Newark and Camden just got $400k each to clean up dirty land

What do a meat processing site, an abandoned gas station and two abandoned industrial sites have in common? They're all getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grant money dedicated to cleaning them up.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Wednesday that four New Jersey brownfield sites, two in Newark and two in Camden, were each being awarded $200,000 in federal grants to help cover cleanup costs.

Going forward, the cities will be primarily responsible for cleaning up the sites while the EPA will hold an oversight role.

These kind of cleanup projects typically take about two years to complete, said Walter Mugdan, the acting deputy regional administrator for EPA Region 2.

The announcement was made at the site of the former Berkowitz Fat Company in Newark's Ironbound neighborhood. Owned by Seymour Berkowitz, the company was a meat rendering operation that turned meat scraps into oils, tallow for candles and other animal products. The Berkowitz operations began in the 1970s.

From 2005 to 2007, the site was repeatedly inspected by NJDEP, which resulted in more than $2 million in pollution fines.

Now the site is largely vacant, though it does serve as a storage area for heavy construction equipment. But more cleanup still needs to be done, and the EPA grant money will help the city remove a dozen underground and above ground storage tanks.

Beyond the $200,000 EPA grant, Newark has applied for $83,000 in funding from NJDEP for the cleanup of the Berkowitz site according to Bill Lindner, the NJDEP's Office of Brownfield Reuse manager.

"This piece of property is the only thing [Berkowitz] left behind, and the city now owns it," Mugdan said.

The other Newark site is the former Allen's Amoco gas station site at 861-869 Clinton Avenue. The gas station was operational from its opening in 1937 to its abandonment in 1991, when the structures were demolished but the six underground storage tanks were left behind.

"We're excited to put these resources to use as part of our overall strategy as we're currently cleaning up 35 acres of brownfields within the city," said Carmelo Garcia, Newark's deputy mayor for economic and housing development, of the new EPA grants.

Since 2008, EPA has provided 23 brownfield grants to Newark for a total of $5.75 million, according to Mugdan.

Two former industrial sites were the grant winners in Camden. The first site, a parcel at 726 Kaighn Avenue in the Bergen Square neighborhood, was home to an electroplating facility that shut down in 2004.

"The property has been vacant and a blight on our community for decades, attracting nothing but trash and drug activity," Camden Mayor Frank Moran said in a press release.

The Kaighn Avenue property will be cleaned up to create a new industrial park at the site, with the hopes of bringing new manufacturing jobs to Camden.

The second Camden site is the Camden Laboratories site at 1667 Davis Street that has been vacant since 2008. The city plans to clean the soil and groundwater at the nearly 4 acre large site before making the property an expansion of Whitman Park.

"The presence of the dilapidated structure has long been an eyesore next to the adjacent Whitman Park recreational fields and a nuisance to the surrounding residential neighborhoods," Moran said. "Our vision calls for the extension of the recreational fields in order to provide greater usage by the community."

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