Environmental clean-up at Benson Park enters new phase
Playground remains closed for at least a few more weeks
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Apr 28, 2013 | 4715 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The still-closed Mary Benson Park playground last week.
The still-closed Mary Benson Park playground last week.

A public playground that was closed by city officials nearly a year ago for environmental remediation remains closed and may not be reopened for several more weeks, even as warm weather and peak playground season roll in. The closure will further delay planned renovations for the playground that residents thought would be completed last fall.

Last June, the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Division of Architecture discovered elevated levels of lead in the playground area of Mary Benson Park, located between Newark Avenue and Fourth and Merseles streets. Although an engineering firm has been hired to address the problem, fixing it is taking longer than the city – and local parents – had anticipated.
Delays in the environmental remediation at Mary Benson Park have also put off plans to renovate the playground and install new equipment.
It might be mid-summer before Benson Park, which the students of the Michael Conti School (P.S. 5) also use for recess, is reopened to the public.

The ongoing delays have forced the postponement of a long-planned playground renovation that neighbors had hoped would be finished last year.

‘A bit of an inconvenience’

According to the city web site, the land that is now Mary Benson Park was once used as a “dumping ground for [municipal] debris.”

Last summer, the DPW and Division of Architecture discovered the elevated levels of lead when they did preliminary testing that was required before the new playground equipment could be installed.

“Testing performed at the site confirmed that regional historic fill exists below the surface grade of the site,” said City Spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill. “The largest lead concentrations were at deeper depths (not on the surface of the site). This condition may be attributable to the fact that years ago Jersey City raised the site with a layer of topsoil to grade and create the ball field and park that exists today.”

Two out of four environmental tests conducted at the park found that sub-soils there exceeded standards set by the New Jersey Residential Soil Remediation Standards for lead. The samples were taken by an independent geotechnical and environmental materials testing consultant and were taken in four different locations within the playground area.

Shortly after these tests were conducted, the City Council gave the city approval to hire a Licensed Site Remediation Professional to run further tests and map out an environmental clean-up plan for the park, which has a total of 2.95 acres.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection was also notified of the contamination.

With this approval the city hired AMEC, an environmental remediation and civil engineering firm. According to city spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill, AMEC has thus far “completed the first step in the remediation process, which is a Preliminary Assessment Report.”

Last week, at the April 24 meeting, the City Council authorized a contract for AMEC to conduct the next phase of work.

“The Preliminary Assessment Report / Site Investigation and the Remedial Action Workplan have been submitted to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for review,” Morrill said.

The DEP is expected to respond and either approve or reject the plan in May.

“DPW Director Rodney Hadley and chief architect Brian Weller have a playground plan that was designed with our input, that they will share with us at that time,” said Felicia Noth, president of the Conti PTA. “I am really looking forward to it. My hope is that the new and improved playground will be done over the summer so we can start next [school] year with a real park.”

The Conti PTA, the Village Neighborhood Association, and Fourth Street Arts have collectively been raising money to make various improvements to the park, including the addition of a new playground area for kids. A portion of the park is also going to be designated for a garden.

“Within the next few weeks we anticipate DEP will call us to proceed with implementation of the ‘Remedial Action Work Plan’ to start the actual clean up and installation of the engineered cap in all necessary areas,” said Morrill.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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