New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine announced that the planned demolition of the Riverfront State Prison would begin before the end of 2009, with a projected completion date sometime next spring. The prison facility, constructed in 1985, must also undergo special asbestos abatement procedures due to the presence of the insulating material in many of the interior walls.
Rod Sadler, president of Save Our Waterfront, a group of local community organizers and business leaders, praised Governor Corzine and welcomed the demolition efforts. Sadler also said that the removal of the prison will allow for further improvement of the waterfront area of the city of North Camden, which should spur job growth and expand opportunities for the construction of new residential complexes.
Sadler and other business leaders also spoke on how the prison’s location, near one of the most crime-infested neighborhoods in the city, has stood as a barrier to commercial and residential expansion along valuable waterfront real estate. Community leaders attempted to block the original construction project, but relented when the state offered residents jobs and additional funding in exchange for the land.
When Corzine ran for governor in 2005, he promised that he would have the prison demolished and open up the area to further development. This past January, at the start of his last year in office, prison workers received the notice that Riverfront would be shut down. Prisoners, guards and other correction workers were transferred to other facilities during the summer.
The demolition project was scheduled to start in October, but scheduling issues and the discovery of asbestos delayed work until late December. The outer fencer, exterior walls and staircases are due to be taken down within a week of the scheduled start date, with the asbestos cleanup portion of the project due to start before the end of the year. Although city and state officials have considered a number of potential plans for repurposing the area, no formal agreements are currently in place. Sadler said that he expects to see a concrete plan in the works by the end of next year.
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority, a state government agency that aids in financing small businesses, and the Delaware River Port Authority, a cooperative effort between New Jersey and Pennsylvania that deals with transportation issues along the river, will jointly cover the costs of the demolition, estimated at $1.5 million. Much of the funding came from the Port Authority’s revenues from the area’s toll bridges and roads, which the agency expects to recoup after the sale of the land. The agencies will also pay for a full environmental assessment of the area, including discovering the extent of asbestos contamination and taking steps to insure the safety and integrity of the environment once the demolition project is completed.
Due to the specific measures required by state and local environmental authorities, workers on the asbestos removal project must wear protective coveralls and breathing masks to insure that they do not inhale the dangerous fibers, which are known to cause mesothelioma and other lung diseases.
Sources: Morris Daily Record, KYW Radio