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Posted 11/28/2016

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By James D'Ambrosio, Public Affairs Specialist

The New York District, headquartered in Lower Manhattan, is abuzz with activity, carrying out multiple missions at any one time (some highly visible), with nearly 350 people in Lower Manhattan office. But there’s another dimension of the District’s work that’s less visible: Contributions from staff in field offices spread across 26,500 square miles of NY, NJ, CT, MA and VT. One is the New Jersey Area Environmental Residency 30 miles south of New York City in East Brunswick, NJ, charged with remediating Superfund sites on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

EPA & Superfund

Superfund is a federal program managed by the EPA designed to fund cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous substances and pollutants, including some of the nation’s most contaminated land, and responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural disasters. EPA may identify parties responsible for hazardous substances released to the environment (polluters) and either compel them to clean up the sites, or possibly undertake the cleanup on its own using the Superfund (a trust fund) with costs recovered from polluters by referring to the U.S. Department of Justice. Its goals are three-fold: 1) Protecting human health and the environment; 2) community involvement in the process; and 3) making responsible parties pay for the work. There are at least 25 active Superfund sites managed by the Environmental Residency within the District’s jurisdiction. Superfund sites often include surface and sub-surface remedies where soil is removed, treated and taken to EPA approved landfills, and purification of contaminated groundwater through on-site water treatment plants.

Kansas City & Baltimore District Contribute

EPA Region II is based in New York City and serves New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In managing Superfund, when required, the EPA supplements its resources by requesting the assistance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). On many of their sites a Corps Inter-District Team is utilized to synergistically provide a project delivery team to execute the work on behalf of the EPA. The Corps’ Kansas City District provides remedial design/technical assistance; Baltimore District provides real estate support services; and the New York District, as the Corps lead during the remedial action phase, provides construction oversight, project management, quality assurance and safety support services.

Gene Urbanik, New Jersey Area Engineer, said the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) also known as ‘Superfund,’ was a “game-changer” in response to growing concerns over health and environmental risks from hazardous waste. In 1986 the EPA called on the Corps of Engineers to manage their field contracts in Region II to augment and support their resources with the District’s experienced team to perform large-scale remediations that often take years to complete. This effort continues to be accomplished with a successful team model including Kansas City District Remedial Engineering, Design and Contracting, as well as New York’s project management, public affairs and safety support.

Experienced Staff

Three seasoned New Jersey Environmental Residency employees ― Gene Urbanik, Neal Kolb and Michael Johnson — with a combined 80 years Corps’ service — oversee 12 engineering staff and a portfolio of 25+ environmental remediation projects. Operating since the late 1980s, the Residency cleans up Superfund sites across a wide area of New Jersey to the New York border. Employees, working from trailers on site, draw on expertise in environmental remediation, groundwater treatment systems design and operations, contract management, and safety to effectively manage projects removing contamination and restoring land for productive uses — commercial business, residential, parks, nature preserves, etc. Residency employees spend most of their time on site, periodically reporting to the main office in East Brunswick for administrative and training functions.

Sayreville, NJ Site Visit

A good example of the Environmental Residency’s work is the Horseshoe Road Superfund site in Sayreville, NJ, where the District has been working since 2009 to remove contamination from the soil and water. Recently, a tour of the six-acre site — which became contaminated with chemicals and solvents from a former chemical processing facility decades ago when few environmental regulations existed — proved instructive. Before entering the work area, safety gear was needed — hard hat, orange vest and steel-toe boots — as remediation sites are construction areas with heavy equipment, uneven terrain, temporary walkways and physical obstructions.  

Brian Packowski, a project engineer, gave detailed descriptions of work in progress while walking the site: an open area where fresh soil replaced contaminated soil, marsh along the banks of the Raritan River where contaminated sediment was being excavated, and a completed section where ducks are now swimming in clean water. Toward the back was a large mound of treated soil drying out (reducing its weight) before being safely transported to EPA-approved landfills, and a water treatment plant removing contaminants from the water resulting from remedial dredging operations. With roughly a year’s work left, upon completion, the EPA will determine the future best use of the land.

Value to the Nation

According to the EPA, there are approximately 1,328 Superfund sites across the U.S., 114 in New Jersey alone. Remediating these sites, in the aggregate, produces significant benefits to the country as a whole. Some examples of site reuse/redevelopment are:

►Cleaned Superfund sites are being used for wetlands, streams and ponds, providing habitat for aquatic life.

►Waterfront industrial properties converted into scenic trails and parks for public use.

►Supporting thousands of jobs with payroll in the billions in areas where commercial industry has returned.                                                                                          

►Providing valuable amenities such as residences, sports fields, parks, green space and public facilities.

Quality Assurance

In a recent interview, Environmental Residency staff emphasized the importance of quality assurance. Mr. Urbanik described their work as “the eyes and ears of the EPA,” performing rigorous on-site quality assurance. Staff perform regular inspections to ensure work is proceeding properly. Should a problem arise, say, an airborne pollutant detected, work is immediately halted to determine its source and eliminate it. To that end, air-monitoring equipment is stationed both inside and around the perimeter at Sayreville, providing an extra layer of protection for nearby communities: keeping the work site free of releases significantly reduces the chance of any contaminants escaping the immediate area.  Project engineers handle all aspects of remediation: identifying and evaluating toxic contaminants, developing and implementing cleanup plans, hiring contractors and overseeing work, monitoring air quality, etc., on behalf of the EPA.

Environmental Residency Team

The following individuals comprise the District’s New Jersey Area Environmental Residency Office:

Eugene Urbanik               New Jersey Area Engineer

Neal Kolb                          Environmental Resident Engineer

Michael Johnson             Environmental Team Leader

Gamal Awad                     Civil Engineering Technician

John Canby                      Project Engineer

Kam Yin Chan                  Project Engineer

Matthew Creamer            Project Engineer

Sterrett Daniels                Project Engineer

Paul Garnier                     Project Engineer

Ronny Hwee                     Project Engineer

Kenneth Maley                 Project Engineer

Patrick Nejand                  Project Engineer

Brian Packowski               Project Engineer

Neil Ravensbergen           Project Engineer

Thomas Roche                  Project Engineer


Significant Accomplishments

A sampling of NY District successful projects include:

►The Montclair/West Orange/Glen Ridge Superfund site with 300+ residential and commercial properties — the largest completed Superfund project in the nation involving resident relocation.

►80+ residential and commercial FUSRAP contaminated properties (Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program).

►A creosote Superfund site with 137 single-family homes (creosote is a sealant used to treat wood).

►Supporting the debris-sorting mission at the Staten Island Landfill after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

►Cleaning up millions of tons of debris in New York and New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Going Forward  

Going forward, there’s still much to be done remediating contaminated land and improving environmental conditions in New Jersey. Although you may never see them, these District professionals are working tirelessly to positively impact New Jersey’s environment and making a significant contribution to the New York District’s environmental remediation mission. It’s a long-term effort, but much progress has been made.

Additional Information & Resources

NY District Environmental Remediation Mission

EPA Superfund