MOONACHIE, N.J. (AP) -- A polluted creek near MetLife Stadium and the Meadowlands sports complex that has some of the highest recorded mercury levels of any freshwater ecosystem in the country is moving ahead with a $332 million cleanup plan, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday.
Officials say more than 100 companies have verbally agreed to help pay for remediating a roughly six-mile stretch of Berry's Creek, a waterway that originates near New Jersey's Teterboro Airport and snakes around the western border of the sports complex before it feeds into the Hackensack River.
Several companies operated a mercury processing plant from the late-1920s to the mid-1970s, and five sewage treatment plants discharged untreated or minimally treated wastewater into the creek. The area was designated a Superfund site in the mid-1980s.
An initial cleanup phase that ended in 2010 removed land-based toxins, followed by several years of study of the toxin levels in the water and sediment. The EPA then prioritized Berry's Creek in July 2017, EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez said Friday.
Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell called it "a great, great step" for the region. Hackensack Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan said the cleanup will continue the long-term transformation of the Meadowlands region from a dumping ground for toxic waste into a healthy habitat for wildlife and humans.
"For many, many years a lot of good projects were held up because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn't want us to do any more wetlands restoration in the Meadowlands because they feared pollution leaking out of the Berry's Creek watershed would contaminate that work once it was completed," he said.
The creek project will last for about 5 1/2 years, divided into two years for design and 3 1/2 years for cleanup operations. Up to two feet of sediment will be removed from the riverbed and banks, amounting to roughly 363,000 cubic yards, according to the EPA. Those areas will be backfilled and capped.
The EPA said the creek has the highest levels of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB, of any freshwater ecosystem in the country. Those toxins can cause neurological and developmental damage.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, welcomed the cleanup but said in an email that it may not be enough due to strong river and tidal flows, exacerbated by sea-level rise, that will eventually cause the caps to fail.
"If we don't have a thorough and long-term clean-up plan, all we're doing is creating a toxic nature preserve," he wrote.
The creek runs through an area where 2012's Superstorm Sandy caused extensive flooding when a storm surge from Newark Bay pushed the Hackensack River over its banks. Lopez said the cleanup would be sensitive to flood mitigation projects initiated after Sandy.