For many years, a series of densely-populated municipalities straddling Essex and Hudson counties have had to deal with contamination from stormwater overflow that has, in some cases, pushed raw sewage into the streets.

The issue is now at a tipping point for residents, local officials, and the nonprofit Open Space Institute, which is already working on other projects in New Jersey like improving the water quality in the Delaware River basin, and enhancing public access along the Jersey City Reservoir.

Now, the group has a deadline of January 2022 to close a purchase agreement with the Norfolk Southern Railway Company for a nine-mile stretch of land through Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Newark, Kearny, Secaucus, and Jersey City.

If the sale goes through, the plan is to create a 100-foot wide, linear park, to be called the Essex-Hudson Greenway.

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Open Space Institute Senior Director of Northeast Land Dene Lee said the resulting green space that will be created holds abundant potential for recreation, easier local transportation, and an acceleration of economic development that could bring new restaurants and stores to the region.

"It's really, in many ways, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because you can't create new space in these communities," Lee said. "You have to sort of work with what you've got there."

Even with these many predicted benefits, Lee said residents can be reassured that the initial problem of stopping storm overflow and holding the runoff will be duly addressed.

That's a social justice issue, she said, and has affected these diverse communities for too long.

"There's about 23 billion gallons of raw sewage that are released every year, and it's a growing public health concern, and it also results in really steep fines for some of the municipalities that experience these kinds of events," Lee said.

While there are inherent complications in dealing with eight different towns across two counties, Lee said enthusiasm is robust to get this project off the ground, even though no timeline has yet been set for completion.

"We have to move quickly to get this transaction finished and into the hands of the communities along the line, so that they can begin this kind of work," she said. "Once it is in public hands, the communities along the line will have an opportunity to play a role in how it gets developed and used."

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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