HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - The County Freeholder Board approved the open space purchase of four lots along the Delaware River in Milford, with eyes on creating the first riverfront county park and connecting economic and recreational opportunities for residents, visitors and businesses in the small Borough of Milford.
Hunterdon County Open Space Program manager and Ex-officio member of the Open Space Advisory Committee William Millette told the Freeholders the $434,000 purchase (paid out of allocated county funds for Open Space) is for four separate lots – all on Borough lot 13 – encompassing a bit over six acres that includes over 2,000 feet of Delaware River frontage.
“It’s almost a half-mile of Delaware River frontage, from Bridge Street (crossing to Pennsylvania) all the way down to Milford Creek,” Millette said. “It is a substantial piece and also should serve as quite an attractive place for folks to enjoy the riverfront. This is again four separate lots that would hopefully be combined prior to the purchase.”
County Director of Economic Development Marc Saluk spoke about the purchase agreement as a first step to creating the Hunterdon County park along the Delaware.
“This would be the county’s first riverside park,” he said. “It would create a place for residents and tourists alike to relax and take in the beautiful Delaware River. People can bring their families and enjoy Milford like many of the River Towns’ small charms. Building upon that, we will also be working towards creating a trail between the new park and Frenchtown to connect both of these river towns, making it easier for folks to enjoy both river towns and easier for both communities.”
The purchase agreement’s timing comes four weeks after, at their May 5 meeting, the freeholder board approved a $9,000 Hunterdon County Economic Development Grant for Milford Borough for zoning changes to expand the business district.
Saluk noted that the borough is in the middle of a huge resurgence. County freeholder J. Matthew Holt looked at the planning exercise to explain that this process unofficially began during a 2018 Economic Development meeting, “when we were laying out the map and we were looking at Milford and the germination of getting some property along the river and connecting to trails,” he said.
Ideas grew with a clear goal “to support a smaller municipality in Hunterdon County that was struggling,” according to Holt.
“This riverfront park and bigger picture economic development plan demonstrates that economic development and the environment can be effectively welded together,” Holt said. “There is no downside to this and it’s exciting stuff. I thank Mr. Saluk and Mr. Millette, all of our staff for their great work in bringing this first phase of the project forward. This represents a great piece of open space preservation, and I am looking forward to seeing it conclude.”
Saluk said that, aside from the current period of pandemic shutdowns, Milford Borough has seen a resurgence of a vibrant town center with exciting new restaurants and, as a major initiative, the cleanup of the former Milford Paper Mill (Curtis Specialty Papers, Inc.) site. In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared the former paper mill site as a Superfund site, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued several violations to Curtis during its ownership and operation of the site in the early to mid-2000s.
The property had been closed since 2003.
The extensive, multi-year cleanup of the former Milford Mill included removal of over 10,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil – hazardous materials, storage tanks, oil-containing electrical equipment, asbestos, demolition debris, concrete and scrap metal. Since 2009, International Paper Co. has owned the site and demolition of the final two smokestacks of the old mill took place last October.
Georgia-Pacific consumer products also held a small ownership of the site, and the two companies were willing to collaborate to achieve the demolitions of old structures and buildings that once employed thousands in the area.
The original mill of Curtis Specialty Papers Inc. spanned 109 acres, with approximately 73 located in Milford and the rest in Alexandria Township. Of that total, 21 acres could be built upon, and remaining areas were designated as flood zones, including a buffer zone adjacent to the Delaware River and inland for the Quequacommisacong Creek, which has a local portion commonly called Milford Creek.
Milford Borough Council members have publicly lauded the plans for bike trail connections down to Frenchtown and creation of the first Hunterdon County park along the banks of the Delaware as integral to economic vitality in Milford.
“International Paper Co. is actively marketing the site to interested parties,” Saluk said. “Additionally, the borough, through a county economic development grant approved May 5 by the freeholder board, is looking to expand their business district and amend their local ordinances and procedures to encourage new investments. They are very excited about this project there as this will be yet another piece to the puzzle as Milford continues down what really has become a very prosperous path for them recently.”