greater chance the community will survive.
This proposal would carry crude oil through a wooded area of Ramapo and Hillburn.
This idea seems very appealing, but there are doubts.
"This proposed Pilgrim dual pipeline route really looks horrible coming down the
Ramapo Valley so close to the Ramapo River and going through wetlands,” 
Said Geoff Welch, Ramapo’s environmental consultant.
“The potential spill risk is unacceptable.”
The Mayor of Hillburn, Craig Flanagan, said he might go along with the project 
If it would reduce the number of oil trains going through the town.
He plans to discuss the issue with the mayors of Suffern and Sloatsburg.
The pipelines in Rockland would enter from Orange County near the Sloatsburg border,
Heading southeast through utility passageways between Potake and Cranberry ponds,
Running through Hillburn before leaving New York.
The pipeline would cross through western Ramapo adjacent to Harriman State Park.
Towns and villages along the proposed pipeline have the option of requesting
A review by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
This is a hard decision because there are trains that are capable of exploding
Versus a pipeline that can leak, which can ruin the aquifer.
The risk of an underground, undetected leak is worse than an explosion.
As horrible as explosions go, the effect is evident.
The response is immediate and the impact to the environment is accessible.
As the world moves away from fossil fuels, there will be fewer trains and barges,
But a huge pipeline mischarges.
It will be there forever rusting away out of sight and out of mind.
That is why I think the proposal should be declined.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Protecting Ramapo River Wildlife

black-crowned night heron (

By Marissa Erdelyi

The Ramapo River watershed, which is part of the Passaic River Basin, is located in northern New Jersey and an adjacent part of Rockland and Orange counties in New York. The watershed contains many rivers, ponds, reservoirs and lakes used for recreational purposes such as fishing and boating. Alongside recreation for homo sapiens, the watershed provides a home for different types of wildlife, each with their own living needs that the watershed is able to supply.

Several of the creatures that call the watershed home are ones that should be watched over. There are many “Species of Special Concern” that can be found living in the water or under the leaves of the watershed forests.

According to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, species of special concern, “applies to species that warrant special attention because of inherent vulnerability to environmental deterioration or habitat modification that would result in its becoming threatened if conditions surrounding the species begin or continue to deteriorate.” Not only do these species call for attention, but also their habitats. If any major changes occur to the environment, it can mean the end for the species in the area.

Spotted Turtle

The spotted turtle a species of special concern that can be found within the watershed. The decline of the spotted turtle in New York is highly due to loss of habitat. Spotted turtles live in marsh meadows, bogs, ponds, and various bodies of still water. While spotting the turtle is a rarity now, in the early 1900’s it was the most common turtle in New York City. As the water quality in the watershed declines, so does the population of the spotted turtle, as it is extremely sensitive to pollution and toxics.

Eastern Box Turtle

The eastern box turtle is another species that can be found living within the watershed. Eastern box turtles are land turtles that prefer deciduous or mixed forested regions. While the eastern box turtle is not a special concern species, it is still extremely vulnerable to changing conditions. Many eastern box turtles’ deaths are human-induced, such as being hit by a car (due to their slow crawl) or passing in captivity. The eastern box turtle also has a low population due to the fact that they produce a small amount of off-spring each year.

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned night herons can be found in the watershed year round. The habitat of choice for these herons are shores, marshes, rivers and ponds with trees where they can nest in the groves. The black-crowned night heron was once quite common in New Jersey. However, in the late 1900’s, the heron’s population dropped dramatically from 1,500 in the 1970’s to 200 in the 1990’s. This decrease was due to habitat destruction, disturbance of nesting communities, and contaminants. 

Copperhead Snake

Copperheads in New Jersey are found only in the northern region. The snakes inhabit rocky fields, wooded wetlands, and rocky wooded hillsides. Although the killing of a snake is illegal in New Jersey, it is one of the many reasons that this species has declined and is under special concern. Other reasons for the decline of the species includes habitat fragmentation, illegal collection, and being run over by cars.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mercury Levels Low in Ramapo River Below Pompton Lake, Study Finds

By Omar Keita

Little evidence has been found of mercury flowing from Pompton Lake downstream into the Ramapo River, according to an article last August in The Record. A study was done by DuPont, the company that was responsible for putting mercury in the water. In the study sediment along the Ramapo River and Pompton River was sampled and the study concluded the mercury was not widespread. The study had to be done because the Federal Environmental Protection Agency said there had been concern that mercury was being pushed downstream, polluting a bigger area. When mercury is in the rivers it can be transformed into methylmercury, which is a more toxic form of mercury.  

“Mercury can accumulate in animal tissue as it moves up the food chain and affect humans who eat mercury-tainted fish, possibly damaging the nervous system and harming the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system,” The Record reported.

After hearing these reports, residents in the nearby neighborhoods were not happy about it because it just reassured their distrust of the company. For decades, the mercury migrated off DuPont's former munitions facility in Pompton Lakes from Acid Brook, which runs through a residential neighborhood below the 600-acre property and empties into the lake. The Ramapo River flows into the lake from the north and extends from the southern end of the lake and flows into the Pompton River in Wayne.

 Residents have been angered for many years because of this and do not trust anything the company says regarding the river situation. Local residents have been fighting to get an outside contractor to run the tests on the river instead of the company so they can feel more comfortable about the answer they are getting. One resident complained that they have been asking the Environmental Protection Agency to honor their request and get an outside contractor to run the tests but the agency always denies their requests.

DuPont hired their own contractor, AECOM. Earlier in 2015 a separate company called Chemours took on responsibility for most of the contaminated DuPont properties around the country, including the one in Pompton Lakes. AECOM took 34 samples from the river sediment and found fairly low mercury concentrations, with 25 of them showing less than 1 milligram per kilogram. The highest concentration was 23.5 milligrams, the report said. This was compared to Pompton Lake, where mercury levels in some of the sediment are more than 100 milligrams per kilogram.

Although the report concluded that the mercury levels in the river are fairly low, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stated that recent scientific studies show "lethal and sub-lethal effects in adult fish" even when mercury concentrations are well below 1 to 5 milligrams per kilogram, The Record reported.

Last May, the EPA approved a $43 million project to dredge the mercury-tainted sediment from Pompton Lake and add a layer of clean material to the lake bottom. Under this plan, Chemours is to dredge about 128,000 cubic yards of sediment and take it to a licensed disposal facility. 

For more information:

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Is the Ramapo River Contaminated with Paint Sludge?

By Daniel Mercurio

There is concern among a group of environmental activists that the Ramapo River upstream of Ramapo College may have trace amounts of toxic paint sludge containing chemicals such as arsenic and benzene, according to a report in The Record of North Jersey. Such chemicals can be traced to the Ford Motor Company which disposed of toxic wastes in various locations of New York and portions of Northern New Jersey.  

One major area of concern is due to a concentration of toxic paint sludge that was found along the banks of the Ramapo River in Rockland County, New York, just above the border with New Jersey. This area of contamination went unnoticed for many years until Hurricane Irene’s rains washed away much of the topsoil used to cover the hidden paint sludge.

 The sludge was discovered by Chuck Stead, a Ramapo College Professor, while hiking in the area with his students, The Record reported in an April 2013 report. The area is near where Torne Brook flows into the Ramapo River in Hillburn, NY. Ford contractors have been excavating contaminated soil in the area at the direction of state environmental officials.  

According to state regulators, a small chunk of this sludge may have broken off from a larger body of contaminated material and fallen into the river. This is problematic because the paint sludge can have adverse health effects for people who are exposed to the toxic substances contained in the paint. For example, those who rely on the Ramapo River as a fresh source of drinking water, such as downstream in Mahwah, are at risk of ingesting the chemicals. To make matters worse, the challenge of cleansing the river of these toxic pollutants becomes even more difficult as the contaminants break apart into finer particles as they travel further down river and mix with the gravel along the river’s bed. This can make the paint sludge even harder to identify and raise the risk of exposure.

“Chunks could get into the river, and then those chunks could break down,” Geoff Welch, chairman of the Ramapo River Committee, told The Record. “We certainly don’t want it washing down and becoming part of the gravel. You have to make sure they get it all out.”

For more information:


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Planting Trees, Poems and Warnings about Pesticides

Howard Horowitz (

By Jonathan Sanzari

Professor Horward Horowitz came to visit our class to share with us his environmental writing, wordmaps and what got him into environmental writing to begin with. 

Professor Horowitz said it all started with his experience working in Oregon where he planted trees with his co-op organization that was started during the 1970s. The co-ed organization helped bring forest that had been logged back to life by replanting shrubs, trees and other landscape essentials. It was working there that he witnessed a woman tree planter started bleeding from “every hole in her body,” according to Horowitz. 

The woman started bleeding because she inhaled too much of the Agent Orange herbicide mixture that was sprayed on the plants. Everyone in the group was feeling some sort of unpleasant side-effects due to inhaling the fumes that was a mixture of diesel fuel and Agent Orange. The herbicide mixture was commonly used during the Vietnam War to expose enemies that were hiding in heavily forested areas in Vietnam. According to the Aspen Institute, “as many U.S.Vietnam-era veterans know, dioxin is a highly toxic and persistent organic pollutant linked to cancers, diabetes, birth defects and other disabilities.” 

Professor Horowitz was outraged that government agencies were spraying this terrible mixture onto living plants and into the atmosphere for others to breathe. He took action by contacting local newspapers and news stations. Professor Horowitz saved that forested area by letting the proper authorities know that it is unacceptable and got them to refrain from using it.

While Professor Horowitz was a forest worker he wrote one of his books of poetry and incorporated his experiences into the poetry. Horowitz also specializes in pesticides and wrote a 200-page research document for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop the usage of Agent Orange and its relative chemicals. The use of Agent Orange was banned in the U.S. in 1979. Horowitz altered his document for the EPA to create an academic paper to get a PhD. 

Soon after, he helped numerous people’s environmental law cases in need of a credible and scholarly source. Some cases he didn’t even charge money for because he’s in it for making change for the greater good of the planet.

Horowtiz’s love for writing environmental poetry didn’t disappear after all the legal battles he was involved in. Horowitz had a vision of sorts late one night at precisely 3 a.m. This vision was the start of his unique poetry style that was later featured in the New York Times in the 1990s. Horowitz’s unique style is to strategically place words to form a piece of land or river. His “Manhattan” poem is his most popular and was the one featured in the New York Times. Horowitz shared his passion for helping the environment through poems and through writing documents for the judicial system that help bring awareness to the misinformed.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Campaign that Saved Sterling Forest

Sterling Forest State Park (photo:

By Cassandra Bernyk

In the late 1980’s, it became apparent to many grassroots environmental groups and wildlife lovers that the gorgeous Sterling Forest might be growing tall buildings for a small city instead of the luscious trees. The forest that stretches along the New Jersey and New York border, had been bought by Swiss and Swedish investors who were focused on the vision of creating a small city—not giving a second thought about how the forest serves as a large wildlife habitat along with the rain run off serving as a big provider for New Jersey’s major reservoir system. Fortunately, others saw how dangerous this new development could be for our environment. 

The “Save Sterling Forest” campaign was off to a good start getting endorsed by the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission and the Passaic County freeholders, who bought 2,000 acres of the forest for $9 million. Another big accomplishment for the campaign was when Governor Whitman signed a bill that was passed by the New Jersey legislature to provide $10 million to help purchase 15,000 acres of forest, noted an account of these actions in A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns.

With all of these great pushes for the campaign, however, there were some bumps in trying to get the New York and New Jersey officials to cooperate with each other, as Ella Filippone, head of the Passaic River Coalition, remembered. One of the bumps was that New York had to match New Jersey’s $10 million contribution along with trying to get the federal government to pitch in to purchase more forest. During this, New York City and Trenton were not able to put aside their differences over sports teams and corporation headquarters in order to aid this campaign, which made matters more difficult. It also became clear that trying to get the support of both Republicans and Democrats from each state was going to be a difficult task as well. 

It took years of effort and time by organizations like the Appalachian Mountain Club, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Passaic River Coalition, New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and many others, to find state and federal funds for the campaign. Finally, in 1996 on Earth Day, the Clinton administration announced that Sterling Forest would become part of the president's ”Parks for Tomorrow” plan. What the various conservation organizations had to do was show they could raise enough money to match the federal government's contribution to the buyout package. The organizations, along with many other foundations, got the funds to purchase the bulk of the mountain forest land. To this day, many people enjoy the beautiful sights and wildlife at the Sterling Forest State Park, thanks to all of the efforts by these organizations.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Change Campaigns Start Local

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (

By Melanie Schuck

I believe it to be a common misconception that change can only be enacted from huge sources such as national non-profit organizations. But, in reality, change must be localized, as Dr. Chuck Stead of Ramapo College, frequently tells his students. His recommendation for those wishing to make change is to start at the most local level possible. Perhaps by going to a town hall meeting in your own town.

A prime example of localized change is the campaign to save the Great Swamp in New Jersey in a rural corner of the New York metropolitan area. Developers wanted to pave it over and build yet another airport there. But, local activists made it a goal to prevent the paving over of the Great Swamp and preserve the natural habitat the way it is, as a wildlife refuge. As described in A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns, they were very much successful in campaigning to keep the Great Swamp the way it is and eventually the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey backed off. The Port Authority was the entity that was planning to pave over the Great Swamp. Thus we see the result of localized change: if a person starts low enough on the totem pole of government, so to speak, then change is possible as this totem pole is climbed. This campaign was a success due to this approach and it essentially started out of the activists’ homes.

Another grassroots campaign similar to the successful efforts to save the Great Swamp is the campaign to save Sterling Forest. The activists in this situation made a similar action plan as the activists involved in saving the Great Swamp: they planned to purchase the land in question, on the border of New Jersey and New York, that was under threat of being developed. They hit a bump in the road, however, when they realized the state of New Jersey could not help them because they had cut spending to conservation funds. This did not stop these dedicated activists. Instead, they just found alternate ways to fund their campaign through various other sources. Their campaign generated a buzz in the news media with their efforts being publicized frequently. This buzz in the media helped them enormously in getting the word out to like-minded people who were not in on the campaign just yet. By getting publicity, grassroots campaigns in general thrive. If they do not have enough publicity it is my opinion that there is a high possibility of the death of said campaign.

As stated earlier, change must be localized in order to work. If a person is to start at the top of the government in an attempt to change it, it is almost guaranteed that they will fail in their endeavors. This is a sound theory because it is next to impossible to make change on a large scale. But, to do it on a local level will result in victory because if local governments change it will have a ‘trickle-up’ effect. Thus, when change is made on a local level, the higher up government must adapt in order to keep up with the governments below it.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Keys to a Successful Grassroots Campaign

By Daniel Mercurio

A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns provides insight into how citizen organized campaigns work as a team to accomplish a common goal. Based on case studies, this book on environmental activism by Jan Barry emphasizes the importance of cooperation and credits the organization as a whole for their hard work and dedication rather than bestow it upon any one individual. For example, an excerpt from the book states, “Like Main Street marching bands, activist civic campaigns need the equivalent of conductors, drum majors, drummers, buglers, and an ensemble of other players who work together to form a crowd-pleasing concert on the go.” This statement epitomizes the need for a multitalented group of individuals because team work is what drives a grassroots campaign to succeed. 

In order to effect change, grassroots organizations need people with different talents and skills to collaborate to achieve their goals. This way, they can use an interdisciplinary approach to draw from their varied backgrounds to formulate a solution to a complex question or problem that may require knowledge from several different fields of study. For example, in the battle to save the Great Swamp, Helen Fenske and other members of the Great Swamp Committee, found a unique way to publicize their cause. An excerpt from the book states, “Seeking wider audiences, she and others organized a display of Great Swamp photos, maps, films, slides, and a re-created pond scene and a marsh botanical garden in the Short Hills Mall.” 

As a result, thousands of shoppers who visited the mall became aware of the negative consequences presented by the New York New Jersey Port Authority’s proposal to construct an airport on top of the Great Swamp. Undoubtedly, this unique and innovative approach to promoting local awareness at a common gathering site was well worth the effort. In addition, the exhibit reached roughly 30,000 people who may not have been aware of their efforts.

Undoubtedly, the multidisciplinary approach is critical to effecting change. However, just as important is the need for all those involved to be on the same page. With that said, relationships in grassroots organizations are built off a set of common values. This is beneficial because it enables passionate members to work together and offer emotional support for one another in challenging situations. Therefore, each team member plays an integral part such that if a team member doesn’t come through, another member will pick up the slack. For example, if for any reason the leader needs to step down, another member should be ready in the wings to step up to ensure a smooth transition. 

These values produce enthusiastic members who can draw many more supporters, since people tend to be more interested in listening to someone who speaks from the heart. Clearly, passion is part of the driving force of these grassroots campaigns since environmental organizations rely on relationships with people who are willing to work together to create change.

In conclusion, the success of a grassroots campaign is dependent upon an interdisciplinary approach by its members who are working toward a common goal. While their backgrounds are varied, their values are the same. Moreover, their desire to effect change is paramount.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Maps, Poems, and Environmental Writing

Poetry Map by Howard Horowitz

 By Marissa Erdelyi

Professor Howard Horowitz has been a professor of Geography at Ramapo College of New Jersey since 1982. Prior to joining the teaching staff, Professor Horowitz had several other work experiences in the environmental field, such as planting trees in national forests in Oregon. From these experiences, the professor turned his experiences into beautiful poetry.

When Professor Horowitz visited Professor Jan Barry Crumb’s Environmental Writing course on February 4th, he shared stories of his experience working in Oregon and with the Environmental Protection Agency, along with his three types of environmental writing. Professor Horowitz has written research reports and advocacy pieces, and also shared with us his love of writing poetry.

Professor Horowitz shared several pieces from his poetry book, Close to the Ground: One Treeplanter’s Geography. The poetry in the book is based on numerous experiences in tree planting. One poem Professor Horowitz wrote, “Gold Beach,” shares the inner thoughts of a tree planter while on the job. The poem shares all that goes into planting and what runs through the planter’s mind, such as when one gets to break for lunch.

One aspect of Professor Horowitz’s visit that really intrigued me were his poetry maps. The poetry maps shared were “Idaho,” which can be found in Close to the Ground, and “Manhattan,” which appeared in The New York Times. Poetry maps, for those who don’t know, are exactly what you would think. The poem is shaped as a map of the chosen area, and each landmark can be found in the poem where it would be found on any regular map. The amount of work that goes into making such a piece, especially one as detailed and accurate as “Manhattan,” is breathtaking. Professor Horowitz said that it took him nearly 18 months to perfect.

“Manhattan” is read as if the reader is taking a trip through the city. That’s the beauty of these poems. They take you on a trip through an area. Of course, there is an advantage to knowing the area, where you can see in your mind all the places mentioned. The works can still be enjoyed by anyone, as Professor Horowitz is so descriptive as he takes readers on such a beautiful walk.
It is also interesting to see how the city has changed since the poem was published in 1997. For example, it is written “Precambrian stocks bond the upper crust with solid foundations below the Trade Towers, Trinity Church and Wall Street.” While this was correct at the time of publication, the World Trade Center towers no longer stand tall in lower Manhattan. I think, because of this fact, and the vast amount of changes in Manhattan, it would be interesting to see an updated version of the poem. Especially since the 10-year anniversary of the publication of “Manhattan” is coming close.

Copies of Howard Horowitz’s work, such as a poster of “Manhattan” and Close to the Ground, can be found for purchase at