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Environmental Report

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Trenton’s geographic setting is one of the City’s greatest assets. The natural environment, including access to major waterways, made it attractive as an early settlement of the new world. More recently, these assets contributed to making Trenton one of the engines of the industrial revolution in America. As such, the natural environment has consistently contributed to the City’s rich cultural history. Today, the natural environment is the source of some of the City’s greatest strengths but also many of its major challenges. As a result of its historic and regional significance and as host to the State Capitol complex, the City has been able to leverage significant outside investment to both plan for and enact restoration policies and projects throughout the City.
Trenton has developed multiple plans and studies for various environmental and redevelopment issues over the past 15 plus years. These plans were well researched and structured but, in some instances, lacked stakeholder involvement and substantial public participation and therefore did not have universal acceptance. In addition, an abundance of tax-exempt properties within the City limited the available tax revenue to fund some of the broad recommendations made by these plans. The studies represented within these previously conducted plans, together with stakeholder and public input were key components to focus the recommendations and develop the environmental initiatives of the Trenton250 Master Plan.
Based on the reviewed data, public, and stakeholder input, this Report lays an adaptive framework that, if properly implemented, will allow the City and the myriad groups addressing environment to have the tools they need to meet the community’s short- and long-term needs. The framework consists of four key areas in which the City must make improvements to effectively achieve the community-driven Vision and align with the Guiding Principles. These key areas are:
  • Safe Environment;

  • Natural Resources and Open Space;

  • Climate and Natural Hazard Resiliency; and

  • Conservation and Energy Efficiency.

This framework provides a structure for the City to capitalize on its wealth of natural and built amenities to re-establish a network of high-quality open spaces. Through the protection and enhancement of natural resources, the City will become more attractive to current and potential residents and businesses, forwarding its economic development and housing goals. Moreover, the framework will allow Trenton to protect its residents from environmental harm and severe weather events while reducing the negative impacts that urban living can have on the environment.
Each of these key areas are interrelated: improving the quality of the natural environment will make Trenton safer for residents and enhance the City’s ability to be resilient and sustainable. Likewise, ensuring that the City evolves into a resilient City will protect natural resources and ensure residents live in a safe environment. These themes should not be seen as mutually exclusive. Instead, they are a conceptual model that will allow the City to better organize its efforts.

Safe Environment

As enumerated in the Issues and Opportunities Report, a number of issues in the City of Trenton negatively affect the health of residents. The industrial history of Trenton has left behind blighted, underutilized, and contaminated or perceived-to-be-contaminated land throughout the city. To a large degree, these properties are located along water routes and rail corridors that served the city’s transportation needs in the 1800’s and 1900’s. This aging industrial building stock and the associated residential development was constructed during a period of widespread lead-based paint and asbestos building material usage, both of which have been shown to have significant negative health effects on children and adults. The aging of these structures frequently leads to the release of these contaminants within the building and degrades indoor air quality.
Moreover, one of the major issues that were raised throughout the process (including Phase 1 - Visioning) was the pervasiveness of litter and trash in Trenton along with issues with solid waste management and illegal dumping. This not only projects an image of Trenton as being dirty and not worthy of respect, but also poses health risks to residents and contributes to contamination of rivers and natural environments.
As the City continues to confront these problems, many residents are also faced with a lack of open space and limited access to healthy food. The Trenton Community Health Needs Assessment Report noted that only 34 percent of Trenton children meet U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended exercise guidelines of 60 minutes of activity per day. With only three true supermarkets in the city, and an incredibly high number of limited food service restaurants (51 percent of outlets) and bodegas (29 percent), Trenton has been identified by the Trenton Health Team as a food desert that would have to triple its number of supermarkets to adequately serve its residents (as of 2013). Combined, these conditions pose an acute risk to residents and must be addressed to create a safe environment for people to live and work.
The City and community partners have already undertaken numerous efforts in many areas of the City to address these issues. Community organizations and the City have developed lead paint and weatherization strategies with the potential to further reduce public exposure if properly funded. In addition, Open Space initiatives such as community gardens and a combination of city, county and state parks and trails allow some residents and visitors to the City to experience the health benefits of recreational spaces.
The City’s Brownfield Program has been addressing contaminated site issues for over 20 years across the City. This program has brought millions of dollars into Trenton, and the Brownfield Program’s success has been used to leverage funding for the redevelopment of key project sites. As such, redevelopment of brownfield sites has been a catalyst for bringing new jobs and tax revenues into the city. Specifically, the Assunpink Park Project (also known as the Assunpink Greenway Project) has demonstrated that the focused initiatives can serve both the open space and brownfield redevelopment needs of the City and should continue to be a focal point for identifying redevelopment opportunities.
The Combined Sewer System (CSS) currently operates in an area of approximately 500 acres in the Chambersburg area. The system was fitted with a twenty (20) million-gallon detention basin in 1980 to minimize overflows from this area.  In general, untreated CSS are known to cause serious water pollution problems. When large volumes of water enter the system from major rain events, the system can overflow and spill directly into water bodies (rivers and streams).  Trenton’s detention basin helps alleviate potential water pollution by storing stormwater excess flow in order to protect from the mixture of sewer and stormwater overflow into our water bodies.
One Combines Sewer Outfall (CSO) is present within the City.  It was equipped with a treatment system in the 1980’s and later equipped with monitoring instruments.  Although the outfall is in compliance with all regulatory requirements, a comprehensive approach that may include green infrastructure will provide increased assurance of good local surface water quality, and alleviate any risks to human and ecologic health. Although the City has historically taken steps to reduce discharges from its CSS substantially, the goal should be for “zero potential for discharges.”
The City is in need of a comprehensive strategy to create a safe environment for its residents. Although much of the work is detailed in this Report, initiatives identified in other Topic Reports will contribute to this effort as well. For example, a distressed environment that perpetuates safety and crime issues, lack of safety in neighborhoods and public spaces, as well as poor pedestrian and bicycle safety all reduce residents’ ability to access and enjoy the natural environment. Therefore, the City must take a comprehensive approach to environmental planning in conjunction with developing Trenton250’s Public Safety Report.

Natural Resources and Open Space

Trenton sits at the northern extent of tidal influence, and the navigable reach, of the Delaware River. It is located at the confluence of the Assunpink Creek with the Delaware River and at the contact between the Piedmont and Coastal Plain physiographic provinces. The Delaware River, Assunpink Creek, and the D&R Canal are major environmental corridors that converge in Trenton. Two endangered species, the sturgeon and the bald eagle, as well as two species of special concern, the great blue heron and cobra clubtail, live in Trenton. In addition to these natural resources, Trenton is home to a number of built open space and cultural resources that are well utilized and loved by the community. These include, but are not limited to, Mill Hill Park, Villa Park, Cadwalader Park, and the Battle Monument.
The City has made progress in improving these assets, including recent efforts to daylight portions of the Assunpink Creek, developing a plan for the creation of the Assunpink Creek Park, and constructing the Route 29 Deck Park south of Arm & Hammer park. However, much work remains. Many of Trenton’s streetscapes, trails, and open spaces are disconnected and underutilized. This deters residents from accessing the recreational, cultural, and historic resources that the City has to offer and prevents the City from capitalizing on its locational advantage, hampering economic development efforts. In addition, many open spaces have not been updated to meet the changing recreational demands of the City’s population: as the City has seen a growing Hispanic population, few improvements have been made to open space to accommodate their needs. As such, the City is in need of a comprehensive effort to improve and protect its natural resources and open space and better connect residents to them.

Climate and Natural Hazard Resiliency

Initial work defining, prioritizing and addressing these hazards was completed within Trenton’s Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan (2008). The goal of that plan, carried over below, was to “Ensure that Trenton, its citizens, assets and operations, have the best possible protection from the future effects of natural hazards”. The City identified flooding and high wind events as the highest risks to the City. One factor that the previous study did not evaluate is the impacts of sea level rise, which could affect the northerly reach of tidal impacts on the Delaware River, aggravating the effects of flooding in the City.
Trenton is located at the confluence of the Assunpink Creek and the Delaware River. The combination of these geographic features reduces the ability for stormwater to exit the drainage basin and leads to “stacking” of floodwaters within the City Limits. Moreover, nearly 20% of Trenton is within the 100 and/or 500-year floodplain. Approximately 50% of the Transportation/Communications and Utility infrastructure areas of the city are affected by floodplain issues. To a large degree, these areas are located along the low-lying natural waterways of the City. This transportation, utility and communication infrastructure is essential to Trenton’s ability to prevent widespread damage and recover from large-scale storm events.
The Hazard Mitigation Plan identifies initiatives including increased awareness, risk assessments, and cost-effective projects and actions as key components to Trenton’s ability to recover from natural hazard events. It is anticipated that City-wide educational efforts and projects within the floodplain areas of the City can be prioritized to increase Climate Resiliency. Specifically, additional study of the impact of Sea-Level rise to compound impacts to the City during flooding and high wind events should be conducted.
The City must develop resiliency initiatives that protect the City and its residents during and after severe weather events.

Conservation and Energy Efficiency

As identified within the City of Trenton Energy Master Plan (2010), the USEPA estimates that buildings account for approximately 40% of all carbon emissions in the United States. Further, 50% of the energy consumed by a typical building is attributable to the heating and cooling and another 20% consumed by lighting.
In 2015, Trenton achieved Sustainable Jersey Silver Certification, demonstrating leadership and how much the City can accomplish towards long-term sustainability. Trenton’s position as the State Capitol presents an opportunity for sustainability leadership through the promotion of building energy efficiency.
In addition, the City of Trenton also published a Climate Action Plan (2010) calling for increased building efficiencies, energy use reductions, and air quality improvements. However, there is no designated entity within City Hall that is responsible for advancing the plan and ensuring that benchmarks are being met. The City should empower the Division of Planning to require new construction to meet efficiency standards. In addition, the City of Trenton should work with its power supplier to reduce energy usage, monitor air quality, and reduce pollution from the generating facility immediately south of the City.

Relevant Goals

Safe Environment: Trenton will have a safe environment where residents are free from the hazards of land, air, water, and building contamination.
Natural Resources and Open Space: Trenton will protect and promote access to its natural resources and open space, including natural ecosystems.
Climate and Natural Hazard Resiliency: Trenton’s citizens, assets, and operations will have the best possible protection from the future effects of natural hazards.
Conservation and Energy Efficiency: Trenton will be a leader in conservation by reducing its community-wide carbon footprint and improve water conservation throughout the City.