Short-term impacts must be measured against the risk of irreparable long-term damage to our water related eco-system
We are all rightly concerned about protecting our environment and implementing measures to achieve those goals. Our New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has worked very hard over the years to bring about improvements to our waterways and groundwater. The NJDEP has implemented many creative programs to achieve clean water objectives by requiring improvements in the discharge of wastewaters.
Our State is fortunate to have regional treatment plants to process and manage waste waters to protect our waterways and utilize creative state of the art environmental processes in these efforts. The most critical aspect of these treatment activities is to have energy available to keep these systems operating.
The Passaic Valley Sewage Commission (PVSC) treatment facilities, located in Newark, provide treatment for approximately 300 million gallons per day of wastewaters from domestic, commercial and industrial sources in its service area. The treated wastewaters are discharged at Robbins Reef Light in New York Bay which is a tidal estuary- the waters of which affect New Jersey and New York waters.
Various articles in the news media have been written about the improvements to water quality in these waterbodies and the associated improvements to our fish stock and aquatic biota. Even porpoises and whales have found their way into these waters along with striped bass, black bass, flounder, sturgeon, turtles and other species of fish.
One of our state’s vital industries is tourism which is driven by our beaches and access to our ocean waters, not to forget the importance of the fishing industry. To maintain and improve this aquatic balance and use, we cannot afford to have sewage spills in our waterways or the discharge of untreated waste waters.
The PVSC, as do other regional wastewater facilities, provide a vital balance to the aquatic needs and as such their operating capabilities must be secured. The letter “E” in environment also stands for economic and employment concerns which should be considered when achieving a balance with environmental concerns. Undoubtedly, the project under consideration, as discussed below will provide a substantial number of employment opportunities in the City which must be considered in the equation.
There is presently a dispute among certain environmental groups and the PVSC over the construction of an energy plant in Newark at the PVSC location relating to air quality concerns from the use of natural gas to power turbines to generate electricity during storm related outages. The production of electrical energy at the PVSC facilities is essential to keep the wastewater treatment plant operating when the electrical supply is discontinued due to paralyzing storm events.
Without the operation of the plant in times of electrical shut-offs due to a storm event, approximately 300 million gallons daily of untreated waste waters will be discharged into the waters of New York Harbor, truly an environmental disaster. The effect on fish and aquatic biota, tourism and water quality could be devastating and long lasting.
On the other hand, the operation of natural gas turbines will produce limited air quality impacts which, with proper controls, can effectively be managed.
The environmental concerns seem to center around the fact that natural gas comes from a carbon source and as such it is not an acceptable fuel. However, there are no alternatives available to PVSC to implement its standby energy source other than the use of natural gas. Any other options are impracticable and not viable.
The long-term impacts from the daily discharge of raw sewage into our valuable waterways is also not tolerable on our environment. It would appear that the limited and short-term use of natural gas to power the energy source is a potential short-term impact which must be measured against the risk of irreparable long-term damage to our water related eco-system.
It would be a shame to see all of the hard work and millions of dollars spent to improve the Bay and its estuaries go down the drain.
Theodore A. Schwartz, Partner, Scarinci Hollenbeck