How does the Harsimus Branch Embankment contribute
to Jersey City's environment?  Are there contaminants
from its century of railroad use? What role does it play
in flood mitigation and CSO control?  For what animals
does it provide habitat? What are Jersey City's plans for
its future?  Some of the answers can be found here.

Environment Studies

When the community started work to preserve the Harsimus Branch Embankment, study groups formed to look at various environmental aspects of the structure, and the importance of these to its future use. Through links from this page, the Embankment Preservation Coalition provides access to studies and plans that illuminate these environmental aspects of the Embankment.

Historic Preservation

Jersey City's Master Plan (2000) listed historic sites on the State Register of Historic Places, making them eligible for Municipal Landmarking. The Jersey City listing was not up to date, however, and did not include the Embankment (listed on the State Register in 1999 and determined eligible for the National Register in early 2000). Since then, City Planning and Master Plan elements have recognized the Embankment's historic significance:

 

The Jersey City Municipal Council designated the Embankment  a Municipal Landmark in 2003 and, after a legal challenge, again in 2006.

Open Space and Transportation

The Embankment and adjoining grade-level parcels provide more than five acres of open space in the midst of a densely built-out Downtown. The site has been recognized as a priority open space acquisition by Jersey City, Hudson County, and the New York/New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program. It is also a recommended segment of, and destination on, the East Coast Greenway and the Liberty-Water Gap Trail.

Flora and Fauna

Because the Embankment is elevated from street level, with no easy access, an in-depth study of plants and animals has not yet been done. A naturalist visited the eastern block, however, over four seasons in 2002-3 and recorded her observations. Residents with vantage points along the site have also made observations, and passersby in September can see that monarch butterflies use the site on their migratory path to wintering forests in Mexico. Read the naturalist's report on her first visit to the Embankment.

Stormwater Collection

Residents have observed that the Embankment's massive stone and infill structure soaks up stormwater and slowly releases it into overburdened city sewers, mitigating combined sewer outflows (CSOs) into the Hudson. 

Environmental Contaminants

A Preliminary Assessment contracted by the JCRA in 1998 found typical railroad contaminants in the Embankment. The soil may require remediation or some removal and replacement before reuse.

Other Environmental Threats

Spectra Energy proposed a gas pipeline that would intersect the Harsimus Branch near the Embankment. Despite efforts by the  City of Jersey City and No Gas Pipeline  to stop its route through the densely populated Downtown and near major infrastructure like the Holland Tunnel, the pipeline has been built.

Climate change threatens much of Downtown Jersey City with more frequent flooding as well as erosion of shorelines. If the elevated Embankment segments were reconnected with bridges and if the rest of the Harsimus Branch were elevated over existing stanchions to the Palisades, a needed emergency evacuation route would exist from the Downtown.