Recreation may rise where industry once dominated

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

Along the waterfront in Edison and Woodbridge, industrial sites and old landfills reign supreme.

Although the landscape may not look ready for recreation, local officials hope the county’s plan to attract boaters further upriver may help boost a variety of local projects that could transform this section of the Raritan.

Edison Mayor George A. Spadoro said he envisions the proposed Raritan River Seaport, along the river’s banks in the township, as a recreational waterfront destination throughout the region.

"[The county] is talking about opening up the waterfront in a number of ways," Spadoro said.

Described by Spadoro as an "ambitious endeavor," the seaport would evolve through an eight-phase plan beginning with wetlands restoration. When completed, it could feature 405,000 square feet of commercial space, which would include 400 retail stores, restaurants, 130 residential units — possibly even hotels.

The seaport would also house a marine science education center, an environmental education center, a public marina containing 234 slips and 900 parking spaces, with a possibility of a five-floor parking garage that would add another 2,500 parking spaces, the plan states.

Spadoro said the project would be a "shot in the arm" for Raritan Center, an industrial and office park that sits on the vast majority of the township’s riverfront land.

"I wouldn’t preclude the Raritan from becoming a recreational area like Fort Lauderdale, where water living and uses of the river by the community become part of the lifestyle," Spadoro said.

As part of the first phase, the plan states that wetlands restoration efforts would restore approximately 1,000 acres of tidal and freshwater wetlands, and that by Phase II — which would include a five- to six-mile nature/fitness trail and one mile of boardwalk with observation decks connected to Thomas Edison Park, the public may use the river for bird watching, crabbing and fishing.

Spadoro said he sees crabbing and fishing along the Edison riverfront as a viable possibility for the currently polluted section of the Raritan.

"We’ve come a long way, and we have a long way to go before the water becomes swimmable and drinkable," Spadoro said.

But he disagrees with cleaning the river before redeveloping it.

"I don’t subscribe to [the opinion of] holding redevelopment pending its cleanup," Spadoro said. "We can use redevelopment to spur on cleanup activities."

Spadoro said he believes more aid would be made available to clean up the river if it was done in conjunction with redevelopment.

Brownfields money and funds from a proposed transit project also in the plan would earmark funds for cleanup efforts, Spadoro said.

"[Those projects], in addition to construction, will allow us to continue to clean up the river. I don’t take the position to wait till it’s really clean to begin redevelopment," he said. "We have to move in parallel."

The project calls for the development of 50 acres of wetlands in Edison, but Spadoro said the 50 acres is only a fraction of the wetlands that will be preserved.

"We’re saving 1,000 acres and developing roughly 5 percent. The rest is preserved. Some may argue that that’s too much," he said.

Spadoro said traffic generated by the new seaport would not be an issue.

"This is the only place in Edison where traffic is not an issue because of its isolated accessibility," he said. "There are a number of ways to the riverfront from points south. We have 20,000 commuters entering and exiting the district every day, and the impact is not significant in terms of traffic."

Other initiatives stated in the plan include a commuter ferry service expanding the "rails to trails" program that would link public open spaces with community facilities.

"It’s clearly a benefit," the mayor said.

"It’ll strengthen our viability as a regional economic center. It’s beneficial economically. It’ll bring in additional tax ratables, which will assist the stability of local taxes. It would make Edison a destination for residents throughout the region," he elaborated.

In neighboring Woodbridge, plans for the Raritan River include focusing mainly on industrial redevelopment along the waterfront in the Port Reading and Keasbey sections of the township.

Alleviating township flood problems, dredging to expand marinas along Smith Creek and the Arthur Kill, and preserving wetlands areas are all priorities, according the county plan.

The Port Reading/ Keasbey redevelopment plan will focus on the south side of Port Reading Avenue.

The boundaries of the area are Carteret to the east, Port Reading Avenue to the north, Arthur Kill to the south and the Amerada Hess property to the west.

The main objective of the redevelopment plan in this area, the plan states, is to "eliminate those conditions that cause the area to be considered an ‘area in need of redevelopment’ where practically possible."

Redevelopment would allow Woodbridge to generate new ratables within the industrial waterfront, according to the plan.

Regulating storm drainage in downstream areas by preserving natural stream corridors and restricting development in flood hazard areas is also an area of concern.

The plan also allows for the expansion of existing marinas along Smith Creek and Arthur Kill.

"We’re looking at this more from a flooding standpoint than anything else," Woodbridge Mayor Frank Pelzman said.

"While they’re [dredging] the Raritan River, we want them to come down a little further and include the Woodbridge River," he said.

The dredging would alleviate flooding problems caused by lack of depth in the river, he said.

In keeping with the township’s open space plan, the county will assist in acquiring "passive open space corridors as development occurs by encouraging dedication from developers."

Pelzman said he supported the county’s initiatives in Woodbridge.

"It would definitely be a benefit," he said. "Absolutely."