Wanted: green infrastructure in Bayonne

State empowers municipalities to encourage green projects

A car was stranded under Route 440 in Bergen Point in September during a flash flood.
A car was stranded under Route 440 in Bergen Point in September during a flash flood.

Local governments like Bayonne’s have been working for decades to address a problem worsening by the year: too much water running off into surrounding waters through its 23 combined sewage outflows (CSOs). The 18th Century sewage technology, and impermeable paved surfaces, divert water from the ground where it naturally would go to filter into surrounding waterways and into underground sewers.

When it rains, water combines with pesticides, oils, and other pollutants, overflowing into streets and surrounding waterways. In Bergen Point and the city’s East Side neighborhoods, flooding is becoming more commonplace, especially as the city’s increasing population puts added pressure on the sewage system. Stormwater systems are the largest source of contamination of state waters.

Bayonne officials have urged residents in the past to resist tossing garbage and bagged dog waste into the sewers. As a member of “Clean Waterways, Healthy Neighborhoods,” Bayonne is working to alleviate the CSO issue for years.

State steps in 

The state is finally taking action by passing legislation that permits municipalities and other entities to establish utilities that could impose fees on parking lots and other impermeable surfaces. The fees will fund improvements to the stormwater management systems based on “a fair and equitable approximation” of the amount of runoff generated from a property.

Opponents are billing the fees as a “rain tax” on local businesses already paying high taxes, but environmental advocates argue the cost of flooding and pollution amount to a much higher cost.

Environmentalists weigh in 

At a North Jersey Transporation and Planning Authority meeting held in early March in Newark, environmental planners said that using a currently-offline municipal treatment plant near the largest CSO area would be most cost effective in Bayonne.

Planners will consider retrofitting existing storage tanks, which would lower the number of times sewage overflows into surrounding waters and onto the streets. Improvements to pumping stations would move sewage away from the CSOs to the Alan C. Levine Little Falls Water Treatment Plant in Little Falls, NJ.

Planners also suggested placing Paracetic Acid disinfection systems at the site of CSO outfalls to sterilize the contaminated, discharged water. They estimated that green infrastructure projects could reduce annual CSO volumes by 3 percent. Twenty-eight potential green infrastructure projects were identified for Bayonne by a Rutgers University feasibility study.

Some schools, many residents, and a group of local environmental activists called the “Bayonne Water Guardians” have gone to great lengths to encourage neighbors to use rain barrels to intercept water from household gutters before it gets into the sewage system. The captured rain can then be used for many purposes, such as to water gardens and lawns, or to wash cars.

Here are some examples of some green infrastructure projects in Bayonne suggested by the study:

Apartments at 80 W. 23rd Street

Six grassy areas in the apartment complex have the potential to be transformed into rain gardens. One of these areas is in the center of the complex with an existing storm drain. A nearby tool shed has external downspouts that could be disconnected to divert stormwater into a rain barrel or cistern. The parking lots are in need of repair, and pervious pavement should be considered.

Marist High School

In the northwestern corner of the rear parking lot, soil is compacted, water is ponding, and sediment is accumulating. By paving the area with pervious pavement, infiltration can be increased. On the northern side of the building is a grassy area where stormwater drains into a storm drain. A rain garden can be planted in the grassy area, and a curbcut can direct water from the road to the garden.

34th Street Light Rail Station

The station is at 291 Prospect Ave. Along the northeast section of the parking lot is a drainage ditch has no vegetation and is filled with litter. The ditch can be vegetated and regraded. In the southwest section is a large grassy island in the center of the parking lot. A portion of this area is free of trees and utilities and is suitable for a rain garden.

Bayonne High School

The parking lot behind Bayonne High School drains down a slope that spills onto a sidewalk. The parking lot itself is eroded, especially where the water travels. When it is replaced, pervious pavement can be considered. Steep bioswales with a drainage ditch that would also help to reduce erosion. On the northeast corner of the tennis courts, the parking lot is accumulating sediment. A curb-cut could help direct water into a potential rain garden.