Published first on the Progress News, February 28, 2022

With spring just around the corner, I’m starting to get excited about the upcoming season of on-the-ground works, with projects kicking off or starting back up in Oil City, Reno, Foxburg, Emlenton, Grove City, and probably more! It will be a busy year for Redevelopment, to say the least. To get myself in the proper headspace when strategizing, I like to draw inspiration and motivation from similar projects in other areas. You may remember that one of our upcoming projects is the reuse of a Superfund site, a former landfill that has been partially remediated, so this week I’m going to share the success story of another Superfund site, a 60-acre former asbestos manufacturing facility in New Jersey.

The site, which locals simply refer to as the “Asbestos Dump” is located in Millington, a small town of 8700 people in northern New Jersey. The site was in active use from 1927 until 1975. Since then, a combination of private and public remediation and reuse efforts have seen the once-toxic landscape transformed into a wetland preserve and a multi-use compound providing space for commercial, residential, and agricultural activities, as well as conservation and recreation amenity. While not an apples-to-apples comparison of our own Superfund project, it does bear some similarities. Both were dump sites with some buildings in place, and both were partially remediated by private parties. Both are located at the edge of small towns, and development planning for both looked for reuse options that would provide benefit and opportunity to their communities.

Photo of Vernal Pool Habitat created at the Asbestos Dump Superfund Site, courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.

In the case of the Asbestos Dump, remediation was relatively slow, starting in the 1980s and 1990s and continuing until 2010. There are still a few protective measures (or “controls” in the official lingo) in place and the site is still monitored to ensure no threats to human health or the environment arise, but the controls are working and the property currently has a clean bill of health. This has allowed the reuse of the site to flourish. As mentioned, a portion of the site was added into the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Morris County, New Jersey, which now covers a whopping 7800 acres, or 12 square miles, only half an hour from the heart of New York City! The Asbestos Dump site only added a few dozen acres to the wetlands, but it was a critical addition, allowing for the restoration of a large swath of the entire Refuge. The main built-up portion of the Superfund site, known as the Millington Property, is the primary section that was repurposed for mixed use, where, according to the most recent EPA report, 20 businesses now provide 89 local jobs. Other sections suitable for construction were remediated and converted to residential housing, while the remaining acreage is utilized for livestock grazing and additional wildlife habitat.

Superfund sites can be scary for redevelopers, with huge lists of contaminants and threats to health and biodiversity that must be eliminated or otherwise managed. But, with some ingenuity and a keen eye for potential and possibility, not to mention a bit of patience, they can be brought back into a use that provides multiple benefits to our communities!

Cover Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash