"A lot of what washes up in Bayonne comes from Newark and Elizabeth," said Hackensack Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan, who works for the non-profit Riverkeeper environmental organization.
While the city of Bayonne and most of the other communities on the Hackensack River, which feeds Newark Bay, have taken increased steps to reduce the amount of trash that flows into waterways, many cities are still behind the times - and Bayonne suffers.
"Bayonne has been doing a lot to install new storm water sewer tops," Sheehan said. "This has made a significant difference, and it is noticeably better along the shore of Newark Bay and the Kill van Kull."
Sheehan said Bayonne's efforts to keep debris out of the sewers has had a huge impact on pollution, especially combined with the efforts in communities upstream such as Jersey City and Secaucus, and communities like Bergen County.
"It makes a big difference keeping floatable debris out of the sewers," he said.
But the sewer tops aren't enough. And that's where local organizations, state regulations, and individual activists chip in to keep the local waters cleaner.
Mixing in the bay
Sheehan, who has been a staunch advocate for improving the water quality in the area for more than a decade, described Newark Bay as a mixing bowl fed by the Hackensack and Passaic rivers.
"You have everything coming out of the Hackensack and Passaic pushing down, and then you have the tides flowing in from the Kill van Kull pushing the other way," he said. "Things that float into Newark Bay often get stuck there. It is a closed environment. And a lot of that junk eventually gets washed up on Bayonne's shore."
He said debris also flows into the river from the streets despite the new sewer covers, and he predicted Bayonne will soon have to implement side street sweeping for trash in order to meet the new strict regulations that are being imposed by the state.
Sheehan, who has been involved in some of Bayonne's environmental education efforts, said he has been in communication with Steve Gallo, the executive director of the Bayonne Municipal Utilities Authority, to talk about public information sessions.
"These would educate the public to keep trash out of water," Sheehan said. "Bayonne does try a lot harder than most communities to keep the water clean. Places like Newark, Kearny and Harrison still contribute to water debris."
Until other cities get into line, Bayonne's shore line will suffer, he said.
Sheehan said there are a lot of things people can do to keep the waterfront clean. One of the most effective is to organize citizens' groups to help collect trash from the bayside. Sheehan's Riverkeeper organization has scheduled 12 such cleanups for the Hackensack River in Bergen, Essex and Hudson County over the next year. Companies like United Water of Hackensack have helped.
"We put together a funding base," he said. "We get money from Bergen County's and Hudson County's clean communities funds."
The money can be used to purchase bags and gloves so that local volunteers or money-strapped communities do not have to reach into their pockets.
"The money is there," he said. "You just have to apply for it."
But he cautioned that there can be difficulties involved in organizing a waterfront cleanup.
"You have to have volunteers, get them to the site, and then arrange for dumpsters to be delivered and later picked up," he said.
Another way to perform a waterfront cleanup is to use prisoners to do it.
"Some communities like Newark have used work gangs out of the county or city jails," he said.
Cleanups get easier over time, he said. "If you do cleanups regularly," he said, "there is less trash to pick up at time goes on."
Helping the volunteers
Robert DeVida is one of the key people involved with maintaining the water quality in the area. As manager of the Newark Bay and Passaic River Restoration Program for the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, he has been in close association with many of the people who do the work to keep the waterfront clean.
Since 1998, PVSC has sponsored more than nearly 200 river cleanups using volunteers from municipalities, school groups, businesses and individuals, resulting of the removal of more than 5 million pounds of trash from the Passaic River and its tributaries.
PVSC personnel provide heavy equipment to remove items from the waterways that volunteers can't, from fallen trees to automobile parts. The company also maintains two pontoon boats that skim the water to remove floating debris such as plastic cups and other items often dumped into the estuary by heavy rains.
The company also provides assistance to volunteer groups seeking to perform waterside cleanups, providing tools, dumpsters and paying the disposal fees for the junk collected.
Locally, DeVida said he has worked with some key people such as Tom Harrington of Clear Shores and Sandra Leiberman - in cleaning up the shores along Bayonne and Jersey City.
"Tom Harrington is one of these remarkable people who came north from South Jersey and put his efforts into cleaning up the waterfront," DeVida said.
Harrington is operating on a shoe-string budget, and with the use of prisoner labor, conducts regular shoreline cleanup efforts.
"Passaic Valley had set up an arrangement with the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission so that the junk he collects will get be put in the dump for free," DeVida said. "By not having to pay the tipping fees for trash, he can stretch his budget."
Over one seven-week period, Harrington's efforts managed to fill 50 dumpsters.
Harrington usually conducts cleanups in the area in the spring and fall.
DeVida said the program started out small with the purchase of a skimmer boat to keep outflow from their facilities from clogging with junk. This small effort gave way to a greater understanding of the connected nature of the ecosystem. The program was expanded to help groups in their efforts along the Passaic River and Newark Bay.
Scouting groups have also held regular cleanups.
One person's effort
Sandra Lieberman has worked hard over the last few years to keep sections of Bayonne's western shore clean, a one-person cleaning crew who has accounted for hundreds of bags of refuge and received accolades from many in the community.
Since June 2002, Lieberman has voluntarily cleaned up a section of waterfront from West 24th to West 29th Street - a fact many people have acknowledged.
But she has also been one of the biggest critics of the waterfront cleanup effort, saying that city could do much more and many more people can and should be involved - including the school district, which owns a significant piece of waterfront.
"[Historically], beaches in Bayonne have not been an environmental priority," she said. "Although used by some and appreciated by some, their condition has been variously ignored, shuddered at, given up as hopeless, dismissed as too problematic and so on for a long time."
While this has changed over time - especially because the waterfront has become more visible due to recreation and development opportunities - she believes a more permanent solution to the cleanup problems must be undertaken. She said more people and organizations need to be involved. While she appreciates the compliments people offer her for her activities, she said other people need to lend a hand, and institutions such as the schools must take on a greater role in cleaning up sections they have control over.
"There are times when I'm the only one out there doing the cleanup," she said.
Over the last two years, two high school classes initiated cleanups, as did some Department of Public Works helped out. "But this assistance really doesn't begin to deal adequately with the actual amount of area maintenance and upgrade work," she said.
Cleaning up driftwood and collecting debris, overcoming petty vandalism, and installing garbage receptacles would go a long way towards "generating and maintaining a now-it's-changed, so-let's-keep-it-this-way attitude on a widespread basis," she said
This would require a more regular organized effort to make sure that weeds got pulled, landscaping was performed, and communication was established to get out volunteers.
"This was never meant to be a one-person undertaking," she said.
Gerald Savo, a resident in the area, noted that some of the efforts to clean up the waterfront by students from the high school recently have received little attention.
"There were no photographers at the scene or any publicity," Savo said.
Savo appears to agree with Lieberman that there should be a more official cleanup effort by the city.
Contact Al Sullivan at: email@example.com