Volunteers needed for Whippany River cleanup in Morristown, March 24


After the Whippany River flooded Morristown’s Bethel AME Church during Tropical Storm Irene last summer, citizens pitched in to clean up the house of worship.

These trucks, parked in a Center Street parking lot near the Bethel A.M.E. Church, were overwhelmed by Tropical Storm Irene and the Whippany River. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
These trucks, parked in a Center Street parking lot near the Bethel A.M.E. Church last summer, were overwhelmed by Tropical Storm Irene and the Whippany River. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Now, the church is asking for help cleaning the river.

“We cleaned up the church, but we really didn’t deal with the river,” said Pastor Sidney Williams Jr., who seeks volunteers to help the Whippany River Watershed Action Committee remove debris from the waterway near Bethel AME on March 24.

The cleanup is scheduled for 9 am until noon at the church on Spring Street. Garbage bags, gloves, hip waders, and safety vests will be provided, and the town has agreed to haul away the refuse that is collected. The rain date is March 31.

The idea is to remove fallen trees and trash that may exacerbate flooding near the church. According to Art Vespignani of the watershed committee, basic proposals for stabilizing the riverbank could come next month from Princeton Hydro, which began studying the problem last fall funded by a $17,744 grant from the Watershed Institute.

Video: The community cleanup of the church, Labor Day Weekend 2011

Princeton Hydro continues to gather data from federal, state, county and local sources, Art said via email. The environmental firm also is working on a program to train Bethel volunteers to remove invasive species from the riverbanks.

Based in Morris County, the nonprofit Whippany River Watershed Action Committee is comprised of volunteers representing 13 local governments, the county freeholders and corporate members. Their mission is to “preserve, protect and maintain the land and water of the Whippany River Watershed,” Vespignani said.

Pastor Sidney has not given up hope that flooding can be tamed in the Second Ward to allow construction of affordable housing near the river.

Restoration of the church, meanwhile, is a daunting task for the small, predominantly African American congregation.

The pastor said the church needs to raise about $200,000 to replace the kitchen ($135K), heating system ($46K) and walls ($20K) ruined when the basement filled with muddy water. The church plans to apply for a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant to help defray the costs. Because of an administrative lapse, the church was not covered by flood insurance when Irene struck.

“We’ve got a long journey ahead of us,” Pastor Sidney said.


cleanup poster river



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  1. All BASIC site survey work has been completed at the Bethel AME Church. Princeton Hydro (PH) had their stream team people on site doing measurements and installing monitoring equipment. They are still pulling together the information that they’ve been able to get from County and State, but waiting for information from the Township. WRWAC facilitator spoke to Township and they have the request and are working on gathering the info. PH went ahead and got FEMA flood maps for the project site. They are working on a workshop / training session for Bethel AME Church volunteers pertaining to invasive species removal. Much has already been done on the Church property. PH hopes to have some basic concepts of bank stabilization approach (both with and without the reconnection of the opposite floodplain area) ready in the next month or so. A progress meeting is scheduled for April 18th with the Church, PH, WRWAC and the Watershed Institute, the grantor.