By Berit Ollestad
Three churches pulled together over the weekend for the third annual cleanup of the Whippany River in Morristown, and volunteers reported good progress.
But the town’s decision to cart this winter’s snow to a parking lot near the river poses potential problems for the waterway, according to an official with an environmental group.
“Clearly since we started co-hosting this river clean-up three years ago, there is a noticeable difference in the positive effect it has had on the river and eco-system,” said Jim Baranski, vice chairman of the Whippany River Watershed Action Committee. Less trash was found this time, he said, and that’s a good sign.
“It’s unfortunate, though, that Morristown decided to dump the snow from the town so close to the river. When all of that snow starts to melt it’s going to seep into the water source and potentially wind up in the river,” said Baranski, whose organization co-hosted the cleanup with the Bethel AME Church, the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer and the Presbyterian Church in Morristown.
“What makes it even more distressing is it’s plowed snow, and you have high levels of salt and road run-off mixed in there,” Baranski continued.
“Just as salt isn’t good for your body, it isn’t good for the river, either. You can either take a micro look at the effects that the melting snow will have or you can take a macro look at the effects it will have on not only this community, but other communities downstream as well,” he said.
Reached on Monday night, town Administrator Michael Rogers said the town had few options for disposal of excess snow, which was becoming a safety issue for residents.
“People are always pretty touchy when it comes to depositing snow so close to a river,” he acknowledged. “But there is no reason to believe that we are affecting the river in a negative way according to my sources. Had I had been different information,we would have re- evaluated our decision.
“We’ve never had a winter like this one before, where we have ran out of space to put snow. Space is extremely limited in town and we needed to clear the streets because it becomes a safety issue for residents. When we were considering our options we took it to the town council and their council representative was fully well aware of our intentions to put the snow down on Bishop Nazery Way,” Rogers said.
During the winter town officials said they were hauling the white stuff to Nazery Way, near the Bethel AME Church and the river, because they were running out of space at Burnham Park.
Rogers went on to say that the town will look into solutions to mitigate the potential “trapped trash” that could find its way into the river after the snow melts. Possible remedies would include a second town cleanup, or using temporary snow fencing to contain trash, he said.
Bethel AME Pastor Sidney Williams Jr., whose church flooded after Tropical Storm Irene because of debris in the river, said the Whippany River holds great promise.
“We hope to be a catalyst for the rest of the community. There are some people that have no respect for the river. They use it as a dumping ground for their trash or they come down here and drink beer and toss their cans and bottles along the banks. Just look how beautiful this spot is,” he said.
“This river should be considered a town treasure. Yet we don’t treat it that way. It should be a place we cherish as a town and community and do what we can to take care of it,” the pastor said.
Photos by Berit Ollestad
Although this weekend’s turnout was lighter than in the past, about 25 volunteers packed out approximately 20 large garbage bags of trash from the river’s edge.
The cleanup yielded the typical assortment of cans, bottles, clothing, old tires and car parts. An “antique” television also was unearthed, along with an intact metal bed frame and perhaps, most interestingly, a light switch that most likely was a relic from a long-gone community once housed on the river bank.
Volunteer Emerson Simon was pitching in because “it’s our neighborhood and we are members of Bethel Church,” he said.
Bethel and the Presbyterian Church together are working toward getting certified by an organization called Green Faith, which encourages churches to take care of “Mother Earth.” Redeemer already has attained certification.
Volunteers had difficulty ignoring the white elephant in the parking lot, the mountain of snow. They stood atop the pile trying to pry out litter embedded in the frozen blob.
“I like the town of Morristown, but I can’t believe they would dump all of this snow so close to the river,” said coalition member Paula Cozzarelli. “I find it absolutely disgusting that they would do this, just look at all this trash. It’s going to go directly in the river and there’s fish in there. Is Morristown going to be hosting a cleanup this July to clean up all the trash once the snow melts? I don’t think so.”
“This was so irresponsible for the town to do this,” said Mary O’Keefe, administrator for the WRWAC, as she held up a rogue sewer grate that had been caught in the snow as streets were plowed.
For fellow anglers Jeff Kurt and Jonathan Eng from Trout Unlimited, this wasn’t a typical Saturday morning fishing expedition.
Waist-deep in their hip-waders, they found hidden bounty on the river floor: A scooter, car tires and enough chain link fence to quite possibly corral all of the litter and prevent it from heading to sea.
Kurt, a veteran of the cleanup, proudly proclaimed himself the designated “Boat Guy” of the venture.