Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Year in Review: New Jersey spends billions to dredge, widen Hackensack River for Super Bowl party cruise ships

The state also raised many low bridges to allow the tall cruise ships to navigate upriver.
East Rutherford, NJ--Nearly a year has passed since New Jersey hosted the first outdoor (expected) cold weather Super Bowl, where the Seahawks thrashed the Broncos like it was 1987, 1988, or 1990. Officially, the big game festivities were a bi-state affair, a first for the NFL, as events were also held across the Hudson River in Manhattan (The Big Apple Garden Super Bowl).

The two states invested a hefty sum of cash to have the game, especially for security measures. New Jersey also spent billions more—possibly to outshine their NYC neighbors—to dredge and widen the Hackensack River and to remove and raise bridges as needed in order to accommodate large party cruise ships to dock “as close as possible” to MetLife Stadium.

Manhattan hosted its own cruise ship party along the Hudson at Pier 53. While this celebration featured the likes of Jay Z, Beyoncé, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Jennifer Lopez, and Brad Pitt, the Hackensack River ships welcomed Macaulay Culken, the Spin Doctors, Matthew Modine, Marla Gibbs, Greg Evigan, Scott Wolf, and many more.

The Garden State, according to Governor Christ Christie, was "more than happy" to be co-hosting the NFL's showcase competition with New York. But, at the same time, did not want to be "completely in the shadows of the twenty-three square mile island's skyscrapers" when it came to the big parties and the popular, interactive NFL Experience for the fans.

The task to bring three Carnival cruise liners up the Hackensack River, to within walking distance of MetLife, aimed to move the party epicenter from Manhattan to North Jersey. Not only did the waterway require dredging but several low-clearing bridges (rail and automobile) needed to be raised fifty feet or more and passages widened to allow the ships to navigate north to East Rutherford.

The Hackensack River flows nearly 50 miles from New York State, parallel to the Hudson River, south through North Jersey and into Newark Bay. It is one of the many rivers that supply the deep, natural, ship-friendly port of New York and New Jersey—a port that allowed the region to grow into the metropolis it is today.

How did the vast (and necessary?) Hackensack River cruise ship party project all work out? The company responsible gave a tour of the $6 billion project in early December 2013.
The winds whipping across the wetlands on either side of the lethargic river gave the water reeds a motion all their own, breaking from the pattern of the waterway’s choppy waves and the narrow ship’s widening wake. I stood near the bow to take it all in; I wanted to get out from behind the enclosed, confined space of the bridge. The captain warned that I wouldn’t last long out there, that the “flat openness of the Meadowlands lets the wind do its thing.”

My eyes watering, the gusts forcing them into a tight quarter moon shape, I could make out the project of several barges and a pumping ship not too far ahead.

“Is this a great use of taxpayer money?” the captain in charge of the moving boat and the massive project repeated my question. “Well, that really isn’t my concern. I’m paid to make the river deeper and the passages wider and higher.”

On the day of project boat tour, the Super Bowl was still a couple months away, and the contractor in charge of dredging the river in time for the weeklong festivities before the game’s kickoff was pushing to complete the complex plan, which started six months after the state was awarded the game in May 2010. He seemed a bit nervous about the deadline.

Millions of tons of river bottom sediment had been removed—vacuumed up with massive pumps—placed on hopper barges, and dumped ten miles off the Sandy Hook coastline into the Atlantic Ocean. Time will likely return at least some of the river sediment to New York Bay at some point, based on ocean currents.

Some contaminated sediment was taken to a nearby processing and treatment facility in West Rutherford, NJ, then onto a final “resting place” in South Dakota by sealed railroad freight cars.

“Entire bridges were removed and raised and rebuilt to provide a path for the cruise ships,” Dave McKoskey, a senior engineer with Whetlands Engineers, Inc., explained. “The state spent nearly six billion dollars to deepen the river for the Super Bowl.”

Today, the three ships—and the B- and C-list celebrity passengers—are long gone from the weather-worn wooden docks a stone’s throw from the field. The parties were declared a hit; only one ship became stuck on the river bottom at low tide; and one ship came within one quarter inch of an overhead railroad bridge.

“I think it was well worth $6 billion to have a really good ship party close to the game,” said Governor Christie. “Yes, it was a great allocation of taxpayer money. We were on a world stage, what was I supposed to do? We’re New Jerseyans, we’re not going to let New Yorkers have all the fun.”

When asked why not just dock the New Jersey ships in Hoboken along the Hudson River, Christie smiled and said, “That’s not within walking distance to MetLife ... it's just not.”

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