PATERSON, NJ - Amid the weeds and thick brush packed between Van Houten Street and the south bank of the Passaic River are the ruins of the American Textile Printing (ATP) site. These crumbling walls and smokestacks are where Paterson began to flex its industrial muscle almost two centuries ago and where the first Colt revolvers were manufactured. Now, it's a place that's mainly used by vagrants looking for a secluded spot to get high.
"In the context of the American Industrial Revolution, these ruins could be compared to the Roman Forum,'' said Bill Bolger, a National Park Service official.
But as city and federal officials wrestle over an agreement to create a national historical park at the Great Falls, the ATP site remains out of the picture. Environmental officials have designated it a "brownfield" because of the contamination left behind after almost two centuries of industrial use.
As a result, federal officials do not want the contaminated land to be included in the national park boundaries, said Mayor Jeffrey Jones. "So it's up to us to do something about it,'' said Jones. 'We have to find the money to clean it up.'' One option, Jones said, would be covering the contamination with 12 inches of concrete and then laying sod on top of that.
Part of the challenge, according to officials and activists, is finding a cost-effective way to address the contamination problem that would balance historic preservation with improving public access and enjoyment of the site.
At the July 14 meeting of the Paterson Great Falls National Park Advisory Commission, a New Jersey historic preservation official told the panel that the site met the criteria for funding from a state brownfields remediation program. But that program currently is out of money, said the official, Katherine Marcopul.
During her presentation, Marcopul told the commission that contamination is not the only problem at the site. The stability of many of the ruins is in question, she warned, and the remains of the historic buildings could be lost if nothing is done to solidify them.
Thomas Rooney, a member of the commission and a former city councilman, said it's difficult spurring public support for the project because the site is somewhat inaccessible. "We should have some way as soon as possible for people to walk through and see what's there,'' Rooney said.
Rooney also said that years of unfulfilled expectations also undermine public support. "People don't believe anything is going to happen there after years and years of listening to all these wonderful plans an nothing has happened,'' he said.
Some officials say the ATP site has a better chance at getting cleaned up after the national park issue is resolved. Although President Barak Obama authorized the creation of the park more than two years ago, that doesn't become a reality until after the National Park Service, City of Paterson, Paterson Municipal Utilities Authority and Passaic Valley Water Commission reach an agreement on the particulars of the park, including issues like its boundaries.
Paterson sent its version of the proposed agreement to the park service in early May and the federal government's slow response has some local activists concerned that the park plan could be in jeopardy. But Rep. Bill Pascrell staff says the park service will submit its response in August and has agreed to meet face-to-face with Jones to iron out the differences.