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  • 11 Nov 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Steve Dwyer 

    How does one put a positive spin on a pandemic? Maria Coler found two bona fide ways to do it: forming a virtual BCONE book club and starting a hiking club. Both are gaining traction and getting high marks from participants at a time when they need it most.    

    Coler, President of Hydrotechnology Consultants Inc. (HCI), Jersey City, N.J., formed the BCONE Brownfields, Books and Beer Club -- formatting it as a virtual event -- during the early part of 2020, when people were working remotely and stuck at home for long periods of time.  

    “My aim has been to raise the environmental consciousness of brownfield practitioners.” The iconic stories demonstrate that the average person possesses the ability to effect real and substantial change,” Coler says.  

    Coler envisions the book club as a potential gateway to attracting new people to BCONE and the brownfield industry. One pre-existing challenge is that many budding environmental professionals opt for careers in more “sexy” fields, such as renewable energy, sustainability and climate change. Many overlook brownfields as a career.

    “Anyone living around contaminated sites or those teaching about contaminated sites -- they all have the power to convey information about these sites,” says Coler, who has more than 15 years of experience in the environmental consulting field and is a Licensed Site Remediation Professional (LSRP) with the state of New Jersey. 

    There are some compelling historical examples about lessons learned --and they are being showcased in the book club.  

    Coler cites Love Canal during the late 1970s as something that has impacted peoples’ “heads and, more importantly, their hearts. That environmental saga changed the world and highlighted  how human health and safety have been put in peril. The purpose of the book club is to remind people of the arc of environmental consciousness: where we are and how much further we need to go.” 

    Coler cites scientists and citizen activists who have propelled the environmental movement forward. One is Rachel Carson. The book club participants were exposed to the voice and courage that Carson exuded in her iconic book “Silent Spring,” which challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, calling for change in the way humankind viewed the natural world.

    In writing the book, Carson, a writer, scientist and ecologist spoke out to remind that humanity is a vulnerable part of the natural world, and is subject to the same damage as the rest of the ecosystem. Testifying before Congress in 1963, Carson called for new policies to protect human health and the environment. Carson, who died in 1964, grew up in the rural river town of Springdale, PA. 

    “It was an awakening—it informed the whole environmental movement of the1960s, and it woke up a generation, so we started with that book,” says Coler. 

    Coler says that without Rachel Carson there would be no Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environmental activist known for challenging world leaders to take immediate action for climate change mitigation -- all at the age of 18.

    “It’s a passing of the baton -- and it’s a narrative that says, ‘never underestimate the ability of a small group of people to change the world,' in fact, it’s often the small groups that effect change most dramatically.” 

    The group has also read “Love Canal: A Toxic History from Colonial Times to the Present” (Richard S. Newman) and Pulitzer Prize winner, “Toms River” (Dan Fagin.)

    In the summer of 1978, residents of Love Canal, Niagara Falls, N.Y., protested against the leaking toxic waste dump in their midst, a 16-acre site containing 100,000 barrels of chemical waste that infested their neighborhood. Initially seeking evacuation, area activists soon found they were engaged in a far larger battle over the meaning of America’s industrial past and its environmental future. 

    “While Silent Spring produced a narrative centered around the dangers of pesticides, Love Canal and Toms River opened the nation’s eyes to hazardous waste. in their midst.” 

    “We are exploring the commonalities of these stories -- you have these archetypes who are integral to each story: the attorney who won’t give up, the citizen scientist who won’t take no for an answer, the civil servant who acts out of a sense of duty, and the scientist who vows to take a closer look, despite conventional wisdom.” 

    In the case of Love Canal, the activist citizens exerted enough pressure that it forced former President Jimmy Carter to sign sweeping legislation now known as Superfund. “The aim of the book club is to attract people to the mission of remediating brownfield sites. To build a sustainable 21st century, we must address the vestiges of the 19th and 20th centuries.”

    “These stories teach us that these are hard-earned rights—that we have to keep earning them every day,” says Coler, who holds a B.S. in Environmental Science, B.A. in Physics and minor in English Literature from Rutgers University and who is often retained as an expert witness. “These stories have the seeds of knowledge to help us build a sustainable world. They are not radical stories. They are the stories of regular citizens fighting for their basic rights to live in safe neighborhoods with clean water, soil, and air.” 

    The book club has evolved from a few core members to nearly 20 registered participants.  Coler is a guest lecturer on topics covered in the book club for the Phase I/Phase II course taught by Angelo Lampousis, a BCONE board member and City College of New York (CCNY) professor. Students from the CCNY class and the Stevens Institute of Technology program led by Professor Dibyendu “Dibs” Sarkar are invited to join the book club and gain extra credits, as well as a unique understanding of the brownfield industry and the history of the environmental movement in the United States. Inquisitive students often remain on the Zoom call to ask questions long after the book club session is over. “My goal is to increase the participation of graduate and undergraduate students, to plant the seeds of environmental awareness and to give them a reason to join the effort to remediate contaminated sites across the country and the world.”

    Regarding the hiking club, Coler had to “re-think activities that were possible and safe when Covid hit. The hikes create a sense of community and environmental awareness. A geology field guide explains the ancient origins of the land features, while an ecology field guide describes the flora and fauna indigenous to the area and how the ecosystem may have changed over time with human intervention and environmental degradation.

    Photos from some of the hiking trips and the tea ceremony.

    Coler and Anne Lazo, BCONE webmaster, avid hiker and runner, and owner of Eagle Soars, a marketing firm, are taking the hiking club to “the next level” in the spring of 2022, when an overnight excursion is planned on the Appalachian Trail. In addition to ecology and geology field guides, and with a nod to recent severe weather events, Coler and Lazo plan to enlist the involvement of a survivalist, who will teach the participants survival skills such as foraging and fire building. Look for registration information in 2022.

    Lazo backpacking on the AT in North Carolina with her nephew.

  • 26 May 2021 11:22 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Spring 2021 Virtual Scholarship Fundraiser a Success
    By: Elizabeth Burgess, EIT, Senior Staff Engineer, LANGAN


    On May 21, 2021, BCONE and the NYCBP co-hosted a virtual Aperitivo Hour fundraiser for the Charlie Bartsch Brownfield Scholarship and Abbey Duncan Brownfield Scholarship. Both known for their passion for this industry, the funds in their names provide scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing careers in the brownfield industry in NYC and throughout the northeast. Sponsored by seven companies (Gold: Eagle Soars ConsultingRiker DanzigYork Analytical Laboratories; and ACV Enviro. Silver: Cherrytree GroupEurofins; and Coastal Environmental Solutions, Inc), and with over 30 registrants, they raised over $770 for each scholarship fund while enjoying an early evening tasting of Brooklyn-made aperitivi. You can go to the NYCBP and BCONE websites anytime to donate to the scholarship funds:  https://www.nycbrownfieldpartnership.org/scholarship-program-donation and https://www.brownfieldcoalitionne.org/charlie-bartsch-brownfield-scholarship.

    While the group hopes to get back to hosting events in person in the very near future, this tasting transported the attendees to an Italian piazza where they shared stories and laughs so easily they could almost forget there were screens between them. The attendees received a tasting kit prior to the event with bottles of amaro, Inferno Bitter, negronis, and spritzes from St. Agrestis (saint-agrestis.com). The event included a tour of the distillery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, an overview of the production process, the history of the Negroni cocktail, and a guided tasting of the drinks by the producer, Louis Catizone. If you missed it, we hope to see you at the next fundraiser in the fall!


  • 06 Apr 2021 2:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In 1900, Newark was one of America's most populous cities. In 1907, then Governor Edward Stokes, declared Newark a "beehive of industry." The city thrived in manufacture and transportation and was an "industrial suburb" tied to the fortunes of nearby NYC.

    As the 1911 map from the Newark Public Library illustrates, more than 2000 factories were centrally located in the city, clustered along railroads and canals. Newark's manufacturers swelled with (Civil) wartime expenditures. There had been no thought to planning an infrastructure. Prior to tapping the Delaware watershed and building sewers in the late 1800s, toxic byproducts flowed out of local factories and from Paterson through the Passaic River, resulting in Newark's mortality rate being one of the nation's highest.

    But someone had the foresight in 1895, to hire Bogart & Barrett Olmsted Brothers Carrère and Hastings to design a beautiful park (the pink shape in the northwestern corner) as a place of beauty and respite in the middle of the industrial chaos. And this is how cherry blossom heaven was born. Adopted from, "Made In Newark, Cultivating Industrial Arts and Civic Identity in the Progressive Era" by Ezra Shales.

  • 02 Apr 2021 2:58 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Brian Yates, Yates Environmental Sciences Inc.

    On Sunday March 14th, the Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast (BCONE) hiked the Buttermilk Falls Trail in the Delaware Water Gap. We began at the Flat Brook near Walpack Township, and climbed roughly 900 feet up a shaded hemlock and birch valley, passing through sunny pitch pine and scrub oak forests. Eventually, we arrived and ate lunch at a large, open wetland area containing many dead trees, but generally overgrown with reeds, sedges, and rushes.

    Some BCONE members later described this area as dystopian – why would so many trees be dead in a remote area at the top of a mountain (View facing east of the dystopian wetland area. Photo courtesy of Kevin Schick via Google Earth). According to historic aerial photos, the area was forested up through 1971. Between 1971 and 1992, the habitat changed to an emergent wetland (marsh), and there is surface water covering the area in 2007 and 2008.

    One possible explanation for the change in hydrology is the damming of the stream which runs through the habitat by beavers (Castor canadensis), which have historically been very active in the area. The rise in water level likely saturated the root zone of the trees, depriving them of oxygen and eventually killing them off. As the trees died off and lost their branches, the understory opened up to sunlight, which allowed rushes, sedges and reeds to proliferate.

    Glacial Kettles: Based on mapping prepared by the NJ Geological and Water Survey, this area is considered a “kettle.” When the Wisconsin Glacier retreated over 15,000 years ago, a large block of dead ice separated and became surrounded by sediment. When the ice melted, the resulting depression then filled with water. Locations of a few kettles within the Kittatinny Mountains is provided below. Many, such as the nearby Crater Lake, still function as lakes. The beautiful setting attracted developers and was a budding vacation community through the mid-1900s. Others, like the dystopian wetland we visited, have not attracted development and were largely left undisturbed.

    Google Earth view facing southeast of several “kettles” pocketing the Kittatinny Mountains east of Walpack Township. 

    Ecological Significance: These kettles started as surface water bodies – but something interesting happened. Initially, sphagnum moss (peat) grew in floating mats across the surface of the water. As the mats thickened, other plants grew on top. When the vegetation died, it sank but did not fully decompose. Over thousands of years, peat filled entire lakes, gradually allowing trees and shrubs to grow where the water was once very deep. 

    Ecological succession of a lake to a peatland. Image courtesy of Lisa Hirkaler via the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, available here.

    Despite the vegetation which has grown on top of the peatland, the underlying substrate is very acidic and infertile. Peatlands are generally classified either as bogs or fens. Bogs have very little to no inflow of water and very low nutrient content (Collins and Anderson 1994). Fens receive some drainage inflow from surrounding areas and have somewhat higher nutrient content. While there is no 100% agreed-upon definition from ecologists, these habitats often provide habitat for carnivorous plants such as sundews and pitcher plants, which  trap and digest insects to obtain nutrients they can’t get from the soil. 

    Photo of the carnivorous plant Drosera sp. (sundew) taken at a peat bog in Picatinny Arsenal. Flying insects are lured in by the fluorescent tentacles and sweet odor, but become ensnared by its sticky mucilage which prevents progress or escape. Photo courtesy of Michelle Herman via INaturalist (license accessible here).

    Another example of a well-preserved peatland is the Dryden Kuser Cedar Swamp in High Point State Park. This habitat is believed to be the highest elevation Atlantic White Cedar swamp in the world. Historically, it was spared from deforestation on account of its remote location, but is naturally undergoing succession to an oak/hemlock forest. Wildlife are abundant in habitats like these; in the spring, visitors have seen spotted salamanders, red newts, pickerel frogs, migrating warblers, and even heard the drumming of ruffed grouse. 

    Atlantic white cedar swamp located in Wawayanda State Park. Photo taken by the author. 

    Archaeological Significance: History has demonstrated that peatlands are also particularly good at preserving fossils. In 1954, property owner Gus Ohberg of Sussex County was enlarging a pond when his dragline operator pulled a large object from the marsh. At first believed to be a tree stump, it was later determined to be the skull of an exceptionally large and old animal. Over the next few days, several more bones, including a femur and jaw were recovered. The New Jersey Geological Survey, New Jersey State Museum, and Rutgers and Princeton Universities arrived on the site and determined it to be an 11,000-year old mastodon – a prehistoric relative of the elephant. Mastodons were herbivores which wallowed in bogs and ate pond and bog vegetation as well as twigs and branches. They often became mired, drowned, and were preserved in the oxygen deficient sediment. 

    The mastodon nicknamed “Matilda,” was determined to be a young female about eight feet tall. As a reference, the largest mastodon fossil recovered in Sussex county was a leg about nine feet tall, making the animal’s estimated height no less than fifteen feet. 

    Mr. and Mrs. Gus Ohberg with the skull and femur of “Matilda.” Photo courtesy of S. Novak via New Jersey Geological and Water Survey Report 43: Garden State Mastodons, available here.

    Matilda is one of fifteen distinct mastodon discovery sites located throughout northern New Jersey. Nearly all them have been found in small ponds, lakes, or peat bog “kettles” left behind by the Wisconsin Glacier. Because freshwater wetlands regulations prohibit dredging these habitats without a permit, we are unlikely to find many more prehistoric fossils in these habitats. It does, however, raise the possibility that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of incredibly well-preserved mastodon fossils buried deep within the peat. 

    Summary: From an archaeological, geological, and ecological perspective, these kettle holes and peatland habitats are truly unique. In my humble opinion, these are just one of the many “hidden gems” that travelers unknowingly pass by on their way in and out of our area.  

     Thanks to Maria Coler of Hydrotechnology Consultants for organizing the hike and editorial review, Bob Blauvelt of GEI for excellent geological interpretation, Madison Gamba for editorial review and everyone that attended the hike!


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