Long-suffering Camden, New Jersey wins $1 million to remediate a public park that was built with contaminated soil 8 decades ago

On June 12, 2023 the folks in long-suffering Camden, New Jersey celebrated the news that they would receive $1 million to remediate a public park that was built with contaminated soil eight decades ago.

Camden will use the $1 million to clean up the Judge Robert B. Johnson Park at 723 Carl Miller Boulevard.

We’re working across the country to revitalize what were once dangerous and polluted sites in overburdened communities into more sustainable and environmentally just places that serve as community assets. Thanks to President Biden’s historic investments in America, we’re moving further and faster than ever before to clean up contaminated sites, spur economic redevelopment, and deliver relief that so many communities have been waiting for,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.

This critical wave of investments is the largest in Brownfields history and will accelerate our work to protect the people and the planet by transforming what was once blight into might,” he added.

The 14.7-acre cleanup site was once a natural wetland, but civil engineers buried it in toxic fill material to turn it into a park, back in the 1940s and 1950s.

The park was later turned into residences and a junkyard and was used by a youth football league and neighborhood schools.

Today’s announcement will transform a once contaminated site into a new vibrant community space in Camden and I am proud to have helped secure this $1 million in federal funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill,” said Senator Bob Menendez.

The historic investments we are making to reclaim and restore brownfields is vital to ensuring environmental justice for underserved communities and communities of color that too often shoulder the burden of legacy pollution. I am equally proud that an institution like New Jersey Institute of Technology will be receiving $5 million to provide training and technical assistance to communities conducting brownfields work across the state,” he continued.

The now-vacant site is contaminated with semi-volatile organic hydrocarbons, PCBs, metals, and pesticides. Grant funds also will be used to conduct community outreach activities including hosting three public meetings.

EPA Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia was joined by U.S. Representative Donald Norcross and Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen when she announced that Camden has been selected to get $1 million from President Biden’s Investing in America Agenda to expedite the cleanup of Judge Robert B. Johnson Park.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act continues to deliver for South Jersey through this Brownfield Grant that will create jobs, advance environmental justice, and spur economic revitalization,” Rep. Norcross said. “Protecting our communities from harmful waste and pollution and repurposing these sites has been one of my top priorities since coming to Congress. I’m proud to have helped secure this funding, and I will continue to fight to improve our quality of life, protect our environment and ensure a healthy and safe environment for South Jersey families.”

Camden has such an impressive track record of success with its Brownfields program, which has helped address neglected local areas by providing a means to revitalize abandoned properties and promote environmental health, economic growth, and job creation,” said EPA Regional Administrator Garcia.

The Brownfields program transforms communities, and the new funding through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law gives communities like Camden an opportunity to continue to make a real and lasting on-the-ground difference,” she explained.

This park is incredibly important to the city of Camden, especially the residents of the Liberty Park and Centerville neighborhoods, which is why we are investing more than $2 million to rebuild it once the environmental remediation is completed,” said Commissioner Jeff Nash, liaison to the Camden County Parks Department. “This has long been a place for the community to gather and enjoy so ensuring that it’s safe and in the best condition possible, is a top priority for us.

These investments are part of President Biden’s Investing in America Agenda to grow the American economy from the bottom up and middle-out – from rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, to driving over $470 billion in private sector manufacturing and clean energy investments in the United States, to creating a manufacturing and innovation boom powered by good paying jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, to building a clean-energy economy that will combat climate change and make our communities more resilient.

It is the Camden Redevelopment Agency’s pleasure to partner in the revitalization of Judge Robert Johnson Park. This is an iconic open space asset for the City and Liberty Park neighborhood. At a time when environmental equity is a priority throughout the nation, we are proud to be an agent for change collaborating with such a strong team,” said Olivette Simpson, Interim Executive Director and Board Secretary for the Camden Redevelopment Agency.

This $1 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is critical to leveraging other resources that will fully fund the estimated $3 million clean-up effort, leading to the Park’s state-of-the-art re-design and construction improvements. The commissioners, staff, and I are looking forward to doing our part to transform Judge Robert B. Johnson Park in into a safe, green, recreational space,” she continued.

Many communities that are under economic stress, particularly those located in areas that have experienced long periods of disinvestment, lack the resources needed to initiate brownfield cleanup and redevelopment projects.

Today we can all take pride in continuing with the transformation of Camden’s industrial history to ensure we have spectacular and tangible parks that offer diverse recreational opportunities for residents, visitors and businesses,” said Elizabeth Dragon, Assistant Commissioner for Economic Development and Community Revitalization in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

The DEP is committed to working with our many partners in Camden and other overburdened communities across the state to provide equitable opportunities to access and enjoy our open and green spaces. We thank the EPA for providing this brownfields grant to Camden, which is allowing the city to continue its transformation, improve the quality of life for its residents, and promote sustainable growth. Congratulations to Camden on this remarkable achievement,” she explained.

As brownfield sites are transformed into community assets, they attract jobs, promote economic revitalization and transform communities into sustainable and environmentally just places.

I want to extend my deepest gratitude to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for their continued support and recognition of our efforts. This grant reinforces our commitment to creating a sustainable and vibrant future for Camden. This funding will directly contribute to the remediation of Robert B. Johnson Park, an important community space in the Liberty Park neighborhood. By reclaiming this park and making it safe and accessible for our community members, particularly our youth and families,” said Mayor Carstarphen.

I would also like to acknowledge the collaborative efforts of our dedicated partners, including Congressman Donald Norcross, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Camden County Board of Commissioners, and the Camden Redevelopment Agency. Together, we are driving positive change and creating a stronger and more resilient Camden. As we move forward with this project, we remain committed to promoting environmental justice and sustainable development. Camden is a city with a rich history and strong sense of community, and this grant allows us to continue our journey towards a cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous city for all,” he added.

Thanks to the historic $1.5 billion boost from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA’s Brownfields Program is helping more communities than ever before begin to address the economic, social, and environmental challenges caused by brownfields and stimulate economic opportunity, and environmental revitalization in historically overburdened communities.

New Jersey thanks the Biden Administration and our congressional delegation for prioritizing investment in environmental justice communities both within the Garden State and across the nation,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. “For far too long, communities under economic stress have lacked the resources necessary to launch large-scale environmental remediation projects. This significant Brownfields grant program funding will enable the City of Camden to promote environmental and public health while prioritizing community engagement.

EPA’s Brownfields Program also advances President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative to direct 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain Federal investments to disadvantaged communities. The Brownfields Program strives to meet this commitment and advance environmental justice and equity considerations into all aspects of its work. Approximately 84 percent of the MARC program applications selected to receive funding proposed to work in areas that include historically underserved communities.

In communities across New Jersey, especially those that are Black, Brown, and low-income, residents live next to harmful contaminants, breathe in dirty air, and lack access to clean water and soil,” said Senator Cory Booker. “Thanks to the efforts of the Biden Administration, these communities are finally receiving the federal resources needed to remediate these environmental injustices. The grant funding announced today, made possible by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which I was proud to vote for, will continue this vital work by empowering the City of Camden to revitalize a former park that was polluted with toxic metals and pesticides.

In all, EPA recently selected 262 communities to receive 267 grants totaling more than $215 million in competitive EPA Brownfields funding through the Multipurpose, Assessment, Revolving Loan Fund, and Cleanup (MARC) grant programs. Thanks to the historic boost from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this is the most funding ever awarded in the history of this EPA Brownfields grant program. EPA anticipates making all the awards to the selectees once all legal and administrative requirements are satisfied.

Read about the most recent Brownfields Program selectees.

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